Do-it-all inside linebacker Bush could be answer for Steelers
INDIANAPOLIS — Devin Bush was rattling off the names of NFL linebackers he most resembles Saturday afternoon when he ended his list with one that is bittersweet for Pittsburgh Steelers fans:
It was a fitting choice for Bush, a slightly undersized inside linebacker who could be a candidate to fill the role vacated by Shazier when he suffered his spinal-cord injury in December 2017.
To general manager Kevin Colbert’s regret, the Steelers didn’t adequately replace Shazier in 2018, when they finished 9-6-1 and missed the playoffs for the first time in five years.
After their top four inside linebacker choices were off the board, the Steelers bypassed the position in the first round. And then they surprised by ignoring it for the rest of the draft.
This year, one of the team’s priorities remains finding an inside linebacker who can stay on the field for three downs, much like Shazier did before his injury.
In 2018, Vince Williams was a second-year starter, but he left the field for nearly 30 percent of defensive plays. Jon Bostic, signed in free agency, was on the field just 53 percent of the time.
Bush, a 5-foot-11, 234-pounder from Michigan, believes he is the type of player the Steelers are seeking. He thinks he can make plays in coverage when he’s not stopping the run.
“I feel like I fit it, I feel like I exceed at it,” Bush said. “That’s my game. I’m a twitchy linebacker. I can cover. I can blitz. I can play the run. I can do it all.”
As of Saturday, Bush hadn’t met with the Steelers and “wasn’t sure” whether he had a formal interview arranged.
Bush, who left school after his junior season, is rated as the No. 2 inside linebacker in the draft by most analysts. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah has Bush rated as his No. 19 overall player.
The Steelers hold the No. 20 pick in the first round.
“He’s excellent as a zone dropper against the pass — quick to key routes and get a jump on the ball,” Jeremiah wrote about Bush in his most recent draft mockup. “In man coverage, he has the speed to run with tight ends and running backs, but he gets a little too grabby down the field. He is an excellent blitzer, using a dip/rip move to defeat running backs. Bush really excels in the run game.”
The knock on Bush is his height, a critique he called “overblown.” Bush doesn’t see any issue being tasked with covering big, athletic tight ends.
“I’m not worried about the size of a guy or how much taller or heavier he is,” Bush said. “Football is football. It’s a man’s sport. He’s going to have to show he can beat me as a man.”
LSU’s Devin White is considered the top inside linebacker of the draft class. Jeremiah has the 6-foot, 237-pound White, the Butkus Award winner, rated as the No. 9 overall pick, which means he likely will be gone unless the Steelers trade up in the opening round.
The No. 3 linebacker on most boards, Alabama’s Mack Wilson, isn’t expected to be selected until the second round. Jeremiah has Wilson (6-1, 240) as the No. 49 overall prospect, which would could make him a possibility if the Steelers target cornerback or wide receiver in the opening round.
White and Wilson said Saturday that they had formal interviews scheduled with the Steelers later that evening.
“I feel like I have the ability to play any linebacker position, run sideline to sideline, cover tight ends, cover running backs, tackle,” Wilson said. “I feel like I can do it all.”
Which is what the Steelers are seeking from a player at the position they admittedly can’t ignore for a second year in a row. White, Bush and Wilson are the top three examples of players who could fit that bill.
“As the NFL becomes more of a passing league, inside linebackers must be able to hit, run and cover to stay on the field,” NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks wrote recently. “The 2019 class features a handful of athletic playmakers with the speed, quickness and versatility to occupy key roles in the middle of the field.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .