PITTSBURGH -- Devin Bush played 889 defensive snaps in his rookie year. The Steelers 2019 first-round pick - one they traded up to No. 10 to select - didn't spend much time adjusting to the NFL but rather dove into the deep end on a team with a desperate need for inside linebacker.
And he came out a Defensive Rookie of the Year finalist.
Now, he's ready to take it on again. As the team loses players like Tyler Matakevich and Mark Barron to free agency (kind of), they're putting more and more faith in Bush and veteran linebacker Vince Williams.
Williams saw a dip in usage last season, seeing only 37% of the team's defensive snaps. Working the mix with Bush and free agent signing Barron, Williams became more of a run-stuffer than an every-down backer for the 2019 season.
"What Mark did last season was a testament to being a good player and being an older player and I have no doubt that me and Vince will go out there and control the defense," Bush said.
But the expectation, at least for now, is that Bush and Williams will assume a bigger role. At 30-years-old, Williams will take another step forward in his career, something he did for two years prior to signing Barron.
"As for filling in a new spot for linebacker, I'm not so sure about that," Bush continued. "I'm not the coach or anything but I've seen we've signed some guys in free agency at the linebacker spot. That could be a depth issue. Just for depth, special teams, we lost Dirty Red (Matakevich) to the Bills. You never really know until you know. Until we get into practices and camps and stuff like that you'll never really know for sure."
Resuming his career in year two as he left it in year one will require another large number of reps. If 800 is the estimate, he'll be looking at over 1,600 snaps in two seasons. But he doesn't seem worried.
"I don't think it's a good or bad thing," Bush said. "800 reps, to take more would be a bad thing because I think it'd be saying we're not really that good on offense. But I'll take any amount of reps, it don't really bother me too much nor is it a big load. I was able to handle it last year, so I kind of got an idea of what I'm stepping into and now I can handle a whole season."
The Steelers do have another inside linebacker on the roster. Ulysees Gilbert appeared in just seven games last season before being placed on IR with a back injury.
Five tackles and 150 snaps deep, Pittsburgh could be calling on him to play relief for Bush and Williams.
As of now, Gilbert is continuing to rehab his aforementioned injury during the Steelers' unusual offseason. He plans to be back for the start of the year, and if he can get on the field to prove himself this summer, Bush believes he's the team's best bet as a backup.
"It's up to Ulysees to get on the field," Bush said. "I think he's a really good player, really talented. I think he has all the intangibles, all the athleticism to get out there and play, but it's up to him put it all together."
If it comes down to it, though, and the Steelers don't have a player worthy of playing inside linebacker next to Bush and Williams - well...
"If it comes down to me and Vince taking all the reps then I don't think we'll have a problem doing it."