Undrafted Rookie Wide Receiver ‘Steals the Show’ at Steelers Practice

Rico Bussey vs. Minkah Fitzpatrick

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images Mike Tomlin looks on while Rico Bussey (#84) battles for a ball against Minkah Fitzpatrick (#39) during training camp at Heinz Field on July 29, 2021.

It’s still early in training camp, but rookie undrafted free agent wide receiver Rico Bussey really opened some eyes at Pittsburgh Steelers practice Thursday, so much so that the media specifically asked to talk to him after the session came to a close.

Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review subsequently exclaimed that Bussey “[stole] the show” on Thursday, while Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said the new No. 84 is “making a case for early camp darling.” Meanwhile, Brooke Pryor of ESPN tweeted that Bussey had a “standout practice,” going so far as to say that “he looked a little bit like” the old No. 84, that being Antonio Brown, one of the most accomplished receivers in Steelers history.

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Bussey Caught a Long TD Pass to End a Simulated 2-Minute Drill

For starters, Bussey made his presence known during an 11-on-11 drill, batting a Dwayne Haskins pass to himself while being defended by third-year cornerback Justin Layne, the first of two long-gainers that came just a few snaps apart.

He followed that with another long reception, this one coming from quarterback Josh Dobbs at the expense of cornerback Stephen Denmark, the latter a former seventh-round pick of the Chicago Bears.

Bussey—who is listed as being six feet tall and 190 pounds—went on to a shine in a simulated two-minute drill, starting the drive with a reception from Haskins and finishing it off by getting “wide open” for a 25-yard touchdown catch.

Bussey on Wearing No. 84

During his interview session on Thursday, Bussey—who is 23-years-old—indicated that his goal is “to make the team and contribute however I can contribute.” To help facilitate that, he says he’s simply “following the old guys to see what they do and try to pick up everything they do and learn from them.”

Asked whether he just called wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster—still only 24—an “an old guy,” Bussey smiled and said, “He know[s] he’s old,” which drew laughter from the assembled media.

As for being issued jersey No. 84, Bussey said, “I couldn’t even believe it. It was like surreal, really. I still can’t believe it, it don’t even feel real,” he said.

Of course, being an undrafted free agent—signed by the Steelers shortly after the 2021 NFL Draft—expectations have been low. While Bussey had a monster season at North Texas in 2018 (catching 68 passes for 1,1017 yards and 12 touchdowns), he suffered a torn ACL early in the 2019 season and wasn’t as successful in 2020 after transferring to Hawaii, catching 31 passes for 274 yards in eight games.

Mike Tomlin Sidesteps Commenting on Bussey

Perhaps predictably, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t want to make too much of Bussey’s performance on Thursday.

“He made a play or two, but Sexton made a play or two the other day and you guys didn’t call Sexton over,” he said, making reference to another of Pittsburgh’s undrafted free agent wide receivers, that being the “speedy, scrappy” Mathew Sexton, who played his college football at Eastern Michigan.

The bottom line is that the Steelers have a very healthy competition going at the wide receiver position. After the top 4 of Chase Claypool, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and James Washington, there are seven players fighting for one or perhaps two roster spots. That includes Ray Ray-McCloud, who was used mostly as a kick returner last season, plus Bussey and Sexton, as well as Cody White, Isaiah McKoy, Tyler Simmons and Anthony Johnson. Thus far, Johnson’s main claim to fame is that he is a first-cousin of Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

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