Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

Steelers Johnson Football

Keith Srakocic

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Devin Bush (55) during NFL football practice, Friday, May 10, 2019, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

There are a lot of overrated events when it comes to the NFL offseason. OTAs and minicamp are both part of that.

So is rookie minicamp – usually.

But the one held this weekend at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex was a big one for the Steelers. They wanted to begin the process of getting Devin Bush ready for what’s ahead in 2019.

Getting the rest of the rookies and first-year players acclimated was a big part of this as well. Don’t think for a moment, however, that there wasn’t special emphasis placed on Bush, perhaps more so than any Steelers rookie since they selected Ryan Shazier in the first round of the 2014 draft.

That’s why it wasn’t all that surprising to see Shazier spending extra time with Bush, going over defensive concepts and play calls with the rookie. Michigan (Bush) vs. Ohio State (Shazier) rivalries be damned.

And the Steelers wasted no time in having Bush make the play calls for the defense, though he had just received his playbook that morning.

“You’ve just got to jump into your playbook and be confident,” Bush said. “(I was) just getting out there and being vocal as much as I could, whether I was right or wrong, just being vocal and trusting what I see.”

It was a good place to start. Bush should be the alpha dog in this kind of setting. The next test will come two weeks from now when the veterans and rookie are brought together as the Steelers resume their OTAs.

Shazier was on the field with the first-team defense in that setting as a rookie. The Steelers wasted no time throwing him into the fire.

Will they do the same with Bush?

Well, there are some differences. In 2014, Shazier was displacing Vince Williams with the starters. Williams, a 2013 sixth-round draft pick, had played way more than the Steelers wanted him to as a rookie, and they were looking for a linebacker who was capable of playing every down.

Now, the Steelers are looking for a pass coverage linebacker to play next to Williams. And the Steelers signed veteran Mark Barron in the offseason to do that in case they failed in their attempts to move up in the draft and select Bush, whom they had as their top-rated inside linebacker.

So the immediate need isn’t there.

If Bush winds up being the starter when the Steelers open the season in September at New England, it will be because he earned the spot. He won’t have it given to him.

But after watching him on the field this weekend, he’ll earn it sooner rather than later.

  • Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the chance to talk with all of the Steelers’ draft picks. It’s obvious the Steelers went after players this year who value playing football over everything else.

We won’t know if any of these guys can play until the regular season begins. But they certainly talk a good game in terms of saying all the right things.

  • Trevor Williams has what Major League Baseball scouts consider average stuff. His fastball tops off in the low 90s. His offspeed pitches are league average.

But he’s consistently gotten hitters out with that stuff by showing pinpoint accuracy.

That’s the thing that often is overlooked when talking about pitchers. Williams has been the Pirates’ best pitcher over the past two seasons and it’s not an accident.

Pitch execution – throwing a particular pitch when you want, where you want – is why Williams succeeds.

  • Josh Bell is currently on pace to hit 42 homers and drive in 130 runs for the Pirates this season. And he entered Saturday’s game batting .300.

As much as Williams has helped hold the pitching staff together through a spate of early season injuries, Bell has done the same with the offense. He’s still not a great fielder. But that’s a lot easier to stomach when he’s hitting as he is now than last year, when he posted a .261 average with 12 home runs.

  • The early favorite to be the preseason star this year for
  • the Steelers is running back Benny Snell Jr.

The fourth-round pick out of Kentucky should get the majority of the team’s carries in the preseason. And he’s the kind of runner who can make something out of nothing.

Remember, he had three consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and 48 touchdowns in 39 career games against SEC competition.

Don’t be surprised if Snell winds up being the primary backup to James Conner this season.

  • In case you missed it, some young fans held a “protest” in Los Angeles this week to express their displeasure with the state of the Lakers.

One teenage fan was caught on video saying, “My uncle had Magic (Johnson). My brother had Kobe (Bryant). I’ve got LeBron. He’s brought me nothing. A change needs to happen right now.”

This after one injury-plagued season of James with the Lakers.

Fans of teams in small markets aren’t going to feel sorry for the young man.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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