If Pittsburgh Steelers’ players are defined by what they do against AFC North foes, then Devin Bush’s career will be defined by his lack of playing time the last two weeks of 2022. Which strongly hints they will be his final two weeks in Pittsburgh, a pending free agent come March.
Despite DC Teryl Austin hinting at a bigger role, Bush logged only five snaps in Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns. Asked about the lack of playing time, Mike Tomlin said Bush wasn’t injured and the decision was solely personnel and scheme-related.
“Not health related,” Tomlin said via the team’s YouTube channel. “Really game-specific related. As we were talking earlier about the nature of play of those two teams that we played down the stretch specifically, it warranted us to do some things in terms of divisional labor that minimized some of his opportunities to contribute. But we make those decisions week in and week out in a lot of areas. It’s just football. It’s trying to engineer victory.”
According to our charting, all of Bush’s five snaps came in the first half in the Steelers’ nickel package. He didn’t log a snap in the third or fourth quarters, finishing the day with zero tackles. That follows up a five-snap performance in Week 17 against the Baltimore Ravens, a game in which Bush didn’t seem to have any defensive role until Myles Jack left with a groin injury. Meaning, Bush has had zero or an extremely limited role the last two weeks, as damning sign as to what the team thinks about him.
Instead of Bush, the team turned to rookie Mark Robinson. Already a better and more aggressive run defender, Robinson logged nearly 30 snaps against the Ravens and 11 against Cleveland. Some of that was situational, part of the team’s run defense-heavy 4-4 grouping and Robinson didn’t play particularly well against the Browns but the fact the team trusted a 7th round rookie over their former first round pick speaks volumes. But the decision makes sense. The Ravens and Browns are run-oriented teams and though Bush improved against the run compared to last season, it still isn’t a strength of his game.
With his fifth-year option declined, it’s difficult to see a scenario in which Bush comes back. Pittsburgh has several inside linebackers scheduled to hit free agency including Robert Spillane and Marcus Allen but Spillane saw an everydown role to end the year while Allen has value as a cheap special teamer. Those two, especially Spillane, have far greater odds to be part of the team’s 90-man roster entering training camp.
Before this year began, it looked like 2022 would be Bush’s final season in Pittsburgh. Based on the last two weeks, that probability is nearly pushing 100%.