'Any opportunity is opportunity': Devin Bush looks to regain top-10 pick form with Browns

Akron Beacon Journal

BEREA — Devin Bush Jr. was one of the best players coming out of college in the 2019 NFL draft.

How good? The Pittsburgh Steelers, renowned for not being aggressive in trading up in the draft, sent the Denver Broncos three picks to jump from pick No. 20 to pick No. 10 to get the University of Michigan linebacker.

Bush's rookie year seemed to justify the Steelers' aggressiveness. He finished third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting after posting 109 total tackles, a sack, one forced fumble, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions.

Then, five games into his second season in 2020, Bush tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Things haven't been quite the same since for him.

"I think it was a growth and development thing for me," Bush said last week at Browns OTAs. "I mean, that was just a route I guess my career was supposed to take. I learned a lot about myself. I worked on myself a bunch, and my mindset has definitely shifted. I had opportunity to have different perspectives, not being able to play the game at one point, and I think it's just a work in progress, honestly, like nothing's ever set in stone, you know, until the day I retire.

"So, I mean, I still got a lot of football left in me. I'm still 25, so we'll see." 

Browns tight end David Njoku is brought down by Steelers linebacker Devin Bush after gaining a first-half first down Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022, in Cleveland.

In the three seasons since the knee injury, Bush has played in 44 regular-season and one playoff game between the Steelers and, last season, the Seattle Seahawks. He's recorded a combined 188 tackles in that time, with three sacks, a fumble forced and a fumble recovered.

Bush is hoping his third team turns into the charm. He signed with the Browns in March after having visited the organization, where his father — Devin Sr. — finished his own career as a safety in 2001-02.

"I think any opportunity is opportunity," Bush said. "Just being on this team, to be able to come out of practice, you know, I have the opportunity to play. So, I mean, I just go out every day and just cherish that and just go out there and just go as hard as I can and just learn as fast as I can."

The Browns, under general manager Andrew Berry, have had some successes with players in situations such as Bush's. In fact, some of Berry's shrewder moves have been taking chances on players who could be seen as "scratch-and-dent" discounts for one reason or the other.

During Berry's first season, the 2020 playoff year, he brought in defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn, cornerback Kevin Johnson and safety Karl Joseph. The following year, defensive linemen Malik Jackson and Malik McDowell were added.

The Minnesota Vikings' Jordan Addison catches the ball as Seattle Seahawks linebacker Devin Bush defends Aug. 10, 2023, in Seattle, Washington.

"It depends on maybe the need or the skillset that we're trying to acquire at that point in time," Berry explained at March's NFL Owners Meetings. "And it also depends on acquisition costs, just quite honestly, and really what the risk-reward is for signing or trading for a particular player. I think, largely speaking, you can't operate a sports team with being risk averse. You just can't."

A year ago, the player who maybe best epitomized that philosophy was another defensive tackle, Maurice Hurst Jr., who had been limited to just two games over the previous two seasons because of injuries after having played 40 games between 2018-20.

Hurst was one of the stalwarts of the Browns defensive line up until a season-ending pectoral tear in Week 14. Still, he was important enough that he was the second free agent re-signed by the team in March.

Bush and Hurst were teammates at Michigan. That's one thing helping him with the opportunity.

"I mean, just being around Mo again, I'm familiar and I'm comfortable," Bush said. "I have a guy I can lean on, somebody that understands who I am, and I don't have to re-learn Mo, you know, so, I mean, having that guy is tremendous. You know, playing behind him again is going to be great. So, I mean, we just working every day honestly."

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs for a first down against Seattle Seahawks linebacker Devin Bush (0) on Dec. 24, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn.

The Browns have an actual need at linebacker. Anthony Walker Jr. and Sione Takitaki, stalwarts at the position for the last few years, both departed during free agency, leaving holes that must be filled.

The Browns did sign veteran Jordan Hicks on the first day of free agency. Bush, though, knows the position group needs more than just one, and he thinks they have that beyond just the two new additions.

"Man, we got a crazy room," Bush said. "I mean, we still learn each other still early, but we don't have a lot of time spent together. But as of right now, we got a lot of characters and we got a great room, a good mix of veterans, a good mix of young guys. So it's going to be a lot of learning, a lot of teaching in that room." 

Chris Easterling can be reached at ceasterling@thebeaconjournal.com. Read more about the Browns at www.beaconjournal.com/sports/browns. Follow him on X at @ceasterlingABJ