Compared to many of his teammates — and most freshmen across the country — Devin Bush Jr. had a head start to his freshman year.
Last winter, the sophomore linebacker joined the Michigan football team for spring practices by arriving ahead of schedule. Whereas most incoming freshmen join the team in the summer, Bush left sunny Florida half a year early to enroll at the university for the winter semester.
The move appeared to have paid off. Bush earned a decent chunk of playing time in his first year — though the vast majority of it did not come at linebacker. He played in all 13 games as a member of the special teams unit and earned mop-up duty minutes against teams like Rutgers and Maryland.
And now, entering his second year of spring practice — the first for many of his peers — Bush is expected to be a crucial reinforcement for a defense that returns only one starter.
“He’s really good,” said linebackers coach Chris Partridge. “He shows up every single day in every drill, whether it’s special teams, whether it’s linebacker stuff. He gets it, and that’s important.”
But while Bush did experience a modicum of success in his freshman year, hitting the field often instead of taking a redshirt, he still ran into the same difficulties as many other young players — even with his status as an early enrollee.
The biggest lesson he learned? “Just to get things done.”
That meant grinding through Michigan’s infamous four-hour practices and getting through all the times when he simply felt tired.
“You just expect what they want out of you,” Bush said. “You expect what coach Brown wants out of you. And you just do it. Don’t think about it too much.”
“We’re gonna have … times where you don’t feel like doing it. But you know what coach Harbaugh says: ‘One day at a time. Keep pushing.’ ”
Now, though, Bush says everything is more smooth. He is still a regular on special teams, where he developed a reputation as a ferocious hitter, and the coaches have added even more to his plate by increasing his responsibilities within the linebacking corps.
Whereas Bush only practiced at one of the linebacker positions last year, he has been taking reps at both the MIKE spot — vacated by Ben Gedeon — and the WILL spot, which features a returning starter in fifth-year senior Mike McCray.
The Wolverines are looking for someone to fill the gap in the middle of their defense, while also developing an option who can spell McCray at times.
And Bush, along with senior Mike Wroblewski, appears to be one of the early leading contenders for that role, earning the praise of both defensive coordinator Don Brown — who said last week that Bush can be a “sideline-to-sideline guy” — and Partridge.
“Devin progresses on a daily basis,” Partridge said. “He’s starting to understand what it takes to be a Big Ten linebacker. He’s having a heck of a spring so far — he had a heck of an end of the season, and got better and better.
“(I’m) really excited about him.”