I believe there was one year back in the late 2000s in which the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to return 21 out of 22 starters from the previous season, or something like that. That is an extreme rarity, and certainly won’t be the case for the team as they transition into the 2021 season.
They have already had two players retire in Maurkice Pouncey at center, a starter, and Vance McDonald, who served as their blocking tight end. Alejandro Villanueva, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree, and others are shoe-ins to leave in free agency. The team will look a lot different.
But they will be getting some help, and the top of that list is probably getting a healthy Devin Bush back in the middle of their defense. The third-year inside linebacker missed the majority of the 2020 season after suffering a torn ACL in a game against the Cleveland Browns in the first half of the year.
The Steelers gave up first-, second, and third-round draft picks in order to move up to the 10th spot in the 2019 NFL Draft to take the Michigan product. He was a plug-and-play starter, finishing his rookie year with 100-plus tackles and six takeaways, and as he moved into year two, he took over the defensive signal calling. He was primed for more, and then a freak injury derailed his and their plans.
But there is time for a reset as he works his way back from this knee injury. He recently took questions from members of SNU, and he talked a bit about his injury and how it affected the team last season. “Any time a starter goes down, you’re obviously gonna have a hole in the team, and it’s gonna be hard to replace him”, he said.
“But it’s just one of those things you can’t really account for. And who goes to say if the same thing would’ve happened if I was playing, or if we won the whole thing while I was playing?”, he went on. “We never will know, but the best thing I can do is put myself in the best shape physically for that to never happen again”.
Sometimes an injury cannot be avoided no matter how much training you do, but you can certainly decrease your chances of injury by training your body to withstand wear and tear and things of that nature, which is as much about being smart as being strong or fast.
Bush put up 26 tackles, a sack, and three passes defensed in the four-plus games he was able to get in last season before his injury across 278 snaps. The reduction of team speed in his absence was immediately evident, so he will be a welcome re-addition to the starting lineup when he gets back.