The Pittsburgh Steelers committed themselves to improving the defense last season by doing a number of things that they had never done before (at least under Kevin Colbert) in order to acquire three talents at key positions that stood out for one of the best and most improved defenses of the 2019 season.
The first player that they brought in was cornerback Steven Nelson, who signed the biggest contract by an outside unrestricted free agent in team history at three years and $25.5 million. It’s the most both in total and per-year, and it was the first time the team had ever agreed in principle to a contract with an outside player during the three-day ‘tampering window’ prior to the official start of the new league year.
During the 2019 regular season, between Week Two and Week Three, the Steelers traded their 2020 first-round draft pick to the Miami Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, a player they coveted coming out of the draft the year before, who was selected 11th overall. This came after Sean Davis was lost for the season.
In between game the 2019 NFL Draft, where for the first time they traded up into the top 10 of the draft, using that bold move to select inside linebacker Devin Bush out of Michigan. He was a plug-and-play starter who became the first Steelers rookie to record 100 or more tackles. He also recorded six takeaways.
“We think Devin progressed as the season went on”, Colbert said of Bush while speaking to Missi Matthews recently for the team’s website. “He probably leveled off there in the late middle part, as most rookies do, but then his intelligence and his wherewithal and his understanding of what he was doing, he really finished strong, and we’re encouraged by that”.
Bush actually finished first in the fan voting for the Pro Bowl, but ultimately did not make it when all the votes were cast. He was supposedly an alternate, but not the first alternate, as Terrell Edmunds’ brother, Tremaine Edmunds, was chosen to replace Dont’a Hightower.
The team rightfully expects Bush to be able to make a big jump in his level of play from his rookie season to his second during the 2020 campaign. I would guess by September he will be up to speed enough to wear the green dot full-time, and should have a much better grip on his responsibilities in zone coverage, one of his biggest weaknesses in 2019.
The majority expectation is that the Steelers will release Mark Barron at some point before the start of the new league year, which will open up the door for Bush to play every snap possible, the way Ryan Shazier did before he was injured. He may not record six takeaways a year, but he may have an even bigger impact on the game than he did as a rookie from play to play.