The Pittsburgh Steelers fan base might still have nightmares when it comes to Steelers linebackers covering wide receivers in the slot. If you are like me, most of you might harken back to Jon Bostic attempting, and failing, to cover Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen at Heinz Field in 2019.
It didn’t end well.
But, for whatever reason, Keith Butler’s defensive system allows the opposition to maximize matchups every year. Let’s get something clear, the Bostic on Allen play was not an isolated incident. Numerous times T.J. Watt has been assigned a much faster wide receiver to try and cover.
Regardless of how athletic the linebacker, that is a matchup which almost always relies on a mistake to succeed, and by mistake I am talking about an overthrow, dropped pass or something else which could throw off the offensive play.
This isn’t necessarily the fault of the player, it is the scheme. Bostic didn’t move Mike Hilton off of Allen in that 2019 game. He was performing his assignment. The same assignment the Chargers and Philip Rivers knew the Steelers would do with that down and distance, and their specific offensive package.
But let’s not dwell in the past. Let’s focus on the present.
The Steelers are in the midst of their final phase of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and they have two key members of the team back on the field for the first time in a long time. One of the two players who missed almost all of 2020 with torn ACLs is inside linebacker Devin Bush. Bush spoke with the media after practice Wednesday, and he was asked about his overall health.
“I’ll be ready once (training camp) camp rolls around,” Bush said.
So, what has Bush been doing since back at the team facility and working out with teammates?
“I’m doing a lot of ‘Indy’ (individual work), a lot of just getting out there and doing reactive things,” he said. “They hold me out of competition (periods) just because it’s not needed right now. But I’m out there, just going through my progressions, going through my motions, going through my movements, my calls, just getting back to football again.”
Throughout the question and answer session Bush was asked a very specific question. A question which just had the typical athlete answer written all over it. Bush was asked if, when he is fully healed, he could cover one of the league’s best slot receivers, Jarvis Landry of the Cleveland Browns?
But Bush didn’t give the stock answer. He didn’t say, “You know, Landry is a great player, and I’ll be ready to do whatever the defense calls for me to do on that given play.”
No, he was honest, and specific.
“Yes, 100 percent.” Bush told the media.
There was almost a moment of stunned silence on the Zoom call. How do you follow up with a question when the player delivers an answer no one expected?
Bush is extremely confident in himself, and he realizes the Steelers have banked a lot on him being the player they traded up 10 spots in the 2019 NFL Draft to get. When a team shows that level of desire to get a specific player, you have to perform. Bush’s answer shows he understands this, and is ready to show the fans, and the organization, he is worth everything.
Coming off an ACL tear, you might think Bush will have his snaps dialed back some during the regular season, but that isn’t Bush’s plan at this juncture of the offseason. He is ready to do what he was doing prior to his injury in 2020, play every down.
“But I’m looking forward to playing 100 percent of the (defensive) snaps.” Bush said.
Whether Bush can cover Landry in the slot is up for debate, but there is no denying how the Steelers need Bush to be healthy and back to full health for this defense to be as dynamic as they want to be. Even without Bud Dupree, Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson, the return of Bush to the inside of the defense cannot be understated regarding the impact it has on the defense.
I think it’s safe to say the Steelers, and their fans, are anxiously awaiting Bush’s opportunity to prove his comments made Wednesday about Jarvis Landry weren’t just blowing smoke, but a prediction into the future.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.