As we’ve done in previous offseasons, we’re taking a look at those Pittsburgh Steelers under futures contracts for the 2019 offseason. We’ll focus this on the players who weren’t on the team’s practice squad last year, the mostly unknown players that fans don’t know much about.
Robert Spillane/LB Western Michigan – 6’1/2 229
You probably don’t know who Robert Spillane is unless you happen to be a huge WMU Broncos fan. But maybe his grandfather’s name rings a bell; at least, if you’re a fan of the early bird special at your local diner. Johnny Lattner, 1953 Heisman Trophy Winner for the Fighting Irish, is his grandpa. Lattner had some Steelers’ ties too. He was Pittsburgh’s first pick, seventh overall, in the ’54 draft. A career that was short-lived, entering the Air Force and suffering a career-ending knee injury in a pickup game suffered while serving. Still, Spillane isn’t the first of his family to don the black and gold.
Spillane carved his own, less high-profile path. A three-star prospect – he played running back in addition to linebacker – hailing from Oak Park, Illinois, he chose Western Michigan over offers from Cincinnati, Syracuse, and Purdue. He played – a lot – starting at least parts of every season and full-time over his final two. He was twice named All-Conference, 2016 and 2017, and by career’s end, totaled more than 300 tackles, 32.5 of them for a loss, and ten sacks. His tackles rank 8th in school history while his TFL fall just outside the top five.
His 2018 Pro Day workout was just alright. Spillane turned in a 4.77 40, 32.5 inch vertical, though his bench press reps were a lowly 10. Predictably undrafted, and could only get into camp by way of a tryout, a longshot with the Tennessee Titans. But he was one of five to muscle their way in, lasting through the rest of training camp.
“I came here with an open mind, willing to work, willing to do whatever it takes,” he told the Tennesseean in August. “So they saw that, and they saw something in me and were willing to give me an opportunity to stick around with this football team.”
His preseason was a busy win, finishing with 25 total tackles and an interception against, you guessed it, the Steelers. That isn’t a coincidence either. Plenty of futures players seem to have had exhibition success against Mike Tomlin’s club.
Here’s the pick, Spillane ripping the ball away from Justin Hunter.
“Running off the field with that ball,” Spillane said after the game, “is one of the greatest feelings you could ever ask for.”
Head coach Mike Vrabel, a former linebacker cut from a similar cloth, was impressed.
“He is out there all the time, and he is into it,” Vrabel said. “He loves football. … He continues to show up, and we’ll continue to coach him.”
He hung around on the Titans’ practice squad and briefly spent time on the active roster in mid-October, though didn’t register on the stat sheet. Tennessee cut him by the end of the month and there he sat until Pittsburgh added him earlier in the month.
A below average athlete, he got burned for a 38 yard gain against Tampa Bay in the preseason, he’s going to have to keep thumping on special teams and carve out a role there. It’s doable but obviously, an uphill battle.