Rookie linebacker Devin Bush good as advertised for Steelers defense
As the midway point of his rookie season approaches, Devin Bush is on pace to accumulate more takeaways for the Pittsburgh Steelers than every player on the unit combined last season.
That’s the type of production that is worth trading up into the top 10 of the first round for. And it’s the type of player who was needed to fix what had been a broken defense in regard to creating turnovers as the Steelers head into their bye week.
“When you scout a guy and you say, ‘Wow, I think this guy can be really good,’ ” inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky said, “(and) he’s everything we expected.”
Bush hasn’t been perfect, but six games into his career, he has definitely provided a splash to a defense that sorely needed it. Bush has six takeaways — four fumble recoveries and two interceptions. The former leads the league, the latter is tied for the most by a Steelers player over the past two seasons.
Bush has been involved in six of the Steelers’ 14 takeaways, leaving him on pace for 16. Last season, the Steelers had 15. Through six games last season, they had five.
Some of it might appear as just luck. While there is a degree of truth to that, Bush also has a combination of innate instincts and raw athleticism that manifest themselves in ending up at the right place at the right time.
“He impresses me every day with his preparation and just being ready and being in shape physically,” Olsavsky said. “All the little things he crosses. He crossed those a long time ago. So, I’m never surprised when he makes a play or when he does something.”
During last week’s win in Los Angeles, Bush returned a fumble 9 yards for a touchdown when he scooped up Philip Rivers’ poorly-thrown lateral and sprinted to the goal line to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead.
On the next possession, Bush intercepted a tipped Rivers pass that set up another Steelers touchdown.
Bush became the second Steelers rookie since the 1970 NFL/AFL merger to have a touchdown on a fumble return as well as an interception in the same game. It has happened only 11 times by a rookie across the league in the 50 ensuing seasons; just four other Steelers of any NFL experience level had done it.
Kevin Gorman's Take 5: Big-play Devin Bush shines as Steelers stun Chargers
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How was Bush seemingly always around the ball in that game?
“Well, I think I played the whole game,” Bush said, indicating the more snaps he plays the more involved he feels. “When I’m home always sitting around with the ball in my hands, I think that’s a good thing. Good luck, I guess. But I just like to play the whole game, see the whole play.”
Splash plays aren’t Bush’s only contributions. His 52 tackles lead the Steelers, rank fifth in the NFL and are the most by a Steelers rookie since 2000. Only nine NFL rookies in the past 20 years have had more tackles over their first six games.
“He’s just going up the next step, and that’s what I told him,” Olsavsky said. “I’m not surprised that he’s made plays. I don’t subscribe to the idea that somebody could only make a fumble recovery and a touchdown and an interception in one game. Every series you go out there, you can make a play.”
The Steelers traded second- and third-round picks to move from No. 20 to No. 10 in the April draft to select Bush. If it wasn’t “splash” plays they had in mind, it was Bush’s coverage ability. And in that area, he has helped, too: according to Pro Football Focus, opponents have a 75.2 passer rating when throwing to a man whom Bush has in coverage; that ranks seventh among 56 qualifying inside linebackers.
It should be noted, though, PFF’s ratings aren’t as kind to Bush overall — the website has Bush as the No. 45 (of 56) inside linebacker overall and against the run.
Still, accumulating turnovers and touchdowns is the easiest way to get noticed. And as such, Bush went into the Steelers’ bye week on a short list of candidates for the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
“He is still learning,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “He still has to learn because there are several different techniques that we are teaching and trying to use. It is kind of running together for him a little bit. Some of it is and some of it is not. He has a lot of speed. He is going to make plays for us, and he has been doing it for us.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .