PITTSBURGH — When the Steelers made the commitment to trade up in the first round and select Michigan linebacker Devin Bush with the No. 10 overall pick in last month’s NFL Draft, that action came with the expectation that Bush will be an on-field contributor sooner rather than later.
Yes, the Steelers have a returning starter at one inside linebacker spot in Vince Williams, and theoretically could fill the other with free agent addition Mark Barron, but Bush has the physical tools to be the most dynamic playmaker of the three.
The question mark will be how quickly he can absorb Keith Butler’s 3-4 defense, which hasn’t always been an easy transition for younger players and is quite a bit different from the 4-3 that Michigan employs.
The Steelers made it clear in the immediate aftermath of the draft that they weren’t going to rush Bush along.
“I think he will help us at some point, but it’ll be when he’s ready and not necessarily forcing him into a situation,” general manager Kevin Colbert said. “Because again, he was a great player on a really good college defense. Michigan’s defense was as good as any we saw in college football last year. That ability to transfer over, it’s still going to be an NFL game that he has to transfer into, so the longer you can delay, the better it is for the kid.”
But that also doesn’t mean that they aren’t giving him every opportunity to make an early impact.
That started on Friday, when Bush was calling the defensive plays during team drills on the first day of rookie minicamp. He said he was comfortable with the role, despite getting his first look at the playbook Friday morning. It was the football equivalent of being pushed into the deep end, but Bush thinks he was able to keep his head above water.
“Right or wrong, I was just being vocal and trusting what I see,” Bush said. “I’ve got quite a bit to learn. I just have to know how to speak the language of the defense and get caught up on all my plays. … I know concepts about the style of defense that we’re trying to run, I just have to learn the language.”
Bush seems aware of the fact that his ability to quickly pick up the defense will play a large part in how fast he’s able to see the field in a prominent role.
“It depends on how much work I put in off the field, in the meeting room and at home,” he said. “Just to get familiar with the playbook, the languages and just be confident in my play calling.”
While he’s obviously working hard to learn the plays and make the right reads on the field, Bush was also just happy to get back into action after missing the Wolverines’ appearance in the Peach Bowl with a hip injury.
“It was fun, just getting back out there in football mode and just learning to play the game with different guys,” Bush said. “It’s football again, so I’m happy to do that.”
The three-day rookie camp, with the players still very much getting used to the playbook, doesn’t give a ton of opportunity for players to show the coaching staff what they’re capable of doing, and more of that work will be done during OTAs and minicamp this June. The players that Bush will be competing with for playing time mostly aren’t even in town yet.
For a player in his situation, that is basically already guaranteed of a roster spot, this rookie camp is about getting adjusted to the way things work in the NFL and fitting into the Steelers’ routine. In that regard, he feels it’s been a smooth transition.
“I didn’t feel out of whack, I didn’t feel out of phase,” Bush said. “I just knew there was going to be some hiccups here and there. I’m still learning … It felt great. Now I’m a part of the Steelers organization. I’m a Steeler. I’m very grateful to be in this position right now.”