Flashback to December 4th, 2017; one of the most versatile linebackers, Ryan Shazier, was paralyzed below the waist. Since then, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been looking for an inside linebacker to fill the void from the loss of Shazier.
So far the Steelers have tried filling his spot with Shazier’s partners Vince Williams, Jon Bostic, and Tyler Matakevic. Fast forward a few years later and the Steelers are still searching for the next Shazier.
Once General Manager Kevin Colbert watched the film of the young, speedy linebacker from Michigan, the Steelers knew they needed him. They’d trade up to the 10th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft to get him. That pick was the versatile Devin Bush.
Fast forward again to the present, and Bush is already turning heads. According to MyBookie, Bush is +700 to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, tied for third-best odds. Bush possesses some capabilities that have him shining bright in the preseason already. First of all, he is an exquisite run defender.
Bush is an undersized inside linebacker who struggles shedding blocks sometimes. However, he makes up for it with his speed, vision, patience, and intelligence. Bush has the sideline-to-sideline speed that works well with detailed angles to limit extra yards for running backs and receivers.
Here the Steelers are lined up in their base 3-4 formation. Bush starts as the right inside linebacker. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will run an inside zone. At the snap, Bush’s blue vision cone has him reading the backfield.
After a few seconds in the clip, a cutback lane opens up. Bush realizes the running back is going to alter his direction and cut back. Bush stays on the toes of his feet while watching the running back. He then plants and charges downhill. Bush is willing to initiate the contact and sticks to his lane.
Many linebackers are aggressive and will follow a running back’s original lane. Bush remains patient, sits back and stays in his lane. If it was not for Bush’ steadiness, the running back could have earned an extra 5+ yards.
In this clip, we notice Bush can push ball carriers into tight paths. For example, the Buccaneers are running a sweep to the right, and Bush starts at right inside linebacker.
Instead of filling an inside lane, Bush patiently reads the linemen’s blocks and where the running back is attacking. Bush utilizes his superb angles and speed on this play. At the snap, Bush attacks the outside shoulder of the running back and linemen until there is an open alley. Once the path opens up, Bush flips his hips and charges downhill. Within a split-second, Bush traps the running back and takes him straight on.
His angling and patience roll side-by-side. With his composure, he can watch where the running back will attack. Also, patient running backs like Le’Veon Bell rely on aggressive linebackers. They expect linebackers to attack their lanes and the patient ball carrier will wait to see which lineman defeats the attacking linebacker. But, with Bush remaining, patient running backs cannot push it to the second level nor realize where these linebackers will attack.
Lastly, Bush is an excellent disguiser. We will see later how he disguises a blitz on a pass play, but here he jumps the lane with speed. Bush begins walking up to the line of scrimmage slowly at first.
Once the quarterback drops his eyes and snaps the ball, Bush jumps to the balls of his feet and leaps forward. The linemen expect him to read the run before attacking, so Bush has the element of surprise and speed on his side. With all the linemen manned up on the backside, Bush breaks through and captures the running back behind the line of scrimmage.
Now, for all Steelers fans, this type of disguising may look familiar. Bush is not nearly as successful or as quick yet, but he shares the art of disguise with Troy Polamalu. The Flyin’ Hawaiian and Bush both can snap from disguising coverage to full out blitz mode as well as anyone to ever play the game of football. Bush is not as fast, but he can make a difference in the pass rush game too.
Although Bush has a preseason Pro Football Focus grade only, his pass-rush grade is an 81.0. If he had the grade in the 2018 season, Bush would have finished tied for 11th out of 168 linebackers graded. Bush’s disguising and quickness make him a threat in the inside lanes.
In this clip, Bush flashes Steelers fans back to the Polamalu days again. Bush keeps his eyes locked in on the quarterback. He slowly creeps to the line of scrimmage then breaks through the line in about a second.
Bush can do this because he drops into coverage more often than rushing the quarterback. With outside linebackers showing blitz, the linemen are more worried about pass protecting the outside than the interior. With Bush showing no immediate threat, he can hold back and jump the snap. Bush watches the quarterback swivel his head side to side before snapping the ball.
Bush then realizes the ball is snapped and breaks through the line. If it was not for poor outside contain, Bush would have picked up a sack in this game.
Pass rushing and run defense are his main strengths, but he is still an above-average coverage defender too.
At Michigan, Bush finished the season with an 87.7 coverage grade. So far, it has not fared well in the NFL as he scored a 59.3 grade. Bush can stick with tight ends and shallow routes, but he is no Shazier type coverage linebacker. Bush will not be guarding elite running backs as well nor defending number one receivers anytime soon. However, he does have upsides too.
In this first clip, Bush is lined up in inside leverage of the tight end. Bush immediately attacks the tight end and initiates contact. He lacks the power when it comes to chucking receivers and tight ends, but he stayed locked on the Buccaneers tight end. Bush plays a trail man technique and stays a foot behind in a safe position. Next, Bush can jump the pass and nearly make the interception.
In this clip, Bush keeps his eyes on the tight end’s hips. Bush stood flat-footed, but his speed made up for his mistake. He tracked down the tight end and wrapped him up. Bush tried stripping and holding the tight end up for a strip but ran him out of bounds. Bush is not as quick or as good as a coverage linebacker as Shazier yet, but his speed makes him able to shut down big plays and yards after catch.
Last but not least, Bush shows his chase down ability after dropping into zone coverage. Bush begins in a hook curl zone but keeps his eyes on the running back rolling out for the screen. Bush changes direction, and the white line shows he comes downhill following the running back’s near hip. This keeps the RB from cutting back and forcing them back into either another defender or the sideline.
Bush cannot make a firm tackle due to lack of size, so he reaches out and makes a shoelace tackle to stop a significant gain.
Bush utilizes his speed tremendously. Although Bush contains weaknesses, his strengths outweigh his weaknesses already in his rookie preseason. All Steelers fans are hopeful for the high reach in the draft. Devin Bush shows glimpses of the second version of the Steel Curtain in the 2000s. Bush shows fans Polamalu techniques as well as Shazier techniques too.
The high praise is well deserved and keep this name in your mind in a few years when he reaches his potential.
Nick Zeller-Singh is a writer for the Pro Football Network covering the PFN Film Room. You can follow him on Twitter @zickster21.