Even though Isaiah Buggs has gotten a good amount of positive press, his coaches have been harder on him following the most extensive playing time of his career, seeing over 30 snaps on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, which accounts for more than 20 percent of the total snaps he has played since entering the NFL.
The second-year Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman was thrust into a significant role in the game after starting defensive tackle Tyson Alualu suffered a knee injury early in the game on a cut block. Buggs’ performance wavered in the early goings, but he came up with some big plays in the second half.
Immediately after the game, head coach Mike Tomlin did not exactly lavish his young player with praise when a reporter asked him about the plays that he made in the second half. “He needed to”, he said. When he first came in there, he wasn’t, and I’m just being honest. We didn’t have anywhere else to go. It wasn’t like we were going to put somebody else in there. He had to knuckle down and get active, and he did”.
It’s important to note that just a week before this game, the Steelers chose to make Buggs a healthy scratch after promoting Henry Mondeaux from the practice squad. It is possible that the only reason he dressed against the Ravens was because Chris Wormley suffered an injury that put him on the shelf for a bit.
On Tuesday, his comments focused more on the positive, specifically the improvement of his conditioning from year one to year two. “He’s really improved in that area, moving into his second year, and I think that is providing a springboard for an improvement in play”, he said.
“It’s reasonable to expect him to continually get better with more snap exposure. I know he did on Sunday in that game. We’re excited about him getting additional opportunities going forward and expect him to continually get better”.
On Thursday, we also got an opportunity to hear from defensive coordinator Keith Butler for the first time since the game, and he was asked about what he saw from Buggs. Similar to Tomlin’s post-game comments, he was somewhat rough in his assessment.
“He had missed a couple of holes he should have been in earlier. Karl [Dunbar] did a good job of correcting him”, he said. “He got to where he needed to be and was there at the right time. Thank goodness for us that he was”.
For his part, Buggs told reporters yesterday that he predicted Lamar Jackson would try to execute a draw run on the 4th-and-3 play on which he recorded the stop late in the game, based on the way he had been penetrating up the field earlier.