Instead of replacing Devin Bush, Robert Spillane ready to join him in the middle of the Steelers defense
The tackle that introduced Robert Spillane to Steeler Nation allowed him to keep a memory well beyond the 2020 season.
It was his head-to-head shot in Week 7 that dropped eventual 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry below the end zone, which showed Spillane had the tenacity and skill to play the game. inside the NFL linebacker.
The tackle against the Tennessee Titans star runner also had added significance for the former undrafted free agent from West Michigan.
“It was a game that was special to me, not just because it was a stoppage on the goal line at third base against maybe the best running back we’ve seen in the NFL in years,” Spillane said this week, “but because Tennessee was the team that released me after my rookie season.
“This being my first career start as an inside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, my family hired a bus and drove down to Nashville for the game – it brought back a lot of fond memories. ”
The memory, however, was born of unexpected circumstances. The 6-foot-1, 229-pound Spillane, who spent the 2018 season in Tennessee, started against the Titans only because former first-round pick Devin Bush tore his ACL in the previous game.
This year, with Spillane having put enough effort into a seven-start audition to retain his place in the squad, he will play alongside Bush, who is expected to be in full health by the start of the season.
“Adding a guy like Devin to any team is a big attribute,” said Spillane. “He’s one of the best inside linebackers in the league. He can rush the passer, play downhills and cover people. He’s a complete player, a guy you like to have on your team. He would make any team better.
Spillane, 25, brings another younger option to the Steelers’ starting lineup in his second full season with the team. He is six years younger than Vince Williams, who was released in the offseason as part of a pay cut before returning to the Steelers with cut pay on a one-year contract.
The plan is for Williams to share some playing time with Spillane and potentially spell out Bush, who didn’t leave the pitch last year before his injury but may need some time off as a concession to his knee surgery. .
“Having an experienced guy in the room and the linebacker group,” Bush said. “He’s a guy who has a lot of knowledge and experience in the game. He will be able to develop younger guys like me to take on bigger roles. ”
Spillane admits that playing next to Bush, rather than in his place, will be an adjustment.
“I didn’t have a lot of shots next to him last year,” he said. “We’ve been talking this offseason, and our abilities will match up well. We communicate well and we are good teammates, and I’m very excited to be on the pitch with him.
The same goes for Bush, who has participated in some individual drills at organized team events, but will not be participating in team practices before training camp as he recovers from his injury.
“It will be a fun thing to do, to be able to date Rob,” said Bush. “I watched him a lot last year, liked his game a lot and was a fan of him when I saw him play the position. I expect Rob to pick up where he left off last year and we feed each other.
After Bush’s injury, Spillane started the next seven games before also injuring his knee. It came in December against Washington, which was the Steelers’ first loss after an 11-0 start. Spillane missed the last four games of the regular season, then came back to the top of the Steelers with nine tackles in the 48-37 loss to Cleveland in the playoff round.
Williams also spent two late-season games on the reserve / covid-19 roster, leaving the Steelers without their best three options at inside linebacker. He left the job to Avery Williamson, acquired in a mid-season trade, and converted safety Marcus Allen.
With the defensive midfielder on the move, the Steelers have given up at least 100 rushing yards in each of the last four games, and the Browns have added 127 yards in wild play.
“We had to bring in some guys who also didn’t understand the playbook, and the teams are attacking that. They attacked these guys, ”said security Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Circumstances will be different with a healthy Bush and Spillane back on the pitch. The Steelers also added rookie Buddy Johnson in the fourth round to provide depth with Williams.
For the season, Spillane had 45 tackles, two sacks and an interception return for a touchdown in Baltimore. His sample size in this position consisted of 377 shots, and he will be asked to double his workload if he is going to start a full season for the first time in his NFL career.
Based on how Spillane didn’t hesitate to take on Henry on the goal line in Week 7, defensive coordinator Keith Butler believes he’s up to the challenge.
“You watch Derrick Henry run all year round, and who do you see lifting him? Butler said in January. “Spillane did that, and I haven’t seen a lot of people do that to this guy. ”
During his exit meeting, Spillane said coach Mike Tomlin was impressed with his “underlying cover” and “lightning hug”.
“He said those are two things that you are doing well and that I want you to continue to focus on doing even better next season,” said Spillane. “I’m looking to continue to pick up where I left off last season. I want to show that I can be a pass hunter, a viable blitzer and come home with the quarterback in rush and cover and also be a cover player.