Devin Bush drew cheers from the crowd at Chuck Noll Field in his first practice at Pittsburgh Steelers training camp for diving to break up a short pass over the middle.
What the Steelers’ first-round draft pick can’t wait to do is put on the pads for the first time on Sunday. Or, as Bush put it, to strap up and wear the whole outfit.
“Now,” Bush said, “you really get to compete.”
What we all want to see is how Bush competes in the annual rite of training camp in the first practice in pads: The drill known as “backs on ‘backers” that tests the pass-rush skills of linebackers against the pass-protection abilities of running backs. It’s a pass-fail collision course, and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has been in Bush’s ear about calling out the No. 10 overall pick.
“I heard about it,” Bush said. “That’s all he’s been talking about since I got here, so I’m ready for it. It is what it is, the game of football. That’s what comes with it.”
All eyes will be on Bush, who was known at Michigan for making up for his undersized stature with physicality and big-play ability that saw his stock soar. That includes teammates like fellow inside linebacker Vince Williams, who is anxiously awaiting his first glimpse at Bush in a true football setting instead of just in shorts and shells.
So much so that Williams brought up Bush on his own, without provocation.
“I want to see what Devin has,” said Williams, who is rotating with Bush and free-agent signing Mark Barron, a converted safety. “Obviously, we know what Mark is capable of – he’s a seasoned vet. I want to see how Devin is going to do. I’m excited for it.”
The Steelers traded up 10 spots in the draft to select the Michigan product in an attempt to replace Ryan Shazier’s dynamic playmaking ability in the middle of the defense.
Where both linebackers separated themselves with their 4.4-second speed and quick grasp of the system, the 5-foot-11, 234-pound Bush is shorter and thicker than Shazier. So they aren’t going to be comparable in terms of style.
“We haven’t really seen anything,” Williams said. “He’s a middle linebacker. He’s not like a Ryan or a long, lengthy athlete, so we haven’t really seen any amazing abilities or crazy leaping – I’m not saying he’s not capable of those things, it’s just that we haven’t really seen it.
“I just want to see what he’s going to be like in pads. With Ryan, he was so long and so rangy and made different type of plays. But I think (Bush is) going to be good.”
That’s because of Bush’s football IQ. Bush already made a positive first impression, when he called plays in his first practice just hours after getting his playbook. That wasn’t lost on Williams, who called Bush “very intelligent.”
“There’s a certain type of first-rounders that come in: You have guys who are just freaky athletically and you have guys that we call ‘young vets.’ They’re just technically savvy at a very early age, and that’s how Devin is,” Williams said. “He’s very sharp. He’s very polished coming out. That’s actually crazy because he came out early as a junior, so he still had one more year. And he just turned 21!
“So when you see a younger guy like that who has an understanding of the game like that, that’s what impressed me more than anything. Obviously, when you’re a first-rounder, you’re going to have the measurables – especially (picks) in the top 10 – but his understanding of the game and football intelligence is off the charts.”
So, I asked Williams for an example. He talked about how the veteran linebackers would explain an advanced concept to Bush – whose father, Devin Sr., was a 1995 first-round pick as a safety and played eight seasons in the NFL – about adjustments he had to make with a man in motion.
“He’ll be like, ‘Oh, OK.’ He just gets it,” Williams said. “Just complicated things don’t really confuse him. He doesn’t really seem overwhelmed by the playbook at all. That was the most impressive thing I’ve noticed. He’s just smart.
“When he sees it on the field, he doesn’t panic about it. He just does it. He’s smooth on the field. A lot of rookies will panic a little bit because they’re not sure, but he’s very sure.”
And Bush is sure to have all eyes on him in his first practice in pads. It will be his next chance to make another positive impression – and his first to leave an indelible mark on the Steelers.