When you lose your mack linebacker in the middle of the season, and that player is of the caliber of Devin Bush, you don’t simply find replacements for them. The Pittsburgh Steelers can’t just go to the pedigreed athletic linebackers store and pick up another player in the same mold. Whatever they do going forward schematically and philosophically will necessarily have to be different because of his absence.
But the good news is that there are a variety of avenues that they can pursue, and it’s highly likely that they will employ multiple approaches in attempting to replace the several hundreds of snaps that will have been vacated due to Bush’s season-ending injury. One of them is spending more time in the dime defense, which means more Cameron Sutton.
The fourth-year player, who secured an interception on Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, has already played 94 snaps this season and is tracking toward logging over 300 snaps on the year, which would be a new career-high, without even starting a game or there being an injury in the secondary.
While speaking to the media yesterday, he was asked if his role might be expanded in light of Bush’s injury. “I don’t know yet. Obviously, that’s something that we possibly might look into”, he said, via a video of the interview provided to us by the team’s media department.
“There’s different challenges week in and week out that offenses present us with, so we’ve got to look at those factors as well, and really just lock in on the small details, the finer points throughout the defense. I think going forward that’s going to hit home much more”, he added.
Bush was the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2019, taken 10th overall after they moved up 10 spots to get him in their first draft-day trade up in the first round since Mike Tomlin has been on board. He led the team in tackles as a rookie and recorded six takeaways.
“A player like that, it’s tough to see that for him, another guy who’s hungry, coming to work every day, doesn’t say much”, Sutton said, “and obviously very exciting to see him out there and running around on the field. Each week presents its own challenges, but we’ll be prepared”.
Sutton did see a season-high on Sunday in both snaps played and percentage of snaps played, logging 26 defensive snaps, which represented a 46 percent share. He recorded two tackles, an interception, and, technically speaking, a sack, though he was merely the closest defender when Baker Mayfield ran out of bounds behind the line of scrimmage.
When the Steelers lost Larry Foote in the season opener in 2013, they eventually plugged Vince Williams as a rookie into the ‘starting’ role, but they primarily played in their dime package with Will Allen on the field, playing 369 snaps that year without starting a game. We could see them use a similar approach now with Sutton.