Steelers Defensive Improvements Come from the Gambles of the Front Office
The Steelers' transition from an evolving defense to an elite one has come full-force since Week 3. The addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick, and the breakout of Devin Bush, have kept Pittsburgh's season alive - all through the defense.
Credit for the transition is easy to point out. Since trading a first-round pick to the Miami Dolphins, the Steelers have wreaked the benefits of their new safety. And with the help of the team's second-newest member - a player they did something Kevin Colbert has only done once before - these two have turned this team into the defensive organization Pittsburgh has missed.
What's impressed about Fitzpatrick and Devin Bush are their intangibles. When the Steelers look through their history, they see players who you constantly said, 'we need X to make a play'. A playmaker who's presence came when it was most needed, and when it wasn't. A role these two young players have taken over.
"I think when you scout a guy and you say, “wow, I think this guy can be really good,” he’s everything we expected, but the little things that he does, how he keeps the team going and some leadership stuff and bouncing back from an ankle and being on the road and stuff like that," Linebacker Coach Jerry Olsavsky described about Bush. "Those are little things that you don’t usually see out of a rookie. I put it to just his family and stuff like that, how he was brought up."
An x-factor, some would say, Bush has put this linebacker role back together. Missing the piece to the puzzle in the middle has held the Steelers back for years, but not anymore. Olsavsky and the Steelers knew what they were getting the moment they drafted Bush, and because of it they're never surprised by what he's doing on the field.
"It’s hard because he impresses me every day with his preparation and just being ready and being in shape physically," Olsavsky said. "All the little things he crosses. He crossed those a long time ago. So, I’m never surprised when he makes a play or when he does something."
Fitzpatrick has also made a rather effortless transition to Pittsburgh. The safety has closed up the middle of the field since replacing the injured Sean Davis. The second-year player has three pass deflections and an interception since joining Pittsburgh, becoming a defensive back most teams have shied away from on Sundays.
To Defensive Assistant Teryl Austin and Head Coach Mike Tomlin, Fitzpatrick has been able to make an impact because of his intelligence. The former Alabama star has learned the playbook, and continues to work with the coaches to develop his game.
"I think he’s a very smart man. He understands football," Austin said. "He comes in and applies himself. Tomlin and I have really spent a lot of time to get him up to speed, but he helps because of the way he prepares, so it was good."
Fitzpatrick is still learning the defense, as is Bush. The two have made mistakes, but their playmaking ability has overshadowed the minimum struggles they've shown on game day.
"He’s played football, and it’s not like he’s never played a down of football," Austin said about Fitzpatrick. "It’s just a lot of time for guys, terminology and kind of getting it into their own language until they get it, and he’s done a great job of all of that."
And for Bush, it's the same learning curve.
"The things that surprise me are like the penalties because he’s so intelligent and he knows the game so well that I don’t know why he does that," Olsavsky said. "He’s so well rounded. He’s such a good player, and he takes everything I say and he’s like, “oh yeah, I’ll put that in the work,” and that’s what he does."
It's no secret these two have turned a 2-4 start into a lot of optimism for the future. This season is still alive because of the efforts the defense have put in, and the benefits these two young players have added to the group. Moving forward, nothing is going to change.
"He’s just going up the next step, and that’s what I told him," Olsavsky said on Bush's second-half of the season. "I said I’m not surprised that he’s made plays. I don’t subscribe to the idea that somebody could only make a fumble recovery and a touchdown and an interception in one game. Every series you go out there; you can make a play. It could be a great play."