This past Thursday Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin ‘huddled up’ with Steelers fans via the Steelers Nation Unite Huddle, taking questions from callers and expounding on what he envisions for the 2020 season.
Most notably, perhaps, he provided updates on Ben Roethlisberger and Stephon Tuitt, both of whom are working to return from season-ending injuries. But he also opined about some of the position battles that will take place in the run-up to the regular season, and how he views the depth chart at both quarterback and wide receiver.
Mike Tomlin’s Expectations for Devin Bush
Another notable exchange took place when a fan asked about the prospects for replacing linebacker Ryan Shazier, who was moved from the reserve/physically unable to perform list to the reserve/retired list in March, “a procedural move that enables him to continue working with the organization,” per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
Most Steelers fans would probably argue that the organization has already found Shazier’s successor in Devin Bush, who made 89 tackles as a rookie in 2019, while also recording a sack, forcing a fumble and intercepting two passes.
Tomlin seems to agree.
“We took Devin Bush [tenth overall] a year ago and as a 20-year-old he logged a bunch of snaps for us,” he said. “We feel good about the overall trajectory of his play. Sometimes when you feel like you have a need it doesn’t necessarily mean going out and getting a new component. It’s about the improvement of the component you have. We are excited about him taking a significant step between year one and year two as a quality inside linebacker for us, being an all-situations type player: To be the type of player to play to a Pro Bowl-caliber level the way Ryan Shazier did.”
Tomlin isn’t the only one who is uber-optimistic that Bush’s star is on the rise. Pro Football Focus recently placed him on a short list of second-year players poised to ‘break out’ in 2020, a list that also includes Steelers WR Diontae Johnson. While PFF took note of the fact that Bush “surrendered five touchdowns in coverage … and was penalized twice as often as any other first-year linebacker,” he also made plenty of plays, suggesting that “with a full year in the [Steelers’] system, he could kick on and look like one of the best in the league in 2020.”
Justin Layne ‘Distinguished Himself in a Positive Way’
As if that weren’t enough, Tomlin went on to highlight the development of yet another second-year player, Justin Layne, who was drafted in the third round out of Michigan State last April.
“We are really excited about Justin Layne in the same way,” said Tomlin. “He was a rookie a year ago, was inactive early on [but] carved out a role for himself as a special teamer. He is going through the natural participation, developmental process [and] really distinguished himself in a positive way in a practice setting over the second half of the year. Those are usually signs a guy is going to take a step in his second year. We are excited about him and his development and what he can bring to us at the cornerback position, just like we are excited about the development of Devin Bush and him taking a significant step off a solid rookie campaign he gave us at linebacker.”
Meanwhile, there are other second-year players on the roster who could also play larger roles in 2020, including running back Benny Snell Jr. (fourth round), defensive end Isaiah Buggs (sixth round), linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III (sixth round) and offensive lineman Derwin Gray (seventh round).
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