The first couple of skirmishes at Steelers training camp last week quickly lit up the Twitter verse. Rookie OL Dan Moore Jr. was the offensive antagonist in both altercations, engaging in back to back dust ups with Isaiah Buggs, and then with Cameron Heyward, on consecutive plays. There was a mixed bag of reactions from the national sports media and Steelers fans across social media.
Most opinions fell into one of two camps: either it was no big deal and not even noteworthy, or Moore was praised for his intensity and willingness to display the aggressiveness that Coach Adrian Klemm has openly demanded from his linemen since his promotion. Klemm wasn't making a suggestion, he was giving a order to his troops. The Steelers are fully committed to rebuilding their league worst running game, and that starts with the big boys up front. First round RB Najee Harris needs a revitalized line to be successful, and failure isn't an option.
While Moore received all the attention for the heated pushing and shoving post whistle; especially for having either the courage or the audacity to go toe to toe with resident tough guy Heyward, the other player involved in the initial skirmish was hardly mentioned. I find that kind of funny actually, because Isaiah Buggs has a reputation for fighting with teammates on his rap sheet. Don't expect him to apologize anytime soon, because he has always had to fight to keep his NFL dreams alive.
After he started his collegiate football career playing two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, he transferred to play for the Alabama Crimson Tide, winning a College Football National Championship in 2018. He was a sixth round selection for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2019 NFL Draft. Nothing about Buggs measurables or testing numbers were particularly impressive or remarkable. His listed height and weight suggest defensive end, while his speed and mobility limitations scream defensive tackle.
Actually his selection by the Steelers more than likely had plenty to do with his familiarity with DL Coach Karl Dunbar, who just so happened to have coached Buggs at Alabama in the same capacity in 2017. Dunbar knew exactly what the Steelers would be getting by selecting Buggs. A junkyard dog type overachiever who could provide solid depth by being trustworthy in knowing and fulfilling his responsibilities within the defensive scheme. Nothing spectacular mind you, just a guy willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Yes, even willing to fight if the situation arises. Especially if you are the guy trying to take his roster spot.
One early report coming out from the Steelers first training camp session in pads on Wednesday lauded Buggs for an impressive hustle play that directly resulted in a turnover for the defense, as he knocked the ball out on a Anthony McFarland running play. That type of play sums up Buggs abilities nicely and helps explain how he has been able to earn a roster spot thus far in his NFL career. A physically capable depth player who has proven reliable, hustles, and has a fighter's mentality.
Although Buggs has proven to be a classic overachiever, he faces long odds to earn another roster spot on a Steelers defensive line group that is both extremely talented and deep. The Steelers resigned experienced DE Chris Wormley in the off season, a player they had traded draft capital to obtain the year prior. Then the Steelers went and made a similar maneuver to move into the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft to select DE Isaiahh Loudermilk; a physical specimen who is bigger, stronger, and faster than Buggs. Throw in the fact that Tyson Alualu is more than capable of playing defensive end for the Steelers, and the odds of Buggs making the roster at end appear even longer at first glance.
Making the final roster as a defensive tackle doesn't look any easier actually. Cameron Heyward is the second best defensive tackle in the NFL, and the aforementioned Alualu was exceptional at nose tackle last season. Talented second year guy Carlos Davis appears ready to assume backup duties. Loudermilk's size and strength suggest he maybe Heyward's primary backup. Not a good situation for Buggs when your potential replacement is both bigger and stronger, plus the Steelers have more invested in obtaining his services.
That being said, this Steelers fan isn't quite ready to write off Buggs just yet. Buggs has seemingly defied the odds before, on more than one occasion. Like any underdog fighter, he's got a puncher's chance.