Like it or not—and many players who have spoken do not—the NFL is officially moving to a 17-game regular-season schedule beginning with the 2021 season. For Pittsburgh Steelers third-year inside linebacker Devin Bush, that’s just another obstacle to navigate as he works his way back from a torn ACL, though he told reporters yesterday that he is prepared for that challenge.
“It don’t really matter to me”, he said of playing one extra game. “Of course, it’s an extra game, it’s another week of preparation, a lot of stress on your body when you play those games. But I’m ready for it. it’s definitely something that I’m gonna have to adjust to, especially coming off the injury, but I’m looking forward to playing 100 percent of the snaps”.
There are only so many linebackers in today’s game who approach “100 percent of the snaps”. According to Football Outsiders, nobody did last season, though 12 played at least 95 percent, with 14 total players logging at least 1,000 snaps.
The Steelers are a team that values the every-down linebacker, however, and that is what they had in Ryan Shazier, at least when he was healthy, and Lawrence Timmons before him. Timmons logged around 7,500 snaps between the 2010 and 2016 seasons, a seven-year span.
As a rookie, Bush did hit 100 percent of the snaps in three of 16 games, and logged 90-plus percent in three others. But he was still new, and spent some time being substituted out for Mark Barron. Prior to his injury against the Cleveland Browns in the fifth game of the 2020 season, however, he had logged every single defensive snap, 278 over a span of four and a half games, so he was well on-pace to play more than 1,000 snaps.
Playing 1/16th more games is going to result in a lot more players hitting the 1,000-snap mark every year, of course. And some will even hit 1,200 or so, depending on how much time their defense spends on the field, which is generally not a good thing, unless the converse means that offenses are consistently scoring quickly.
Of course, with Bush returning from a torn ACL, it is possible that the Steelers hold him back some and try not to put everything on his plate all at once. They do have some depth there, and Robert Spillane started several games in his spot last season. He and Vince Williams can be on the field together at times.
But the long and short of it is that Bush isn’t too bothered about the extra game, which frankly doesn’t seem to be the prevailing opinion among players. Either way, it is what the NFLPA agreed to in the 2020 CBA, and it’s here to stay—eventually expanding to 18 games, no doubt, though the majority in the league will be retired by the time that day comes.