Surrounded by talent, Steelers’ Isaiah Buggs stood out at Alabama
Only four FBS teams in the country last season had more sacks than Alabama. And who led the national runner-up Crimson Tide in sacks?
That would be the second of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ three sixth-round draft picks last weekend, Isaiah Buggs.
“He can get to the passer,” said the man who probably knows best, Karl Dunbar.
“Very explosive guy.”
Dunbar is both Buggs’ old and new position coach. He recruited Buggs to Alabama and will work with him again as the Steelers’ defensive line coach.
Buggs had 9½ sacks last season, fourth-most in the SEC and ahead of the four Crimson Tide defenders taken ahead of him (most notably, No. 3 overall pick Quinnen Williams).
Over the two seasons Buggs played for the Crimson Tide, there were nine members of the front seven drafted. And as Alabama coach Nick Saban noted at the Senior Bowl, Buggs matched up against the eventual No. 11 overall pick, offensive tackle Jonah Williams, in practice.
With high-pedigree talent on all sides of him, Buggs found a way to stand out. The 6-foot-3, 306-pound Buggs was projected to go in the fourth or fifth round by the NFL’s official draft service.
“You’re playing the rotation with three (high drafts picks in Williams, 2017 second-rounder Dalvin Tomlinson, 2017 first-rounder Jonathan Allen and 2018 first-rounder Da’Ron Payne), and you have another kid named Raekwon Davis (two-time All-SEC) that’s there,” Dunbar said. “I think (Buggs) did what he could do. I just think we’re very fortunate to get him in the sixth round.”
After the draft ended Saturday, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin lauded Buggs for his versatility to play inside and outside. The Steelers ask defensive linemen to do both: Often an “end” in a “base” package will play “tackle” in the more-used nickel.
The position is so nebulous that Cameron Heyward before last season unilaterally had his “official” position (the one listed on the roster) changed from defensive end to defensive tackle — and his responsibilities and duties didn’t noticeably differ from 2017 to ’18.
When asked where exactly he fits into the defense, Buggs said, “Probably just all across the board.
“(Dunbar) knows I’m a hard worker. He knows I’m willing to do anything and everything to get the job done. And that’s what I’m going to do.”
The Steelers have had remarkable defensive line stability over the past few years (albeit most of that time, John Mitchell was the defensive line coach). Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave are entering Year 4 together as the primary starters, and Tyson Alualu re-signed for his third season as the top backup.
Dan McCullers also was brought back for a potential sixth season as a reserve in the middle of the line. Lavon Hooks is a longtime practice-squad Steeler still on the roster, too.
Buggs is the latest attempt at injecting new young blood. The Steelers hope it turns out better with Buggs than with college teammate Josh Frazier, a defensive lineman they drafted in the seventh round last year but who was cut in the preseason.
“(Buggs) is a real excited guy,” Dunbar said. “He’s one of the emotional leaders down in Alabama when I was there. You saw (in 2018) when he played. Like I said, really fortunate that he’s with us.”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .