Which inside linebacker will be on the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they play in a dime defense has suddenly become a topic of interest over the course of the past week. During that time, they acquired former Pro Bowl inside linebacker Joe Schobert via trade, who is adept in coverage. But they also have Devin Bush, a third-year former first-round pick whom they traded up to get because of his elite speed.
Bush was the every-down, defense-setting linebacker last season for the first four and a half games, before he suffered a torn ACL. So far this offseason, as he has been slowly incorporated into team practices, Robert Spillane (who set the defense last season after Bush’s injury) was serving in that role. Schobert has been doing it since getting onto the practice field.
But who will do what once the regular season arrives is yet to be determined. That’s something head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged on Sunday. When asked who would be the dime linebacker between Bush and Schobert, he said that he’s not ready to speculate, and that “they’ll determine the division of labor with their quality of work”.
Defensive coordinator Keith Butler was asked the same question yesterday about which of the two would be on the field when the Steelers have six defensive backs on the field. His answer was similar to Tomlin’s. He was specifically asked if they would take Bush off the field in dime, and his first response was, “it depends on how he progresses”, then explained that it’s about both of them.
“Like I said, sometimes you heal faster from a knee injury, sometimes you don’t”, Butler said regarding Bush, who is still working his way back to 100 percent capacity, both physically and mentally, just getting his first snaps in-stadium since October in the Steelers’ last preseason game. “We want to see how he is healing by him playing in the preseason. It gives us a chance to know what we can put on him and what we can’t”.
As he also said earlier in the interview, their goal by the end of the preseason is to have two linebackers who “know what the crap we’re doing”, or in other words, to have two players in Bush and Schobert in whom they would be comfortable wearing the green dot.
Long term, I think there’s little doubt that their plan remains for him to be the do-everything linebacker he was drafted to be. Right now, though, he’s just a young player with 21 games under his belt getting his first real action again following a major knee injury.
They’re in the process of learning about him again, and he’s in the process of learning about himself coming back from major injury. They want the preseason process to play out before they have to make any decisions. But they just want to feel good about their options when the time comes to make it.