UNITY TWP., Pa. — Several members of the Steelers 2019 rookie class made their NFL preseason debuts on Friday, with first-round pick Devin Bush taking most of the headlines with a stellar first effort.
The rest of the rookie class came with mixed results, with cornerback Justin Layne and running back Benny Snell struggling in starting roles and tight end Zach Gentry and linebacker Ulysees Gilbert making impacts later in the game.
Speaking with the team for the first time since the game on Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin evaluated the progress of his newest additions.
“It’s probably the most important film session of the year for us, because we set a trajectory for expectations and the spirit in which we study tape,” Tomlin said. “We study tape for one reason and one reason only: to get better, to improve for the next time we step into a stadium. So, we critique it in that spirit. We can’t be thin-skinned and defensive and so forth.”
So how did Tomlin rate the rookies? Here’s what he said to the media Tuesday morning:
On linebacker Devin Bush:
“It was a very solid performance. It was really kind of reminiscent for me of Ryan Shazier’s first home preseason game years ago in terms of production, getting around and making a number of plays. But he’s going to continue to write his story in terms of growth and development, usefulness and role within this group, not only in 2019 and beyond. He’s got to roll up his sleeves and go back to work like the rest of them.”
On cornerback Justin Layne:
“It looked a little big for him at times. We talked openly about that today. That’s what I mean when I say that we’re going to be really transparent. It’s a big business day for us. But I also told every member of the team not to over-analyze performance. Justin Layne is a very young guy who stepped into the stadium for the first time and had an opportunity to start and start against an NFL starting quarterback because of injury and lack of availability of others, maybe not necessarily because of what he did to get in that spot. Such is life in football and particularly, football this time of year. I’m sure it was going to be a valuable experience for him, but not necessarily a positive experience for him.”
On linebacker Ulysees Gilbert:
“[He] made a lot of splash plays, but I pointed out to the team that those plays were made between play 80 and 89 defensively. So the people that he was on the field with were not the quality of people that Justin Layne was on the field with. So, we’d better no read too much into quality of performance. We’d all just better keep our heads and keep working.”