Tim Benz: Unbalanced ‘Duel of the Devins’ goes to Steelers’ Devin Bush
In our first chance to see the “Duel of the Devins,” there was a clear answer as to which one had the best NFL debut at inside linebacker.
Mack Wilson of Cleveland.
Mack Wilson having himself a GAME. 2nd pick of the night pic.twitter.com/UK6gtVOBPf
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) August 9, 2019
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) August 9, 2019
But Devin Bush of the Steelers did some very good things, too, as he took part in his first preseason game — a 30-28 win for the Steelers over Tampa Bay.
From a comparison standpoint with Tampa’s Devin White, Bush’s fellow top-10 inside linebacker draft choice, it wasn’t a fair analysis.
White barely got a chance to play. He only stayed on the field halfway through a second defensive series for the Buccaneers. Meanwhile, Bush played the entire first half for the Steelers.
White registered just one tackle. He wasn’t asked to do much, and the action of the play didn’t come his way very often.
Things were different for Bush. He registered 10 tackles. Four came on the first drive where Bush showed an ability to flow across the field, close ground and help out on tackles when plays went away from him.
“That’s something I do,” Bush said after the game. “I’m good at flowing and getting out of the way of the trash. Not getting stuck on blocks.”
He also had a first-quarter pass breakup on a throw from Blaine Gabbert that could’ve resulted in a “pick-six” along the Steelers sideline. However, that play was wiped out by a roughing-the-passer penalty against Tyson Alualu.
Bush eventually ended the drive anyway after it bridged into the second quarter. On a third-and-9, the rookie from Michigan tackled Tampa’s Tanner Hudson short of the first-down marker.
Then, on a fourth-and-1, he helped Ola Adeniyi stuff running back Andre Ellington for no gain.
“He caught the pass, and I couldn’t let him get the first down,’” Bush said. “Fourth down came. Obviously, they were going to run the ball. So I took a shot.”
It paid off.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) August 10, 2019
“I thought he was really comfortable,” head coach Mike Tomlin said during the KDKA-TV broadcast. “He had a good look in his eye. He was a clean communicator. I don’t think it was too big for him tonight. We’ll comb through and grade the quality of his performance. But I liked what I saw.”
It wasn’t all sunshine and daisies for Bush. For as well as he appeared to handle the mental and communication aspects of the game, he did appear to have a pair of “palms-up” confusion moments where he was unclear as to what was about to happen or what had just happened on the previous snap. Both occurred in the defensive red zone.
On two other occasions, the linebacker seemed upset with himself for not dropping deep enough in coverage. One was on a 21-yard gain by Hudson.
Tanner Hudson up the seam against cover-2. No reason to take this Koetter staple out of the playbook. pic.twitter.com/iEYV7OLWJB
— Ken Grant (@KenGrantPFN) August 10, 2019
Another play resulted in a 24-yard gain by Hudson in the second quarter.
“I could’ve been in a better position to make a play on the ball,” Bush said. “I was just disappointed in the fact that I let the ball get behind me.”
Bush also had a little bad luck. He showed a great burst, blowing by a block attempt from a Bucs running back. But instead of getting Jameis Winston to the ground, he and Adeniyi bumped into each other, flushing the quarterback who scrambled for 10 yards.
— NFL (@NFL) August 9, 2019
Bush and White both say they grew close during the draft process and text often to stay in touch. White was impressed by his friend’s performance — and a bit jealous of his playing time.
“He did a tremendous job,” White said. “I said (to head coach Bruce Arians) Devin Bush is still playing! Why can’t I play? I didn’t know I was going to sit out that long. But I was happy to see him ball.”
White says the friendship he and Bush developed has continued into their rookie season, especially relating to the responsibilities they share as the main communicators on defense.
“All training camp we’ve been calling and texting back and forth,” White said. “Giving each other tips. Being so young, how to embrace this role we’ve got. We’ve been pushing each other. I know he is going to show up every time. That’s what he does. Same for myself.”
The Steelers won’t play the Bucs again in the regular season until 2022. For all we know, both Devins could be Pro Bowlers as they near the end of their rookie contracts.
That’s asking a lot. But based on what we saw from Bush in our first glimpse of him in Black and Gold, the hope that he can reach that level wasn’t misplaced.