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.
JuJu Surprises Family With New House
Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is continuing the gifting trend, as the latest Pittsburgh player to give their family a life-changing surprise.
Smith-Schuster shared a video to his YouTube channel Monday night, chronicling the lead up and eventual reveal that he had purchased his family a new house.
This is one of the biggest accomplishments of my life and a dream come true! I’ve wanted to do this for so long, finally being able to do this is just unbelievable to me. Check out the video! ➡️ https://t.co/7sNIZ1J5S0 pic.twitter.com/qysVCWgUhn— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) July 6, 2020
“Now that I’m able to live my dream and play in the NFL, I think it’s everyone’s dream to take care of their family at some point in their life, especially when it’s their parents,” he said. “For me, myself, I’m buying my mom and dad a house. It’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid.”
The 23-year-old has been vocal in the past about the adversity he faced growing up one of 23 children in Southern California, including not sleeping in a bed of his own until he arrived at USC. Smith-Schuster’s experiences as a kid were some of the main motivating factors behind his selfless act.
In the vlog, Smith-Schuster documents his trip home to California for the ultimate reveal. While his parents were privy to the whole setup, his siblings were unaware, believing they were visiting Smith-Schuster’s Airbnb for a day at the pool. He originally told his mother over FaceTime months earlier, also included in the video.
Instead of a pool party, his siblings were surprised with their new six-bedroom, five-home in Yorba Linda, California. Upon learning the incredible news, they raced around the house picking rooms and brainstorming design ideas.
Smith-Schuster’s big announcement comes just a day after teammate James Conner surprised his mother with a new house, sharing her reaction on social media as well.
Entering the final year of his rookie deal with the Steelers, the fully-healthy Smith-Schuster is looking to have a big season in 2020.
Film Study: Banner or Okorafor, Who Wins Steelers’ Right Tackle Spot?
The Steelers have announced their intentions to move 2019 starting right tackle Matt Feiler to left guard after the retirement of Ramon Foster.
With that occurring, it sets Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor on a collision course for a training camp battle at right tackle. Okorafor did get the nod against the Los Angeles Rams last season. However, Banner was the team’s sixth offensive lineman and came in on numerous plays. That spawned the “No. 72 is eligible” movement in Pittsburgh.
Behind all of this, however, which of the young tackles is the guy who should take the field against the New York Giants in Week 1?
The Tale of the Tape
In terms of actual on the field reps, Banner was good last season. That is not an exaggeration. Banner immediately sticks out as a guy that could potentially start. He got limited pass protection reps, and during those 24 limited reps did not allow a single pressure, sack, hurry, or quarterback hit. However, in run blocking, Banner showcased his ‘Hulk strength’ by blowing guys off their spot and out of the gap consistently.
When the label of a ‘people mover’ is given to an offensive lineman, this is what they mean. Banner may just be the strongest guy on the offensive line because he gets this type of unusual movement at the NFL level. For a big 6-foot-8 guy, Banner plays extremely low here. He showcases good knee bend and comes through with a nice flatback to keep his pads low. More importantly, he uses that knee bend to engage his lower body and shoot that power through his hands as he hits the edge defender in the middle of his pads. The best thing about this rep, however, is that he simply does not quit. Banner stays engaged until the whistle is blown and ends up moving the defender a whole ten yards downfield.
That functional strength will always be Banner’s best trait. It is natural for a guy of his size to be this strong, but guys his size often do not play with the consistent pad level and grip strength that Banner plays with. The one thing to highlight in this play is Banner’s feet as well. They are light and do not stop moving. Banner is not a heavy-footed guy for his size, which bodes well for his pass sets when quick feet will be all that more important. Banner as a pure finisher and run blocking technician, however, is a fun thing to watch on film.
Keeping those feet running and staying engaged is so important in the open field for an offensive lineman. Banner has excellent movement skills, superb feet, and always has the grip strength needed as well. When a lineman can stay engaged like this on a linebacker downfield, that is how they spring big plays in the running game and screen game. That is why seeing reps like these from a guy like is Banner is so exciting. NFL starting tackles do things like this.
For Okorafor, he has far more limited reps than Banner. However, during his start against the Rams, he flashed some good tape out there. For one, his vision and ability to multitask along the offensive line is excellent, as he showcases here. Okorafor attacks and collapses the hip of the rusher heading for DeCastro, but is still quick-witted enough to bounce back, stun the edge rusher, and keep Rudolph protected. That is all eye discipline at that point. It shows Okorafor can process looks and where the pressure may be coming from on any given play.
Unlike Banner, who wins through pure functional strength, Okorafor wins moreso through his punch power. In pass protection especially, Okorafor has well-timed, strong punches that stun pass rushers that can try to win around the bend. Against speed rushers especially, it is how Okorafor wins. Dante Fowler can speak to that, as he is stunned by a robust two-handed jab from Okorafor on this play.
Where Okorafor sets himself apart from Banner is that he has superb footwork. Banner has good footwork, but they are not nearly as quick as Okorafor’s feet. Here, he can get into his smooth kick-slide and virtually glide to his spot. That means he is not often rushing to beat guys, even with a significant first step to his spot. As such, he can stay disciplined and within strike pocket. There is no need for him to be overaggressive and lunge. Instead, he simply maintains good knee bend and strikes to stun the pass rusher with his heavy hands.
So, Who Wins the Job?
This one is a bit tough to answer. The higher pedigree within the organization by far goes to Okorafor. He was groomed to be the successor at one of the tackle spots ever since he was picked in the 3rd round out of Western Michigan. However, Banner put out quality tape in 2019, and it is hard to see him going on the bench.
Okorafor certainty struggled in the preseason, but he was not that bad against the Rams. He had some help with chips and such, but when asked to face a man head-to-head simply, most of the time, Okorafor did his job. Still, though, Banner’s quality tape and performance have to stand for something. He has reworked his body once this offseason and looks ready to go once again.
At this time, the prediction is Banner just because of the amount of quality tape he put out. In reality, this is up in the air, and it would not be a surprise at all to see Okorafor capture that spot, but just based off the sheer quality of tape, Banner gets the nod.
James Conner Surprises Mom with New House
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner warmed hearts last month when he surprised his father with a new truck.
Now, he is taking care of mom.
Conner recently surprised his mother with a brand new house, sharing her emotional reaction to Twitter on Saturday.
Welcome HOME Ma! You’ve sacrificed so much and we can’t thank you enough! You’re the reason I go to work day in and day out, to finally give you a place you can call Home. I Love you❤️🏡💪🏽💯🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/c25KyOphAo— James Conner (@JamesConner_) July 4, 2020
Conner was able to pull off the surprise for his mother, Kelly Bibbs, with the help of his brothers. While Bibbs may have not realized what exactly was going on at first, seeing her son James and the golden balloons arranged to say “Welcome Home” quickly gave it away.
Steelers running backs coach Eddie Faulkner and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry shared their thoughts on the big surprise, among other on social media.
Wow! The best thing I’ve seen in a long time! https://t.co/BO3x1RkvDL— Eddie Faulkner (@coachfaulk) July 4, 2020
❤️ Absolutely, man that’s a amazing feeling… Making sure your people Straight forever ✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾— Jarvis Juice Landry (@God_Son80) July 5, 2020
Conner’s gesture is a continuation of an offseason of giving that saw him gift his father a brand new truck back on June 6.
Bought my pops a truck! He was hype 😂🙏🏽💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/QSrH2bdiTS— James Conner (@JamesConner_) June 6, 2020
Entering his fourth season out of Pitt, Conner is looking for a bounce back season following an injury plagued 2019 campaign. He rushed for 464 yards and four touchdowns, but played in only ten games for the Steelers.
Last season was a far cry from 2018, when Conner was a breakout sensation replacing Le’Veon Bell. He ran for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns, earning Pro Bowl honors.
Entering the final year of his rookie contract, the 25-year-old has something to prove in 2020.