As daunting debuts go, Devin Bush knows that he couldn’t ask for much more from his first NFL game as a Pittsburgh Steeler.
The 21-year-old first-round draft pick from Michigan appears unfazed about opening the regular season against the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on a prime-time Sunday Night Football telecast at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
“I don’t think this is going to be too much of a difference,” Bush said, with a shrug. “In college, I played on the biggest stage in America, so I’m used to playing against big crowds.”
Playing against the game’s greatest quarterback is another story. Bush knows that Tom Brady will have his eyes on exposing the 5-foot-11, 234-pounder the Steelers traded up 10 spots to draft in the first round as the replacement for Ryan Shazier.
“That’s the test, man,” Bush said. “You go out there and just showcase.”
Bush believes he is ready for the attention that comes with playing a position at the heart of the Steelers defense, even against arguably the greatest quarterback in league history.
“I don’t really get nervous,” Bush said, smiling. “I’m not trying to be all cocky or anything, I’ve just got a lot of confidence.”
Not to mention a lot of naivete.
Bush says this while sitting next to his locker, brimming with a confidence that belies both his age and experience. It’s a confidence that comes from being the son of a former first-round draft pick, Devin Bush Sr., and the godson of Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks – both of whom played against Brady – and the No. 10 overall pick in the NFL Draft.
What you have to wonder is whether it’s overconfidence and how much of Bill Belichick’s game plan is for Brady to attack Bush and make him look like a rookie for everyone to see.
His Steelers teammates, however, are as enamored with Bush’s football acumen as his athleticism. They have been beaming about Bush since his arrival, when he made a positive first impression by calling the defense just hours after receiving his playbook. Bush has shown the speed to cover sideline-to-sideline or drop into pass coverage.
“He’s been ready. He’s a football player and a good one at that. I most definitely think he’s ready,” Steelers inside linebacker Mark Barron said. “He’s a smart football player and that’s what it really takes. Physically, he got everything he needs. It’s being up to speed mentally and I think he’s ready for that.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was non-committal about how much Bush will play against the Patriots. If his preseason performance is any indication, Bush will make plays. He had 10 tackles in the preseason opener against Tampa Bay and finished tied for the team lead with 18 stops over three games.
Any veteran quarterback would take aim at a rookie linebacker, so Bush knows what to expect. But no passer can dissect a defense like Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champion whose accuracy and arm strength drew praise from Tomlin.
“They will do that but you have to be on point and know it’s coming,” Barron said. “As a rookie you just have to have that awareness. It’s all about awareness and knowing how teams want to attack you. You have to check your temperature real quick.”
How long does that take?
“If you make a couple plays and you do it consistently, people will figure it out that it ain’t really worth it,” Barron said. “It’s most definitely something you have to prove, you have to prove yourself in this league.”
Bush plans to do just that by putting the pressure on Brady, the rookie inside linebacker sounding somewhere between confident and cocksure about his chances despite the Patriots’ dominance of the Steelers over the past two decades.
“Brady gets the ball out pretty fast,” Bush said, “so if I’m getting there fast and he’s not getting the ball out then I’m winning.”
The stage is set, so it’s up to Bush to go out there and showcase.