"The easiest way for you to get back where you need to be is to go down this hall, turn right, then you should recognize where you are."
"Man ... I just don't know where I'm going around here."
Our Matt Sunday overheard that exchange between a Heinz Field employee and Devin Bush in the depths of the stadium late Friday night following the Steelers' 30-28 win against the Buccaneers. Which was funny considering he looked anything but lost in his first taste of head-to-head NFL action.
"Honestly, I think it kind of slowed down after the first couple of plays," Bush was saying at his locker after the game. "It wasn't nothin' overwhelming, I would say. I got a feel for it after the first couple snaps."
Besides, that postgame navigation mishap is to be expected. I mean, Bush was telling me just moments after the final whistle that he kinda felt like a rockstar as he jogged out of the smoke-filled tunnel to take the field, so going full Spinal Tap just makes sense:
The story with Bush, of course, has nothing to do with all this and everything to do with his play on the field. The Steelers traded up 10 spots — from 20 to 10 — in the 2019 NFL Draft to select Bush, giving up their No. 20 pick, their second-round pick and next year's third-round pick to the Broncos to make it happen.
When Bush took the field for his first taste of NFL preseason action, the following happened:
• 10 tackles in two quarters of action
• A would-be pick-six that was first dropped — "Hit me right in the facemask," Bush would say — then negated due to a penalty anyway:
• A crucial stop, going low on Andre Ellington while Ola Adeniyi flew up high to finish the job on fourth down, forcing the Buccaneers to turn the ball over on downs:
The rest of Bush's game tonight, however, only takes shape when you factor in everything else. Those plays were huge. The stats look nice. But there was so much more: Communication. Poise. A readiness to step up and deliver with that lofty No. 10 overall-pick status hanging over his head.
Where all that's concerned, Mike Tomlin was more than a little impressed.
"I was less concerned about his productivity and more concerned about his demeanor, and I really liked his demeanor," Tomlin was telling our Chris Carter in the post-game press conference. "He was present. It wasn't too big for him. He handled the communication responsibilities associated with his job. He was alert. And those are good signs."
Tomlin laid it all out there pretty plainly, but maybe you want to hear it from Mark Barron, the eight-year NFL vet who lined up next to Bush as the team's second inside linebacker for the majority of the first half.
"I saw him flying around making plays, is what I saw," Barron was telling me at his locker. "And just being next to him, having to be out there with him, his communication was on point for a guy playing in his first game. He wasn't too shaky. He was on-point with his communication and everything you need to do, so I feel like it was a good day for him."
Yeah, but you were keeping him on track, right? The rookie needed some help in that first outing, I'm sure.
Nah, not really:
Across the room, second-year player Terrell Edmunds — the Steelers' first-round pick last year who understands the expectations and the pressure on Bush — echoed all these sentiments, adding a little extra flavor to highlight just how special Bush was tonight.
"He's smart," Edmunds was saying. "Smart guy, so communication level was high, and then it's always easy to talk to somebody out there on the field that actually knows the game and loves the game and is out there trying to win just as much as you. So he's out there going extra hard."
To Bush, that notion of "going extra hard" doesn't necessarily exist. He's just out there to make plays, to make those fourth-down stops and to fly around the field — all things the Steelers expected when they risked a part of their future to ensure Bush suited up in the black-and-gold for 2019 and beyond.
"I think that's just how I play," Bush said. "I love to make plays. I love to play football. I don't get tired, so I think that's everything into one."
Perhaps even more encouraging, however, was Bush's ability to step back and to analyze what he didn't do well. He opened his media session with this:
"[There is] a lot more to improve on, just the small stuff, understanding more and just looking up everything, learning the game," Bush said.
In the end, however, it's a win for Bush — both for him personally and for the Steelers — in his debut. Following the draft, everybody rushed to compare Bush to Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier, the team's first-round pick out of Ohio State in 2014, who suffered a spinal injury on Dec. 4, 2017 and hasn't played a snap since. They play the same position. They come from powerhouse, Big Ten schools — Shazier from Ohio State and Bush from Michigan. And they both make up for a lack of traditional size with exceptional speed and instincts.
Shazier's stat line after his own preseason debut as a rookie? Nine tackles — one fewer than Bush — but with an added interception to make up for it. The stats are eerily similar, and the hype surrounding the players matches as well.
Now, Bush needs to continue to grow and to find consistency in this high level of play.
"I did have a lot of fun tonight," Bush said. "First NFL game, the atmosphere was crazy. Being on the field was crazy. Hearing the fans was crazy. My family being there was also a great thing for me, so it was a good night."
And Steeler Nation? Yeah, being a part of that — officially now — is kinda crazy, too:
We all saw the potential tonight too, Mr. Bush. You made it hard to miss.
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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