New series for the site over the next month. I promise we’re not going all Embrace Debate on you but Jonathan Heitritter and I have teamed up to debate issues we have genuine, good-faith disagreement over Steelers-related topics. Let us know who made the better argument and what side of the debate you come in on in the comments below.
Today’s topic is…
Will Devin Bush Return In 2023?
Jonathan – Yes, Devin Bush Will
The Prisoner of the Moment is “the state where an opinion is based on things that are happening right now. There is no real regard for what happened before or what may happen after.”
This is where we are at with Pittsburgh Steelers LB Devin Bush.
Where is the intrigue for a player that showcased impressive athleticism in terms of speed (4.43 40), explosiveness (40.5” vert), and quickness (6.93 three-cone), during his time at Michigan and throughout the pre-draft process? Where is that excitement for a player that the Pittsburgh Steelers felt compelled enough to package their first-round pick in 2019 along with their second-round pick in 2019 and third-round pick in 2020 to trade up to select Bush #10 overall to select the 2018 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Consensus All-American?
Gone with the wind, apparently.
I am not excusing Bush’s play in 2021. Far from it. Bush’s performance was objectively terrible last season, coming in with a horrendous 34.4 PFF grade and has been widely criticized by his performance out on the football field. The criticism was warranted for the most part as he hardly resembled the player, he was pre-injury, struggling in pass coverage as well as play assignment-sound football as a run defender. He also looked apprehensive, lacking that killer instinct we saw from him during his rookie season at to start the 2020 season.
Bush has admitted he wasn’t the player he needs to be last season as has the coaching staff and front office. Still, both have faith that Bush can regain the traction he had going prior to suffering a torn ACL in Week 6 of 2020. Bush would miss the rest of the 2020 season and wasn’t a sure thing to return on-time to start the 2021 campaign. However, he battled back to make it onto the field for Week 1.
Still, while it normally takes a player two years to physically come all-the-way back from a torn ACL, the mental damage a significant injury can have on a player’s mental psyche can be greater at times than the physical injury itself. This appeared to be the case for Bush who has said just as much, acknowledging that he lacked the confidence to play lose and free like he did pre-injury.
While Bush had a down year in 2021, I don’t think that this writes off his chances of returning to Pittsburgh after the 2022 season. I actually think that there is a good chance he does return in a similar light to two other former first-round picks for the Steelers. Pittsburgh declined the fifth-year option on S Terrell Edmunds last offseason and let him test the free agent market, ultimately re-signing him to a one-year deal to fill the starting strong safety spot. Should Bush be just “Ok” next season, we could see a similar cheap deal extended to him much like Edmunds.
What if Bush plays well? Well, let’s look at another linebacker Pittsburgh drafted with premium draft capital that looked like a bust his first couple of seasons in the league who also struggled with injury that the team brought back for a least one more season: Bud Dupree. Dupree didn’t match expectations his first few years, leading to many believing that Pittsburgh would decline his fifth-year option. The team decided to pick that option up, leading to Dupree posting his best statistical season and Pittsburgh using the franchise tag on him to bring him back for another year.
This isn’t to say that Bush will make Pittsburgh use the franchise tag on him after a spectacular 2022 season. However, for a player that a strong rookie season that saw him place third in AP Defensive Rookie of the Year as a player that has physical tools you can’t teach at the position, who’s to say Bush won’t rebound in a similar way that Dupree did after the start of his career?
I think the Steelers like Bush and want to see him succeed, as any team should. Given that he is now two years removed from the ACL, has a better supporting cast around him, and a beefed-up coaching staff guiding him, the pieces are in place for Bush to have the best chance to put forth a strong season and warrant being brought back to Pittsburgh in 2023.
Alex – No, Devin Bush Won’t
I want to be optimistic. I’m like the X-Files. I want to believe. I understand and agree Devin Bush’s circumstances are better this year than last. Two years removed from the ACL tear. A better defensive line in front of him. Brian Flores coaching him hard. All the things Jonathan said are well and good and true. But to a man, Devin Bush still has to be a better version of himself. And there’s only faint evidence to suggest a massive 2022 turnaround, enough to bring him back.
One underlying trend between those who know Bush the best is a potential lack of commitment. It’s never been said outright – ok, maybe Merrill Hoge has – but others have implied it. Vince Williams said Bush could turn his career around but only “if he buckles down.” Ryan Shazier suggested Bush needs to hit the film room earlier and more often. They’re subtle suggestions and I wouldn’t call them “shots” but there’s been a trend about where Bush needs his game to grow. I don’t know if he’s lazy, he worked awfully hard to get healthy for training camp and Week One, but those comments can’t be ignored.
Sure, Terrell Edmunds returned after having his fifth-year option declined. There is precedent. But Edmunds was a more known player. He didn’t have some of the occasional highs Bush had but offered far less variance. Pittsburgh certainly was in no rush to bring Edmunds back and did so primarily because his market was so low. Edmunds has been more consistent and reliable than Bush has shown to be. Comparing the two isn’t 1:1.
Bush simply hasn’t been good enough. Offer all the explanations and excuses that you like but he hasn’t gotten off blocks, hasn’t been physical enough in the run game, and while a good athlete, his coverage skills have been poor. He had to deal with the weight of great expectations, trying to be the next Shazier, but he hasn’t come close to living up to the standard of being a “regular” Steelers’ first round pick.
Can Bush improve his game in 2022? Yes. In fact, I’m expecting it. But merely being better isn’t enough to be re-signed. When you’re at the bottom, climbing up one step isn’t always good enough. He needs a leap in play. And odds are that’s not going to happen this season. His NFL career wont’ end after 2022. But his time in Pittsburgh will be over.