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How Brian Flores Can Revive Career of Devin Bush

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Pittsburgh Steelers Devin Bush
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush during minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, June 9, 2022 -- ED THOMPSON

There’s no doubt the Pittsburgh Steelers need starting inside linebacker Devin Bush back on a different trajectory than in 2021. After a strong start to his first and second seasons, Bush fell off in his third season as he struggled to recover from his torn ACL.

That makes his fourth season, without a fifth-year extension because of the Steelers’ decision, a “make or break” year, as CBS Sports put it last week. But Brian Flores feels even in his first OTAs and minicamp with Bush, that he and Bush have developed a good connection to help Bush bounce back.

“Devin is obviously very talented,” Flores said about Bush during minicamp at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “He’s a smart kid. I’ve had a good rapport and good conversations with him thus far. And I’m excited to keep working. This doesn’t this is not something we talk about second day or minicamp and you just jump out on the field in September. It’s something that you build towards, something that you work on daily. And he’s doing those things.”

Former Steelers running back Merrill Hoge expressed in May how he felt Bush didn’t play “smart” or “fast.” But Bush also freely admits he wasn’t at his best 2020.

“I was just able to go out on the field and put my cleats on whenever I felt like it,” Bush said about what’s different this year. “Last year, this time, I wasn’t on the field as much. They were managing me reps and holding me back to be cautionary.”

Contrary to Hoge, Bush feels his play was on the right path before his injury.

“Before the injury I felt like I was doing well,” Bush said. “I think I was on the way to being All-Pro or Pro Bowl, but things happen. I’ve learned a lot along the way. I’m grateful for it and I’m thankful I get to go out and play again.”

And now that he’s had time to focus on himself. Bush feels he’s in a different place.

“After the season I was able to run miles on the beach,” Bush said. “I was cutting, planting, jumping, turning around and my knee wasn’t an issue. I was able to get back to that, do normal things and get my confidence back in myself and my knee. That was a big part of my rehab, and honestly it came after the season.”

Bush was selected tenth overall by the Steelers in the 2019 NFL Draft to be the key inside linebacker and playmaker in the defense. That’s what Ryan Shazier was alongside Vince Williams during the mid 2010s before his career ending injury in 2017.

Williams’ career brings unique perspective on both Shazier’s impact and Bush’s start to his career. Even during the 2021 season, Williams saw Bush’s struggles as a direct result of his injury.

Bush only totaled 70 tackles in 2021, far lower than his 109 in 2019, which set a Steelers rookie record for tackles. If Flores’ rapport with Bush is to make him the player he was drafted to be in 2019, Bush must achieve a standard better than he’s achieved.

It’s important to compare the output of other major linebackers in important seasons for their teams, both the Steelers and across the NFL, to see the tier Bush must reach.

For the Steelers, Shazier’s 2016 season brought 89 tackles three forced fumbles, nine tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two interceptions when he helped the Steelers get to their most recent AFC Championship Game. James Farrior finished with 121 tackles, seven tackles for loss and two forced fumbles in the Steelers’ Super Bowl XL run.

Devin White had a stellar season in 2020 when he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with 140 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and nine sacks in the Super Bowl championship year. Bobby Wagner led the Seattle Seahawks with 120 tackles, five sacks, four tackles for loss and two interceptions in their 2013 Super Bowl championship year.

If Bush achieves those kinds of numbers, it would not only revive his career, but ignite a strength in the Steelers’ defense Mike Tomlin hasn’t had since Shazier’s final season. If that happens, Bush puts himself in a good position to get paid either by the Steelers or in free agency.

“Me and my agent talked about it,” Bush said about not getting the fifth-year option. “The team made a decision they needed to make, so we have to make decisions we need to make. I wasn’t butthurt or pissed off, it’s just business. I was already motivated regardless of my fifth-year option. I’m just motivated to win.”

Whether Bush reaches that level will be up to him. But alongside Myles Jack while being coached by Flores and Jerry Olsavsky, Bush’s 2022 season is a unique opportunity for growth and success.

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