Steelers Inside The Ropes: Devin Bush, Mark Barron, Vince Williams in ILB rotation
To borrow a favorite turn of phrase of coach Mike Tomlin, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ division of labor at inside linebacker was far from clear when training camp opened Friday.
The good news, as free-agent acquisition Mark Barron said afterward, is the Steelers legitimately have three starters at inside linebacker. And that more than makes up for the bad news that there are only — at most — two available spots for inside linebackers on any given down.
For the first team-drill snap of the 2019 camp, in fact, only one was on the field. And that was rookie Devin Bush.
The No. 10 overall pick from Michigan was roaming the middle of the field when the Steelers went “dime” on the first snap of the practice-opening Seven Shots 2-point conversation-style plays (the offense went with a four-wide receiver package).
For the second play, the defense was in nickel, and veteran Vince Williams came on to join Bush.
On the third snap, Barron came in for Williams.
To start the first 11-on-11 drill about 10 minutes later, it was Williams and Bush together.
A few snaps later, Barron and Williams.
But in the next set of team drills, Barron and Bush.
You get the idea.
It’s clear the Steelers are still working through how to deploy their three starting-caliber inside linebackers. Bush played dime, indicating he might be seen as most adept against the pass.
Overall, though, the situation is filed under the “stay tuned” to see how it shakes out.
Very brief depth chart notes from the field after, like, 20 camp reps:
Feiler starting RT
Hawkins LT2, Chuks RT2
Sutton the dime DB (1st rep of camp was dime)
Brian Allen LCB2
Kam Kelly FS2
ILBs Barron/Vince/Bush in a hybrid rotation. Seems like lots of “subpackages” this year.
— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) July 26, 2019
- JuJu Smith-Schuster’s first camp practice as the clear No. 1 receiver was a good one. He caught a quick pass from Ben Roethlisberger on the first snap of Seven Shots, and he later caught long passes down the sideline from Roethlisberger during 11-on-11 drills. Once, he attacked the ball to catch it despite good coverage form Steven Nelson, another time he beat the other starting outside cornerback, Joe Haden. Only a short-armed drop early in 11-on-11s ruined an almost-perfect practice.
- The Roethlisberger-led first-team offense scored on three of the four Seven Shots, the first-team defense posting only a “sack” on the third snap. James Conner beat Barron for a quick score on Snap 2, and Vance McDonald made a one-handed catch over Nelson on Snap 4.
- The second-team offense fared much worse against the second-team defense, mostly because of Josh Dobbs. Dobbs threw interceptions (to Brian Allen and Cameron Sutton) on his first two snaps, and he overthrew a wide-open Christian Scotland-Williamson on the last snap.
- Conner split the defense for a big gain on the first 11-on-11 snap, the fan-favorite running back drawing a big cheer at Chuck Noll Field.
- Interestingly, there was at least one rep where Conner and backup Jaylen Samuels were on the field at the same time. Even more interestingly, in lieu of either playing in the backfield, they lined up wide. Roethlisberger attempted a pass over the middle on the play.
- Devlin Hodges got few reps, which is typical for a No. 4 quarterback on a day Roethlisberger is in attendance. He showed playmaking ability, both with his arm on a long completion and by stepping up in the pocket as protection broke down and flipping an improvised pitch to Benny Snell as he approached the line of scrimmage.
- Donte Moncrief had a strong debut. The veteran receiver had several catches, most notably when he high-pointed a Roethlisberger pass. That earned an “atta-boy” from Tomlin as Moncrief ran back into the huddle.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .