One of the biggest conversations among Pittsburgh Steelers fans in recent days has been about Joe Schobert, the inside linebacker the team recently acquired via trade. Really, though, the main discussion surrounding Schobert and how he’s being used on the field has been speculating about what that means relative to Devin Bush.
The 10th-overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Bush was drafted to be the do-everything linebacker. They started feeding him the defense-setting responsibilities during rookie minicamp. They didn’t feel he was ready by the opener of his rookie season, but he wore the green dot all of last year up until his injury.
He hasn’t been wearing it so far this year, but he also has been limited on the field while recovering from the torn ACL. Robert Spillane, who proved himself capable of setting the defense during his eight starts last season, had the green dot previously. They have Schobert wearing it now, and defensive coordinator Keith Butler talked about that after practice in terms of the reasoning behind it.
“He’ll be more confident in terms of what he’s doing and what his teammates are doing around him”, he told reporters. “I think that’s probably the biggest thing for him right now. Not just learning what he’s doing because if we ask him to be the green dot, he’s gotta kinda know about everything. We think he’s capable”.
Like head coach Mike Tomlin said following Sunday’s practice, the division of labor is yet to be finalized. But Schobert needs to show that he is capable of doing anything that they might ask him to do. And Butler made it clear that their approach is not related to anything Bush is or is not showing.
“No, we’re not disappointed in Devin at all. He’s trying to get back healthy, trying to make it back from the knee injury”, he told the gathered media. “So, we’re trying to keep that weight off him. He’s still going to help Joe. It ain’t like Devin is done”.
He also explained that the communication on defense is about much more than the guy who has the speaker in his ear. Relaying the play from the sideline—which can also be communicated non-verbally via hand signals—is only one layer of setting the defense, and many play a role in it, particularly the middle linebackers.
“He’s still going to help Joe with some of the calls and stuff like that, some of the things that might happen to him that we haven’t covered”, Butler said of Bush. “If we’ve got two guys who know what the crap we’re doing, what everybody else is doing, then that’s two quarterbacks we have on our team. We need that. We do”.
Really, by the start of the regular season, the Steelers will have at least three inside linebackers they’ll be comfortable setting their defense, between Bush, Schobert, and Spillane. Rookie Buddy Johnson is learning it, as well. Because even if you don’t get the play in your ear, you still need to know how to set the defense around you. And that’s going to be something Bush has to do regardless of what’s on the back of his helmet