From all accounts, Devin Bush has made an impressive early start to training, and he made sure to continue that trend on Friday.
In 11-on-11 team drills Friday, the media pool saw Bush recognize a screen pass, defeat a blocker, and then made the tackle immediately as the ball was being caught. Bush made an impressive pass breakup against Anthony McFarland deep down the field as well, as well.
All of that ability comes back to the second-year leap Bush wishes to makes, which he trained for over the offseason.
“I want to be more efficient just with my movements,” Bush said before Friday’s practice session. “I’m not saying my movements were bad, but I’ve seen just playing in the system I played in college and switching to another system in the league, things have to change. I had to get leaner. I had to train differently. I think I’ve done a good job of that in the offseason.”
Stepping into a bigger role in his second year, Bush is being asked by the Steelers to take on a more vocal role. Tomlin praised Bush for showing up in great shape and improving his traits, but he wants to see more improvement in communication.
“I’m looking for that step to be revealed in the quality and the amount of his communication, and he still has room for improvement in that regard,” Tomlin said. “He’s better than he was, but as a defensive quarterback, as you will, I’m really looking for significant maturation in that area.”
Curtis Riley Shines
A standout on Friday was new veteran signee safety, Curtis Riley. With Terrell Edmunds out with an injury, Riley stepped into the lineup and received the first-team snaps. Riley nabbed an interception by ripping the ball right out of Eric Ebron’s hands after he said a defensive lineman deflected the pass. On punt coverage, Riley sprinted down the field, dove for the ball at the goal line, saved it, and downed it at the one-yard line. With a standout day, Riley is feeling more comfortable than ever, despite having just joined the team at the outset of training camp.
“I think I am doing pretty well,” he said. “It is actually a similar defense that I ran my first few years in Tennessee. It was easier picking it up. Just had to learn the terminology and how they play things,” Riley said.
In a safety room that is starving for quality depth, a strong day on both defense and special teams will help Riley in his pursuit to make the final 53-man roster.
Maryland Rookies Have a Superb Day
McFarland continues to have lots of buzz from out of the locker room. Often praised by both players and coaches alike, the Steelers fourth-round pick has made quite the impression in only a small number of days. On Friday, Bush praised the former Terrapins running back, whom he faced in the Big Ten at Michigan.
“Anthony McFarland is a really, really good running back,” Bush said. “I played him in previous years in college. I’m already familiar with his skillset. He’s doing a good job of adjusting. He’s going through his rookie things with just learning how to be a professional, how to take on practice and compete.”
The pool report detailed an impressive day for McFarland, whose top-end was fully on display at practice. He also showcased a dead leg cut that froze defenders and was able to instantly hit the gas pedal and explode after his cuts. However, the standout play was in the team session. McFarland caught a flip pass out of the backfield and proceeded to pull theatrics by crossing the field for a big gain after the catch.
McFarland was not the only former Maryland player that had an impressive day. Rookie safety Antoine Brooks showcased his strengths at practice. Brooks illustrated his physicality in sideline drills against the running backs. More importantly, in team sessions, Brooks flashed his impressive natural open-field tackling ability. Brooks is in a competition to make the roster in a safety room with shallow depth, and another standout day only helps his argument.
Right Tackle Competition Will Rage On
Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner have been in a fierce battle this week. Okorafor has received first-team snaps, but Banner has turned heads with his intensity and performance this week. With such a tight race, Mike Tomlin refuses to rush to pick a winner, and he might not for some time.
“We’ll go until we get definitive clarity,” Tomlin said. “We’ve got two really good, capable men there, guys that are not new to us and new to the challenge. We’re excited about watching those guys sort themselves out, and we’re looking for as many ways as we can to create an atmosphere where they can definitively separate themselves. When we get to that spot, we will know it, but until then, we will continue to work to create opportunities for them to distinguish themselves.”
Offensive Line coach Shaun Sarrett praised both Okorafor and Banner. Still, he agreed with Tomlin’s sentiments, saying that he is “not going to be forced to make that decision right now.” However, his praise for both shows how good he feels about either one of them.
“I’ll commend both of those guys,” Sarrett said. Both of those guys came in the best shape that I’ve seen since I’ve been here. I commend them both. They know what they’re practicing for every day. They’re not just going out to practice. They’re going out there competing for a job, every rep, every drill, every walk through. That’s meaningful to those guys, and they’ve done a great job with it.”
As far as who will win the right tackle job, it is still up in the air. It seems to be a true flip of the coin situation.
Mason Rudolph Bounces Back
After a rough Wednesday, it was a welcome sight to see the positive review that Rudolph received on Friday. Rudolph made a good throw off a play-action pass to an open Eric Ebron for a big gain of 20 yards on a play. Rudolph also executed a nifty flip pass to McFarland and a perfectly executed screen on his part.
While it is minor, it is good to see Rudolph back in the positive light as he enters a critical prove-it season as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup. If he fails to meet expectations and take a step forward, the Steelers may take a quarterback early in the 2021 NFL Draft.