Devin Bush was just a bystander during the final game of the Steelers' 2020 season. The team's starting inside linebacker, Bush suffering a season-ending knee injury during his team's 38-7 blowout victory over the Browns in Week 6, the fifth win in what would ultimately be an 11-0 start for the Steelers.
Along with losing Bush, the Steelers lost outside linebacker Bud Dupree to a knee injury in Week 11. With two of their top defensive players out, Pittsburgh surrendered 48 points in an 11-point loss to Cleveland in the wild-card round of the AFC playoffs. One of the players who gave the Steelers fits was receiver Jarvis Landry, who caught five of eight targets for 92 yards that included a 40-yard touchdown.
Bush, who said this week that he is about 80-90% recovered from his injury and will be ready for training camp, has no doubt in his ability to cover Landry in the slot when the two teams face off in 2021.
"Yes, 100%," Bush said, via the Steelers' team website.
Bush's versatility was one of the main reasons why the Steelers traded up to select him with the 10th overall pick in the 2019 draft. The former Michigan standout made a quick impact in Pittsburgh. During his rookie season, Bush totaled 109 tackles, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. He scored his first NFL touchdown on a fumble recovery during Pittsburgh's Week 6 win over the Chargers that season. Bush's play helped the Steelers' defense finish near the top in several league standings, including points allowed, turnovers forced, sacks, and passing yards allowed.
Pittsburgh's defense wasn't the same without Bush during the final 11 games of the 2020 season. While Robert Spillane played well in his absence, the middle of the Steelers' defense was not as formidable as it was with Bush on the field. Bush's absence was one of the reasons why Pittsburgh lost five of its last six games after its 11-0 start.
"It was hard not being able to play football, not being out with your teammates," Bush said, via the Associated Press. "It's always going to be hard to sit back and watch as a competitor. It's something I went through and I dealt with and it's in the past now."
The Steelers will need Bush's playmaking ability in 2021. While their own offense is expected to make improvements under first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada, each of the AFC North's other three offenses are also anticipated to be significantly tougher. Baltimore has given Lamar Jackson several new weapons like veteran Sammy Watkins and rookie Rashod Bateman. Cincinnati spent a first-round pick on receiver Ja'Marr Chase and a second-round pick on offensive lineman Jackson Carman. And while they didn't add any major pieces to their offense, the Browns are getting back Odell Beckham Jr., who missed most of last season with an injury.
"That's always something in football, you never want to leave the middle of the field open. It's the easiest throw. Easiest run play," Bush said. "You can call anything if the middle is open. It's just the ability to play stout. Be on the same page and play fast."
While Bush's comments toward Landry certainly wasn't bulletin board material, rest assured that Landry will be motivated to catch some passes in Bush's direction when Cleveland hosts Pittsburgh in Week 8. The Browns are in pursuit of their first division title since 1989, while the Steelers are looking to repeat as AFC North champions.