On Thursday afternoon, Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin participated in a fan forum phone call through Steelers Nation Unite. Tomln answered a variety of questions ranging from the recent draft to what he has been doing with his time during the current stay-at-home order (Spoiler: It’s watching Netfix).
One particular question about both the cornerback and inside linebacker positions gave Coach Tomlin the chance to talk about a pair of 2019 rookies and how the Steelers are looking for them to contribute during the upcoming season.
“We took Devin Bush a year ago and as a 20-year old and he logged a bunch of snaps for us,” Tomlin stated. “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.”
While some in Steelers’ Nation may feel the Steelers are lacking at the inside linebacker position, especially based on the question, 2019 was one of the best seasons the Steelers have had at the position since the loss of Ryan Shazier. With Devin Bush starting 15 games and playing a high number of snaps, it is hopeful he can continue to grow in both ability and playing time for the 2020 season.
“We’re excited about him taking a significant step between year one and year two as a quality inside linebacker for us,” Tomlin continued, “being an all situations type player, and to be the type of player to play to a Pro Bowl caliber level the way Ryan Shazier did.”
Coach Tomlin also took the opportunity, since the cornerback position was mentioned, to bring up 2019 third-round draft pick Justin Layne.
“We’re really excited about Justin Layne in the same way. He was a rookie a year ago and was inactive early on, but carved out a role for himself as a special-teamer.”
Although Layne did not play a single defensive snap in 2019, his progression throughout the season on special teams made him a valuable asset as the season progressed. By the end of the year, Layne had supplanted Artie Burns in earning the active roster spot on game day.
Tomlin continued describing Layne’s progress in 2019 and their hopes for the 2020 season.
“He’s going through the natural participation and developmental process,” Tomlin stated. “He 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’re exited about him and his development and what he can bring to us at the cornerback position, just like we’re excited about the development of Devin Bush and him taking a significant step off a solid rookie campaign he gave us at linebacker.”
Although both playing on the defensive side of the ball, Bush and Layne had significantly different rookie seasons. With Bush being a top-10 draft pick, he was thrown into action early on. As for Layne, his development was not a trial by fire but rather working through practice and showing himself on special teams. Although both players should see vast improvements in their second seasons, Bush will look to be a main staple at the linebacker position while Layne will serve as a valuable back up to either Joe Haden or Steven Nelson.
A transcript of the entire phone call can be seen courtesy of Teresa Varley by clicking the link below to Steelers.com.