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Devin Bush is a finisher

he end was approaching in what had been a dark, cold, rainy game, the Steelers were aware they wouldn’t be qualifying for the playoffs and that beating the Ravens in the regular-sea-son finale was no longer a consideration.

But Devin Bush remained determined to finish what he had started. He did what Coach Mike Tomlin preaches. He finished strong.

On third-and-8 from the Ravens’ 41-yard line, Bush diagnosed a read-option keeper by quar-terback Robert Griffin III before tackle James Hurst’s attempt to block him, followed Griffin back across the formation and made a diving tackle that limited the gain to 8 yards.

On first-and-10 from the Steelers’ 49-yard line, Bush met pulling guard Bradley Bozeman head on in the hole, then turned while Bozeman fell to the turf and dropped running back Gus Edwards after a gain of 2.

Bush looked the part of an athlete who had been in a battle by now. His right shoulder was caked with mud. The top of the first “5” in the “55” on the front of Bush’s helmet had been chipped away. Perspiration, or precipitation, or perhaps both was evident on his face.

He kept playing. On third-and-6 from the Steelers’ 45-yard line, Bush was waiting on a wide receiver sweep by Willie Snead (Bush had started side-stepping left as Snead broke in motion right from the left slot) and registered another half-tackle (defen-sive lineman Tyson Alualu was credited with the other half).

That was the 889th and final defensive snap of Bush’s rookie season (he had added 57 more on special teams for good measure). The assisted tackle of Snead pushed Bush’s team-leading total against the Ravens to 12. Not quite mission accomplished, but still a job well done. To the bitter end.

“I was just proud and happy that I finished my first season healthy,” said Bush, reflecting a little more than four months later on the 28-10 loss on Dec. 29 in Baltimore that ended his rookie season. “I was able to walk away and not have anything happen to me. I didn’t have to go through any surgeries or extra rehab, anything like that.”

It wasn’t because he hadn’t gotten his hands dirty. Or, as was apparent in the Ravens game that ended his freshman campaign, his uniform.

Bush walked away as the first NFL rookie since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger with at least 85 tackles, four fumble recoveries, two intercep-tions, and a fumble return for a touchdown.

He checked every box as it related to tackles (109), sacks (one), tackles for a loss (nine), quarterback hits (two), interceptions (two), passes defensed (four), forced fumbles (one), and fumble recoveries (four). Only nickel cor-nerback Mike Hilton and outside linebacker T.J. Watt likewise showed up in all eight of those statistical categories.

And the 109 stops led all Steelers in 2019 and were the most by a rookie in franchise history. Bush was worth the investment and then some required to trade up 10 spots and draft him.

What he’ll be asked to do for an encore will involve more as well as more of the same after the offseason release of inside linebacker Mark Barron.

With Barron coming aboard as a veteran free agent and Bush arriving as the 10th overall selec-tion in the draft, inside linebacker Vince Williams played just 37 percent of the defensive snaps
(down from 71 percent the previous season).

BUSH LOOKED THE PART OF AN ATHLETE WHO HAD BEEN IN A BATTLE BY NOW. His right shoulder was caked with mud. The top of the first “5” in the “55” on the front of Bush’s helmet had been chipped away. Perspiration, or precipitation, or perhaps both was evident on his face.

The division of labor paid dividends (Williams also contributed effective snaps as a sub- package pass rusher) for a defense that finished third in pass defense, fifth in total defense, first in takeaways (38), and first in sacks (54). The original plan with Bush was to turn him loose and at the same time limit his exposure. But with no obvious successor to Barron on the horizon or on the roster, Bush’s role may be about to change.

“I was able to handle it last year,” he said of the workload.

As for this season, “You never really know until you know,” Bush said. “Until we get into practices and camps, things like that, we won’t really know for sure.”

Of this much Bush is certain: He’ll expect more from himself. The stated goal is much more simple than it is statistical.

“Becoming a better NFL player and a better person off the field as well as on the field,” Bush emphasized. “Just get better with being a pro-fessional and carrying myself that way.”

Even better than he had while carrying himself in a manner that made a statement in the rain against the Ravens.

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