Given the predicted departure of Javon Hargrave, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive line will be somewhat in flux from the 2019 season to 2020. Even with the return of Stephon Tuitt, who missed about two thirds of last season, losing Hargrave means the pecking order will change to some degree.
Second-year Isaiah Buggs is hoping to be a part of that change. A sixth-round pick out of Alabama, he did benefit last season from Tuitt’s injury, as he was a healthy scratch for the first six weeks but played for the rest of the season, albeit at a pace of around 10 snaps per game.
Still, this is far from abnormal, especially when it comes to the Steelers, for late-round picks along the defensive line especially to be minimal contributors. The same was true of L.T. Walton and Daniel McCullers, as well as many others who may not have even made the team. That includes Buggs’ Alabama teammate, Joshua Frazier, who was drafted in the seventh round the year before him. And both of them were coached by Karl Dunbar, the Steelers’ defensive line coach since 2018.
Perhaps the difference in the success between the two was what happened before they ever got on the field. “I think, personally, I did a great job of doing that, kind of establishing myself as a guy who could learn the system before touching the field”, Buggs told Missi Matthews earlier this year during a sit-down interview for the team’s website. “That was the biggest thing for me this year”.
“Being a rookie is kind of like starting over again”, he added, “like you’re the new guy when you first come into college, leaving high school. You’ve got to learn everybody and gain their trust and respect of everybody that’s around you and in the organization”.
He did seem to fit in with the defensive line group pretty well early on, though it must be said that when you were coached in college by the same position coach that you have in the NFL, it always helps. It helped Frazier as well even though he ultimately did not make the team.
What kind of role Buggs has in 2020 remains to be seen, however, and even Hargrave’s predicted departure doesn’t by any means guarantee that he will be getting a helmet. At least for the moment, it appears that the team is viewing him as a 3-4 end, as they have told him they want him to stay at a lower playing weight.
If he is not going to be interior-capable, then he is likely going to be the sixth defensive lineman, and thus an inactive, although that could change if the next Collective Bargaining Agreement is ratified, as it would allow for additional players to dress for games, including an emergency offensive lineman.