According to most credible sources—including ESPN’s Adam Schefter—Steelers inside linebacker Devin Bush suffered a torn ACL in Pittsburgh’s 38-7 win over the Browns at Heinz Field on Sunday and will miss the remainder of the 2020 season.
I don’t have to tell you that isn’t good.
That’s actually very bad for the Steelers defense. Is it 2017 bad? Will the loss of Bush hurt Keith Butler’s unit the same way the catastrophic back-injury suffered by Ryan Shazier late that season did?
It says here that it won’t. It says here that the 2020 Steelers defense, one equipped with playmakers galore, will be in much better shape than the unit from three years ago that leaned heavily on Shazier to do most of the heavy lifting.
But make no mistake, Robert Spillane, the youngster who entered Sunday’s game and recorded six tackles, is no Devin Bush. Ulysees Gilbert III, another youngster who has been compared physically and athletically to No. 55, is no Devin Bush.
There’s normally a huge difference between an undrafted free-agent—Spillane—and a first-round pick. You can say the same thing about a sixth-round pick from Akron—Gilbert—and a top-10 pick from Michigan.
Bush is the first-round and top-10 pick I speak of, and that’s why the Steelers acted so aggressively in moving up to select him in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Shazier’s combination of speed and athleticism in the middle of the field was what made Pittsburgh’s defense go for many years. Without that element, the defense was vulnerable and slow. It lacked range. That’s why someone like Jon Bostic looked out of place trying to replace Shazier in 2018.
For all the pub guys like T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cam Heyward were receiving heading into 2020, Bush may have been the most indispensable defender.
Now he’s gone. Once again, the Steelers will be lacking that rare combination of speed and athleticism at inside linebacker. Don’t get me wrong, I’m willing to give Spillane a chance. I want Gilbert’s similar speed and athleticism to shine through if given the opportunity to do so.
But it’s likely not going to be the same for the Steelers defense over the final 11 games.
Yes, the Steelers still have a hellacious front-seven, and their secondary is light-years ahead of where it was in 2017.
However, it’s foolish to think the Steelers defense didn’t become at least a bit weaker with the loss of Bush.
The Steelers have talked a good game over the past few years with regards to finding safeties who can also act as dime linebackers. Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen are just two fellas that come to mind. If there was ever a time for that talk to finally begin to pay off, it’s now.
The loss of Devin Bush won’t be a deathblow for the 2020 Steelers defense, but it will require some work, luck and extra effort to make up for.
The Steelers defense has come a long way since the loss of Ryan Shazier. Therefore, it should be able to make up for the absence of Devin Bush.
But it won’t be easy.