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.”
Steelers’ Vance McDonald Reflects on Stiff Arm Moment, Relationship with Ben Roethlisberger
Steelers tight end Vance McDonald spoke to the media after officially announcing his retirement from the NFL. McDonald responded to a question about the play he’s most synonymous with by saying he embraces the famous stiff arm moment. He also detailed his interaction with Ben Roethlisberger when he told his quarterback he was planning to retire.
Steelers TE Kevin Rader Aced Week 17 Audition, More Coming in 2021?
The Steelers have an opening in their tight ends room, as four-year starter Vance McDonald retired on Friday.
That leaves Eric Ebron as the team’s projected starter for 2021, and that won’t be a big change, as Ebron out-snapped McDonald and started nine games to McDonald’s 12. Without another veteran option, it’s likely the Steelers will use fewer two-tight end sets, but the issue of backups will need to be addressed.
Michigan product and former fifth-round pick Zach Gentry has yet to be a factor through two seasons and missed most of 2020 with an injury, but as he’s under contract and the team is facing a salary cup crunch, he seems likely to hold onto that job.
The Steelers have options for a third tight end, securing the services of Dax Raymond and Charles Jones on reserve/future contracts for the 2021 season on Thursday. But the man that seems most likely to step up into that role is third-year pro Kevin Rader.
Rader, a Pine-Richland and Youngstown State alum spent his second season with the Steelers in 2020, but got his first taste of action in Week 17 at Cleveland with the Steelers choosing to rest starters.
He made the most of the opportunity, particularly on special teams, where he played in nearly half of the team’s snaps, made three tackles and drew praise from head coach Mike Tomlin.
“Guys like Kevin Rader had an opportunity to step up and play,” Tomlin said. “I think he had three tackles on kickoff. For an offensive player to have that type of contribution in net, in a coverage unit I think was impressive. That’s good for him. That’s good for us as we move forward.”
Rader is also on a reserve/future contract, with no guaranteed money for 2021, but if he can continue to show the ability to contribute on special teams and help as a blocker, where McDonald excelled and Ebron does not, it seems that he can certainly carve himself out a role in Pittsburgh in 2021.
Steelers to Host ex-Vikings OT Aviante Collins for Visit
The Steelers will host free agent tackle Aviante Collins for a visit, according to the NFL transactions page for Thursday.
Collins, 27, spent the last four seasons with the Minnesota Vikings after joining the team as an undrafted free agent out of TCU in 2017.
Collins played in three games in 2017 and two in 2019 for the Vikings, and spent all of the 2020 season on the practice squad, except for a one-week elevation in Week 11, in which he did not play.
The 6-foot-4, 292-pound tackle its a free agent after the Vikings decided to allow his practice squad contract to expire at the end of the season.
The Steelers have several free agents at the tackle position, including longtime starting left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, 2019 starting right tackle Matt Feiler and 2020 starting right tackle Zach Banner, who are unrestricted free agents, and backup Jerald Hawkins, who is a restricted free agent.
The Steelers have Chukwuma Okorafor under contract and Anthony Coyle, Jarron Jones, John Leglue and Brandon Walton signed to futures contract.