Devin Bush knew Ryan Shazier was watching, but the player the Pittsburgh Steelers traded up 10 spots to select with their first pick in the NFL Draft wasn’t looking over his shoulder.
The Steelers are hoping their search to fill the void at inside linebacker since Shazier was lost to spinal-stabilization surgery ends with Bush, so all eyes were on the No. 10 overall selection.
If he’s feeling any pressure to replace Shazier as a Pro Bowl playmaker, Bush is showing no signs of it. That alone made for a strong first impression in his Steelers debut.
“Yeah, I seen him,” Bush said Friday, after his first rookie minicamp practice at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side. “I’m just playing football. I’m not trying to be somebody I’m not. I’m not trying to go over and beyond. I’m trying to learn my playbook and do what I’ve got to do.”
Bush is showing to be a quick study. So quick that he was calling plays in his first practice, on the same day he received his playbook. Even if the language seemed foreign, Bush understood concepts and relied on his instincts.
“Just getting out there and being vocal as much as I could,” Bush said. “Whether I was right or wrong, I was just being vocal and trusting what I see.”
The first thing you notice about Bush is his size. At 5-foot-11, 234 pounds, he’s not your prototypical NFL inside linebacker. But this is a new day and age in the pass-happy NFL, where teams value speed and quickness over size at that position.
Rather than apologize for it, Bush has embraced the tag of undersized linebacker. He even has his own official clothing line, UNDRSZD, complete with a motto: Don’t judge me by my size, judge me by what I can do on and off the field…
On the field, Bush stands out for his speed. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, faster than the Steelers’ third-round picks at wide receiver and cornerback. That sideline-to-sideline playmaking ability is similar to Shazier, another Florida and Big Ten product whose slight build also made him undersized.
Yet Bush was more concerned with showing “why I belong here, why I belong in the NFL and why I’m going to play here for a long time” than he was with comparisons to Shazier.
This was only football in shorts, so it’s too soon to make any judgments on the rookies. But if the Steelers trust what they saw to trade up for Bush, then I trust in what I heard from him.
Bush talked about getting familiar with the playbook and terminology enough to be confident in his play-calling. He talked in the voice of a veteran, not the reservation of a rookie. What I like is he trusted his instincts, instead of worrying about making mistakes.
“I didn’t feel out of whack. I didn’t feel out of stage,” Bush said. “I just know there’s going to be some hiccups here and there. I’m still learning.”
That didn’t stop Steelers rookie cornerback Justin Layne — a Michigan State product who counted Bush as a rival until they trained together for the NFL Scouting Combine — from sharing superlatives about Bush after one practice together.
“Devin, he’s a great leader. He’s very vocal. He’s going to be good, for sure,” Layne said. “You can just tell. He was calling the right defense and everything. He knows what’s going on.”
Even better is that Bush trusts what he sees.
For an insider linebacker who wants to be judged not by his size but rather by what he does on and off the field, Bush made a positive first impression with the Steelers in both regards.