Throughout the 2021 season, it became clear from one week to the next that Steelers linebacker Devin Bush was playing the game timid.
Wednesday, at the fifth day of Pittsburgh’s OTAs, Bush was asked if, coming off knee surgery a year prior, he played without confidence.
“At times. I think early on at times,” he admitted. “I wasn’t happy with my play, of course. I wasn’t happy with losing. I went through some things, personally. I felt like it was all a learning process for me.”
Bush’s regression was costly, not only for the Steelers, which allowed the most rushing yards per carry to opponents, but also to Bush himself. The team did not pick up the fifth-year option for the former first-round pick, meaning that he will likely enter free agency following this season.
“Me and my agent talked about it, we had our discussions,” he said. “We felt like the team made the decision that they needed to make. We’ve got to make decisions that we need to make… I wasn’t pissed off or anything like that. It’s business.
“I was already motivated, whether they picked up my fifth-year or not.”
Viewed as a key run stopper and quick, coverage able middle linebacker, Bush feels that the ACL tear suffered five weeks into the 2020 season held him back from truly helping the Steelers as much as he would’ve liked in 2021.
It also made him visibly look very unlike the player he was in his rookie season, in which Bush made 109 tackles, recovered four fumbles, forced another, and intercepted two passes.
“Before I got hurt, I think I was doing good,” he said. “I think I was on the way to being an All-Pro, Pro Bowler. But things happen. I was going through some things, but I learned a lot along the way.
“I think it was supposed to happen to me. I’m grateful for it. I’m thankful that I get a chance to go out there and play again.”
Public criticism has been high of the 23-year-old who made the PFWA All-Rookie team in 2019. But he feels like his rehab process extended beyond the 2021 year and is now truly complete. He is going through OTAs without the limitations he had placed on him during Pittsburgh’s workouts last spring and summer.
“After the season, I got a chance to go home,” he said. “I spent almost two months at home. I was able to just go out on the field and put my cleats on whenever I felt like it.
“I was running miles on the beach. I was cutting, planting, jumping, playing around, and my knee wasn’t an issue. I was able to get back to that, and just do normal things and get my confidence back in myself and my knee. I think that was a big part of my rehab actually, just after the season."
Bush is embracing what he feels to be a second chance, one which could determine his future in Pittsburgh, and in the NFL.
What lies ahead, and the perception of him as a player, does not seem to be too high on his priority list right now.
“I don’t think I’ve got nothing to prove,” Bush said. “I’m a first-rounder, a top ten pick. That’s never going to change. I don’t think I’ve got to prove anything to anybody. I’ve just got to go out there and play football.
“My mentality is going out there and being a football player again.”