The Pittsburgh Steelers could be on the verge of benching a former highly-touted first-round draft pick.
As noted by NFL.com’s Eric Edholm, one of the more notable starters who could be benched during training camp is none other than the Steelers’ Devin Bush. Bush struggled through a rough 2021 campaign, with a number of notable figures calling out the young linebacker, including head coach Mike Tomlin and former Steelers running back Merril Hoge.
Edholm notes how the decline of Bush’s fifth-year player option combined with the fact that he’s been splitting first team reps with Robert Spillane and Myles Jack could lead to a quick benching for the former linebacker standout.
“Bush’s career has gone off track since his 2020 ACL injury, and now the player the Steelers once traded up for in Round 1 appears to be battling to keep his starting job,” says Edholm. “The team has been rotating Myles Jack, Robert Spillane and Bush for first-team reps at inside linebacker, and Bush’s spotty play a year ago won’t soon be forgotten. He can change that with a big camp and preseason, but the Steelers might not be convinced that will occur given that they declined his fifth-year option over the summer. At the very least, Bush is at risk of seeing his role reduced unless he can display the form he showed in a strong rookie season.”
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Bush Ranked as One of Worst LB’s Last Season
According to Pro Football Focus, Bush ranked as one of the worst defensive players in the league last season, posting a 34.4 overall grade and an atrocious 27.2 run defensive grade. Among linebackers with at least 500 snaps, Bush ranked as the third-worst linebacker in the league and the worst at his position in run defense.
Bush’s massive decline in play compared to his rookie season — Bush posted a 62.9 defensive grade and 63.3 run defensive grade in 2019 — led to Tomlin calling out his starting inside linebacker towards the end of last season.
“It’s both because he’s an extremely young guy, Tomlin told reporters last December when asked if Bush needed physical or mental work. “He’s still very much growing in terms of awareness and the things that come with playing inside linebacker in the NFL. And obviously, he needs physical work because there’s a lack of volume of plays on his career resume. He’s a guy that probably falls into both categories, like a lot of people.”
Bush had actually been benched during the previous week’s game for Spillane back in 2021, but the latter suffered an injury, leading to the former returning.
Steelers Could Use Linebacker Rotation in 2022
Although Bush remained a starter for the 2021 season, Spillane notched a career-high 56 tackles as he started four of his 14 appearances. Mike DeFabo of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes that the likely scenario sees the Steelers rotate Bush, Spillane and Jack as the three linebackers on the first-team defense.
“All three will most certainly play on the first-team defense at different times this season,” says DeFabo. “Odds are, game situations like down and distance will influence personnel groupings as much as anything.”
While Bush may remain a starter on the surface entering the season, he’ll likely see a massive decline in snaps. The 24-year-old linebacker saw playing time on 82 percent of his snaps in 2019, 90 percent of the snaps in 2020 and 79 percent of the snaps in 2021.
Considering his limitations due to his undersized frame (5-foot-11, 234 pounds), one can expect Bush to be more of a role player rather than a full-time starter during the 2021 season.