When you’re a professional athlete and you aren’t playing well it isn’t a fun position to be in. Arguably, it’s worse for high profile positions like a quarterback or pitcher or a goalie. In today’s world however there is nowhere to hide. Cameras are everywhere and from every angle. No one understands this better right now than Pittsburgh Steelers’ Linebacker Devin Bush.
The third-year man from Michigan is struggling. He is missing tackles. He is getting beaten in coverage. He cannot seem to get off blocks for his life. But the only question is why is he playing so poorly? Let’s examine.
It’s been more than a year since Bush tore his ACL against the Cleveland Browns in Pittsburgh. Recoveries from this surgery used to take 18 months. Now, many players can be back in action in as few as 7-9 months depending upon the position and sport being played. In terms of overall timeline, Bush was ready to go for week one of this season so much was expected from the former first rounder.
But not all football players (or people for that matter) are created equal. Just as they can be better in some areas and worse in others, recovering from a serious injury can also hinge strongly on the individual’s mental ability to get back to “normal.” Did you ever break a tooth while eating? Chance are that you were a bit leery to chew on that side of your mouth once it was fixed. Or perhaps you had some Skittles one summer day and then out of nowhere you barfed all over the porch. The taste of stomach acid and Skittles coming up probably isn’t sitting well with you. Despite you knowing the Skittles had nothing to do with your illness you’ll be damned if you’re ever going to touch them again.
Perhaps this is where Bush is. Maybe the pain and the hurt he endured on that day against the Browns has not left him. Maybe he’s playing too cautiously simply because he’s afraid of hurting the knee again. This is something we cannot just dismiss.
The Lack of Defensive Linemen
There’s little I can say to defend Bush when it comes to not tackling or covering better than he has but in terms of getting off blocks there may be an answer here. With both Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt both out, offensive linemen are getting to the second level quicker and with more authority than at any time during Bush’s carer in Pittsburgh.
He is absolutely struggling with getting blockers off of him as he attempts to get to ball carriers. Already a bit undersized, Bush finds himself at yet another disadvantage in this regard. Playing linebacker is often about will power as much as it is anything else so maybe Bush needs to dig deeper to fight these blockers off. Either way, Alualu and Tuitt aren’t coming back anytime soon so this excuse needs to get tossed.
Do any of us really know how Devin Bush feels about playing football? He seems to be the type of guy who thrives on it and he appears to be a guy who has prepared his entire life for this moment. But who is to say that he is married to this game the way you need to be?
His missed tackles in the last two weeks weren’t just misses, they were also lacking in hustle and urgency. Those are two things a linebacker has to always play with. I’m not of the belief that this is the issue but it had to be brought up as a possible reason for his poor play.
The Old Devin Bush
In his rookie season of 2019, Bush collected 109 combined tackles. He intercepted two passes, forced a fumble and recovered four. The evidence therefore is there of what Bush is capable of doing. Can he return to that? Does he want to return to that?
None of us truly knows what is going on with him. We’ve seen him play well and for prolonged periods of time too. We know what his limitations are and what know the expectations that he has on his back since being the team’s first round selection three years ago.
What I can tell you is that I’m not giving up on him. He’s too young and he’s shown too much for me to just bail on him. His return to his 2019 self starts with hustle and effort in my eyes. If he can get back to those things then perhaps other things fall into place. If not, then it’s entirely fair to question just what his future is in Pittsburgh and in football in general.
Feature image courtesy nfl.com