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 Sign another from XFL, DE/LB Dewayne Hendrix
The Steelers have signed former Pitt defensive end Dewayne Hendrix, Steelers Now has confirmed. The news of Hendrix’s signing was first reported by NFL Draft Diamonds.
Hendrix, 24, was most recently with the St. Louis Battlehawks of the XFL. He also spent time on the practice squad of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Chicago Bears and Miami Dolphins last season.
In five games with St. Louis, Hendrix made four tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and one quarterback hurry.
A two-year starter at Pitt after transferring from Tennessee, Hendrix finished his Panthers career with 50 tackles, 10 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. He played in 25 games total for Pitt from 2016-18 and made 24 starts.
Hendrix missed the 2016 season with a season-ending ankle injury suffered on the first series of the game. He sat out 2015 at Pitt after playing in seven games with the Volunteers as a true freshman.
At 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, Hendrix played defensive end at Pitt, but could be more suited to be an outside linebacker in the Steelers’ 3-4 scheme. He’s essentially the same height and weight as starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree.
What to Expect from a 38-Year-Old Starting Quarterback
On March 2nd, Ben Roethlisberger turned 38. When the NFL season starts in September, Ben will be 38 years old and entering his 17th year as the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even at this age, Ben is reaching rarefied air. Since 1969, there have been only 54 quarterbacks that played into their age 38 season. Of those 54, 46 of them started a game and just 22 finished the season with starts in more than half the games that season.
Discounting the fact that Roethlisberger is recovering from elbow surgery, what can we expect from a 38-year-old quarterback? Surprisingly, the answer is plenty.
From 1969-1999 quarterbacks playing in their age 38 season on average threw for 2,665 yards with 15 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Not gaudy numbers, but some of that has to do with the eras in which these quarterbacks played. Even more encouraging, they had a 63% winning percentage.
From 1969-1999, five Hall of Fame quarterbacks played to age 38. Some experienced more success than others.
In 1978 Fran Tarkenton threw for 25 touchdowns and over 3,400 yards but tossed up 32 interceptions and went 8-7-1 on the season. In 1983, Ken Stabler went 7-7 at age 38, but threw 18 interceptions against only 9 touchdowns and fewer than 2,000 yards. Warren Moon went 9-6 in 1994, but had more interceptions (19) than touchdowns (18). In 1999, Dan Marino went 5-6 at age 38, throwing 12 touchdowns against 17 interceptions.
On the positive side, all-time great Joe Montana had 3,283 yards through the air and a 2:1 TD to INT ratio (18-9) with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1994 and John Elway won a Super Bowl in his age 38 season. Elway may have been relying on Terrell Davis at that time, but still put up nearly 3,000 yards along with 22 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.
As sports science and training regimes have improved, it’s become more commonplace to find quarterbacks 38 and older still having success, or even dominating in the league.
In 2007, Brett Favre at 38 threw for over 4,000 yards and added 28 touchdowns to only 15 interceptions as the Packers went 13-3. Kurt Warner a year after his Super Bowl loss to the Steelers still had plenty in the tank at 38. The veteran quarterback started 15 games, going 10-5 with 3,753 yards, 26 touchdowns and 14 picks. Even journeyman Josh McCown put up 18 touchdowns to only 9 interceptions and 2,900 yards in his age 38 season.
Peyton Manning, 4,727 yards, 39 TD, 15 INT (12-4)
Tom Brady, 4,770 yards, 36 TD, 7 INT (12-4)
Drew Brees, 4,334 yards, 23 TD, 8 INT (11-5)
However, depending on how you view Roethlisberger, a closer proxy may be former Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers. Rivers’ age 38 season was statistically one of his worst as the team went 5-11. Rivers threw for 4,600 yards but threw nearly as many interceptions (20) as touchdowns (23).
What will Roethlisberger be like when he comes back? If history offers any clues, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a highly effective player on his return. Quarterbacks at his level in this era– i.e. future Hall of Famers–have historically had success at age 38 and beyond.
It’s impossible to predict when a player will “lose it”. But as long as his elbow is healed and there’s not a significant loss of arm strength, there’s no reason to think that Roethlisberger won’t be able to return to his per-injury, high-level of play.
NFL Quarterbacks at age 38, >7 starts, since 2000
All data from Pro Football Reference
What Eric Ebron Can Bring to the Steelers
When the Steelers signed free agent tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year, $12 million dollar deal, these kinds of performances probably helped convince them to make the offer.
The Steel City’s new tight end.
— NFL (@NFL) March 23, 2020
The 6-foot-4, 253-pound tight end shows fantastic body control, great feet, and a penchant for making combat catches over multiple defenders. What’s not to like?
Over the past two seasons, the former 1st round pick of the Detroit Lions is 8th in receptions (97) and yards (1125) and first in touchdowns (17) amongst all tight ends.
Now the bad news. The kind of things you don’t see in highlight videos.
Ebron is last in the NFL over the last two seasons in catch percentage at just 59.9% (50 receptions minimum). That’s 10 points lower than Steelers starter Vance McDonald over the same time period. In 2019 with the Colts, Ebron took a major step back–which can be somewhat excused with Andrew Luck’s retirement–starting only two games. Ebron also had his receptions and yards halved from 2018, 66 to 31 and 750 to 375.
Obviously the Steelers are hoping to get the 2018 version of Ebron that racked up 14 touchdowns and 44 first downs and was sixth in the league in receptions and fifth in yards.
If Ebron can rediscover his red zone magic and thrive with a veteran quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger they could have a dynamic pair of tight ends between he and Vance McDonald.
A big if, but a healthy McDonald and a revitalized Ebron would give the Steelers a receiving tight end combination in the top echelon of the league at a cap hit of under $10,000,000 dollars.