2022 is make or break for Devin Bush. For outgoing GM Kevin Colbert, the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t throwing in the towel. Still, the team made the predictable decision to decline Bush’s fifth year option on Monday, leaving him a free agent by season’s end.
Colbert joined 93.7 The Fan Wednesday, explaining the decision to Ron Cook and Joe Starkey.
“To us. it’s two Devon Bush’s,” he told the show. “Prior to that ACL injury, Devin was on a real positive track and he was the player we had hoped he would be when we made that trade. Coming out of that ACL last year, he wasn’t quite the same. Most times it takes a good year to get through that injury, to get your game back to where you left off prior to. So in making those business decisions, we have to say, ‘where is the player currently? Where could he be? And when we do, if we don’t exercise that option, we always tell the player, ‘look, we’re not giving up on you. We’re just taking a, a step back when you take a step back and see what’s what happens if you have a great year, good for you, good for us.’ And then we make those decisions. But again, I think we’re evaluating two different Devin Bush’s. And I think I know we’re excited to see what he can do in .
Bush tore his ACL in October of 2020, missing the rest of the season. He was able to recover and be ready for the start of training camp. But his play wasn’t the same. He struggled to get off blocks in the run game, had issues in attacking the ball downhill, and struggled more in coverage than his athletic traits suggest. He was often off the field in dime situations and ultimately had the worst year of his three-year career.
Pittsburgh made a big push to acquire him in the 2019 draft, trading a second and future-third round pick with Denver to get him. Their pre-draft interest wasn’t subtle and they intended to make him the next Ryan Shazier, a hyper-athletic linebacker in the modern NFL’s horizontal world.
Colbert said Bush understood the team’s decision and shared the same frustration fans had for him.
“I think he understood completely because he doesn’t feel that he was the same player. And he was frustrated by that during the season. He was frustrated by that, but it was motivation for him coming out of 2021 into 2022. He’s excited for this year. He understood it. I think he wants to prove that pre-knee injury Devin is who he really is. We’re hopeful that happens. We’re pretty confident it will.”
Colbert may be confident but the team is taking a “show me” approach. Bush was progressing his sophomore season prior to the injury, especially in coverage. But his play in 2021 was undeniably poor, even if he wasn’t the only one who struggled.
Colbert told the show he “assumes” Bush will start this year but pointed out the other options Pittsburgh has.
“In Robert, we have a guy that has started and been successful. In Buddy Johnson, we have a second year player that his season was curtailed by a foot injury at the end. So we’ll see how much competition they can provide and who comes out on top. And then you throw in the addition of Myles Jack, who’s a proven NFL starter. It’ll be a good group.”
Bush does have several factors working in his favor this year. He’s now two years removed from his ACL tear and can use this offseason to focus on his training, not rehab and recovery. The Steelers’ d-line should be better and healthier. And LBs Coach Brian Flores is a smart mind to have in his corner. Still, Bush must play better. A lot better. If so, he could re-sign after the season just as Terrell Edmunds did this season, though Edmunds’ contract was incredibly cheap. If Bush’s play doesn’t improve, then Colbert’s replacement will be looking for a new off-ball linebacker in 2023.