The Pittsburgh Steelers knew what they thought they were getting when they made the significant move in the 2019 NFL Draft to move up in the first round and select inside linebacker Devin Bush. He had a solid rookie season, but tore his ACL five games into year two, and he struggled a lot this past season.
It’s already a foregone conclusion that the team will not be picking up his fifth-year option. While his 2022 salary is fully guaranteed, I don’t think we can even say with absolute certainty as we sit here today that he’s going to make the team. But he should be in a better place, his now former defensive coordinator, Keith Butler, told 93.7 The Fan yesterday.
“Coming off the knee injury sometimes takes you a little bit longer to get it behind you”, he said, speaking of Bush and his ACL. “When you’ve been hurt like that, you kind of guard against getting hurt like that again. And I think what he’s gotta do is get his confidence back in terms of the way he played his first year here”.
Bush logged nearly 900 defensive snaps as a rookie, becoming the first rookie in franchise history to top 100 tackles. He had two interceptions, a forced fumble, and four fumble recoveries, one of which he returned for a score. His play in 2020 prior to his injury was a bit of a mixed bag in terms of showing improvement.
This year, not only was he coming back from a knee injury but, he was also playing behind a decimated defensive line, with a new partner at inside linebacker as well. Butler, a former inside linebacker himself, talked about how important the nose tackle was for him in his days, which for him was a man named Joe Nash.
“He made me a better linebacker and he always did”, he said of Nash. “I think if you look at what happened this year, we didn’t have the guys in front of him to maybe take up the block so that he can get to the tackle and all that stuff as much”.
That was because of the injuries to Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, two of their three starting defensive linemen, all of whom were highly regarded. Chris Wormley offered replacement-level play in Tuitt’s stead, but the nose tackle position ended up being a revolving door without landing on any consistency. And that’s not to say that better line play will fix Bush.
“I’m not taking the onus off of him, because he needs to get a lot better than he played this year and he knows it”, Butler stressed. “I think if he comes back next year and they do a pretty good job in terms of the defensive line, I think we’ll be better”.
At this point, it’s impossible to say what the inside linebacker position will look like. There’s a very good chance the Steelers let go of Joe Schobert and his high salary. Robert Spillane is likely to retained, and Buddy Johnson will be heading into year two. Both Marcus Allen and Ulysees Gilbert III should at least return to camp, as well. But they will undoubtedly be looking to add to this position under every stone this offseason.