Keith Butler knew what I wanted.
Thursday at the Rooney Complex, Butler met with media after practice to discuss the Steelers' upcoming game against the Chargers in Los Angeles, and more. I was interested in that "more" stuff. Specifically, I wanted to talk about Ryan Shazier and his continued presence around the team. Shazier, who is on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, is seen daily, sometimes on the field coaching and instructing, other times just hanging around the locker room and mingling or analyzing play diagrams in the cafeteria.
So I asked Butler what that involvement from Shazier has meant:
"Well, it helps them because of the experiences [Shazier had]," Butler was saying. "Most of us, and him in particular ... learn by our mistakes. So he's been down the road, so he can try to help him from making the same mistakes he did and as a consequence, it'll make him better."
Did you catch that?
Butler said Shazier can "try to help him from making the mistakes ..."
Him. Not "them."
I left the question open, saying "young players in particular" but Butler knew who I really meant. It's that No. 10 overall draft pick, the guy the Steelers traded a part of their future to secure in the 2019 Draft.
It's Devin Bush.
And Bush agrees with Butler 100 percent.
"Honestly, his presence is already something, you know?" Bush, seated by Ramon Foster's locker to chat with Chuks Okorafor after practice, told me. As he said it, Bush made a gesture with his hands to symbolize something big, an aura, in the process. "Just him being here, him being able to lay eyes on me, that's helped me a lot."
Tyler Matakevich, who came into the league in 2016 and worked alongside Shazier as both a player and now as a coach/mentor, put it another way:
"He just ... he cares," Matakevich was telling me. "He just wants us to win. He just wants us to do well. So any extra knowledge that he knows or anything he picks up, he's willing to tell you and try to help you out so you're prepared when you go out there."
That's felt. At the Rooney Complex, there's a vibe when Shazier enters the room.
But what have you taken from him in a football sense, Mr. Bush?
"Just understanding how he thought the game, how he played the game," Bush continued. "It may not necessarily be the way that I'm good at doing it, but it's good to know what somebody else is thinking of that caliber. Because you can always take and put something into your game like this."
Matakevich echoed that thought, pointing specifically to Shazier's preparation and film study.
"He's just a special player," Matakevich said. "You don't see too many players like him, so for us to have him on the sideline still, I mean, shoot, he's still preparing. He's still watching a bunch of film. In meetings, you'll hear him like, 'Hey, watch this tendency. Watch that.' So we're just so fortunate to have him around.
"I mean, I just look at the game different — the way I study and prepare. I was fortunate, when we were young, rookies, I came in, me and Sean Davis, we would watch film with [Shazier] and Mike Mitch[ell] every morning. It's just little stuff like that I appreciate so much ... Because everyone's got their own way they watch film and how they've been doing stuff. It's just cool, really, once you get around a bunch of guys who have a love of the game and you just watch the way they prepare. Then you're like, 'OK. I see what he did there. I like what he did there.' So then I might start using that or looking for that when I'm watching film."
With Bush in particular, this all creates an interesting dynamic. Even though it may not be explicitly said or presented, it's obvious that Bush was drafted to replace what the Steelers lost when Shazier went down with a spinal injury on Monday Night Football, Dec. 4, 2017, against the Bengals. Bush is speedy and instinctive, a game-changer by nature with a nose for the football. Through five games in his rookie campaign, Bush has tallied 45 tackles (28 solo), three tackles for a loss, a sack, three fumble recoveries, two passes defended and an interception. For comparison, Shazier tallied 26 tackles (16 solo), a quarterback hit, a tackle for a loss, no picks, no fumble recoveries and no sacks through the first five games of his injury-plagued rookie campaign.
And, oh boy, that interception from Bush was a gem:
That's the kind of thing you trade up for. But still, Bush's career is young, and this is Shazier we're talking about. He was a two-time Pro Bowler who, in 2017, only just seemed to be nearing his peak.
When I asked Bush what part of Shazier's game he could most dissect and try to emulate, he didn't hesitate. He knew immediately what set Shazier apart.
"His decision-making," Bush fired back. "His anticipation, I think, was elite. He knew when to take shots and when not to. He could tell."
He could. And so far, this current Steelers team can tell too, racking up 12 turnovers through five games in 2019. For context, the Steelers defense generated 15 takeaways total in 2018.
"It's just a big testament to the defense of making that a well-known factor to work on, is to create turnovers and to create scores for the offense," Bush was saying. "And when you're doing that, you're kind of living on that goal. It's kind of like a motivation thing, like, 'Let's keep it going.' Obviously, it changes the game. You get addicted to it."
Bush has certainly played his part in this. Besides the pick in Week 5 against the Ravens, Bush nearly took a Seahawks fumble to the house in Week 2, recovering a bad snap at the 14-yard line and making an 11-yard return down to the three. In Week 1 of the preseason, there was this, a near-pick-six that clanged off his facemask (and eventually would've been negated due to a penalty anyway):
So when will he get that elusive first career defensive touchdown?
"This week. Sunday," Bush told me.
Shazier never had a defensive touchdown in his four-year career. If Bush lives up to his prediction against the Chargers, that'll be one thing Shazier definitely didn't teach him.
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