The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team that preaches patience with their rookies. They are not a team to push them into the lineup if they are not ready. However, they are also a team that does not trade up into the top ten for game changing players.
The Steelers trade up for Devin Bush is the first defensive trade up since Troy Polamalu, who did not start a single game for the Steelers in his rookie season. Still, that was a different NFL. The Steelers need to replace Ryan Shazier was apparent in their playoff loss to the Jaguars at the end of the 2017 season and the hole got deeper the following year.
But before the draft, and before the Steelers moved up 10 spots, general manager Kevin Colbert didn’t feel that it was an absolute necessity that his first-round pick be an instant starter.
“The people we draft, the longer we can keep them off the field the better for them historically,” Colbert said. “You really want to go in with these players and delay them getting on the field as long as you can because over time I think coach would get comfortable with what they can do but to have them have to step out and play, more often than not I think it is more detrimental to the player and if he loses his confidence early it’s usually not returnable.”
WILL BUSH START WEEK ONE?
History says that he should. Since 2000, eight inside linebackers have been taken in the top ten spots: Brian Urlacher, Luke Kuechly, A.J. Hawk, Jerod Mayo, LaVar Arrington, Ernie Sims, Rolando McClain, and Roquan Smith.
Of that group, the lowest number of starts was Arrington, who started 11 games back in 2000. Today’s NFL is designed for rookies to get on the NFL field even sooner. And Kuechly, Hawk, Mayo, and Sims started all 16 games of their rookie seasons.
Smith was drafted eighth overall just last season. He held out and barely participated in training camp before starting 14 games, compiling 121 tackles, one interception, five sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Smith was taken two picks higher, but was held in similar regard as a prospect, and did not need to be acquired via trade up. Considering the hold out, it is completely fair to expect Bush to start 16 as long as he is healthy and in camp.
“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,” Colbert said after the draft. “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. And like Coach mentioned, he can help on special teams right now. And where he plays schematically, I’m sure (head coach Mike) Tomlin and (defensive coordinator Keith) Butler and (inside linebackers coach Jerry) Olsavsky will figure that out in time. But I think that Devin will push the process, but it will be up to the coaches when he’s ready.
WILL BUSH CALL PLAYS?
It is worth noting that Smith did not call plays for the Bears on defense, though. Danny Trevathan was the play-calling linebacker, which allowed Smith to be more reactive.
Smith was held back by holding out, so can Bush call plays as a rookie? He called the plays for the Michigan defense a year ago, and he will likely still start, but he may be chasing Vince Williams next season.
One thing the Bears did to get Smith acclimated was let him call plays with the second team in the preseason, so that he would not disrupt the rhythm of Trevathan. Do not be surprised if Bush spends the summer running the second-team as a play caller before being promoted to a starter by Week One.
COULD BUSH WIN ROOKIE OF THE YEAR?
Even if Bush does not call the plays, Jon Bostic saw the field 53.6% of the snaps, and L.J. Fort played 29.2 of the time. That is 865 defensive snaps or 82.8% of the defensive plays.
Roquan Smith played 880 snaps, 83.6%. This is right in line with what we should expect Bush to do. While Smith did not win the Rookie of the Year, he was certainly in consideration.
Any linebacker who plays that often is going to be in consideration. Linebacker is the position that compiles the most stats, and stats are what voters look for. In fact, Smith only lost the Defensive Rookie of the Year award because of linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and linebacker Darius Leonard, who won the award.
In the past 18 years, nine linebackers have won the award, including Kuechly, Mayo and Urlacher, former top ten picks.
Bush will have Devin White to compete with but the two are the clear-cut front runners for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Bush should be in line to start every game, and 100 tackles with a sack or two, a pick or two and a couple of tackles for loss should be expected based on past top ten picks at linebacker. If Bush is calling plays by the end of the season, he is even farther ahead of schedule than his peers, and will be on a path to longterm success in the NFL.