Whatever the reason may be, Devin Bush isn’t playing well enough this season. And while he’s far from the only one struggling, no one on this Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense has been under the microscope like he has. Bush is coming off a poor performance against the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday night. Speaking to the media Thursday, Keith Butler outlined how Bush can turn his season around.
“Playing linebacker is knowing the front and knowing the coverage,” Butler said in audio provided by the team. “It’s a little bit more than just knowing the front, it’s a little bit more than just knowing the secondary. He’s got to know both. For him to play as much as he has, he’s got to learn more and more as time goes on for him. The more he knows, the quicker he’s going to react, the more confident he is.”
There’s no question there’s a lot on the plate of any off-ball linebacker, especially in the Steelers’ system. In Pittsburgh, Bush is close to an every-down player, playing 80%+ of the time in six of his nine games this season (he logged 79% of the snaps against LA), and is tasked to play the run, cover, and blitz.
But he’s a third-year player who should be able to digest what the Steelers’ defense is asking him to do. There have certainly been moments where Bush felt slow to read the play, sapping him of his athletic ability that doesn’t appear to be severely hampered by the knee injury. There’s been plays this year where he’s flashed the speed that got him drafted. But it’s been far too infrequent.
Butler said the entire defense, Bush included, must show consistent effort and pursuit chasing the football.
“He’s got to run to the ball and get both hands on the ball carrier in practice all the time. He’s got to dadgum run to the ball. We demand that from the rest of them. He’s got to do the same thing. And he does and hopefully he’ll get better.”
The messaging there is a little mixed, saying that Bush has “got to do” and “he does” in the same response, so it’s hard to gauge if the team is unhappy with his effort. Bush should be commended for how he worked to rehab his torn ACL, in the middle of a pandemic no less, just to get his body ready for the start of the year. But he can only be judged by how he’s playing and he’s falling short of that mark.
Butler said he was unsure if the knee injury was impacting Bush’s performance.
“I don’t know if it’s his knee or not. Sometimes it takes a little bit longer for the knee to come around. And only he knows that. I don’t know how he feels making the cuts and stuff like that because you’ve got to be able to cut, you’ve got to be able to run, You’ve got to be able to run backwards, you’ve got to be able to run forwards, you’ve got to be able to run side to side. He does everything a linebacker has to do. In order to do that, sometimes if you’re not right or your knee’s not right, then you can’t do it as you need to do it. I’m not gonna make excuses for him.”
Given how poor the Steelers’ run defense has been this season, tied for dead last in the NFL allowing 4.8 YPC, and given Butler’s comments, it may be time for Pittsburgh to try something different. Playing Robert Spillane in the team’s base 3-4 in more run-likely situations over Bush would make sense. Spillane is the more aggressive, downhill player, and in the team’s eyes, an asset on blitzes. Bush could still have a role in nickel packages and perhaps scaling back and focusing his role and plays will improve his “see to do” that he seems to be lacking.
One thing is clear. Either Bush needs to change his play or Pittsburgh needs to change its personnel.