This is probably not going to be a very popular article. Robert Spillane is the type of player that most even diehard fans are not going to pay much attention to, because they know that he has virtually no shot of making the 53-man roster, and even his potential to make the practice squad is iffy. The Pittsburgh Steelers are already, at a minimum, five players deep at inside linebacker ahead of him.
But the Reserve/Future signing showed up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—including a forced fumble on special teams—in particular putting up quite a fight in coverage, admittedly winning some and losing some, though he seemed to be regularly targeted. So this piece will focus specifically on his targets in the passing game.
Preseason tape limits the study of coverage for reasons I hope I don’t have to explain, but the coverage assignments of inside linebackers tend not to be overcomplicated. On this target early in the third quarter, the first-year linebacker does a nice job of running with the tight end down the seam and keeping his body in between the quarterback and his target, influencing the poor and uncatchable placement of the ball.
A short time later, he came up with a big play over the middle of the field on third and six, having one-on-one coverage on the slot receiver. He was able to stay close and play physical at the point of contact. While the ball was already being juggled, Spillane prevented any opportunity for a re-catch.
Several minutes later on the following drive, he did lose a couple of battles, the first here to Antony Auclair, a 6’6” third-year tight end. On this play, he lost fairly early after he was unable to reroute the 256-pounder, putting him in trail position. It still took a nice throw from Ryan Griffin to lock in the 26-yard hookup.
Shortly thereafter, the slot receiver, Justin Watson, got his revenge, the 6’3” target winning on a deep cross for 21 yards and setting up first and goal. Generally, you don’t want your inside linebackers covering slot receivers, though, even if they’re practically built like a tight end.
There’s one more play we’ll look at, early in the fourth quarter, a target for Jordan Leggett down the seam. The throw is where it needed to be and Leggett made a valiant effort on the ball, but Spillane’s body placement made it a difficult play to execute, which ultimately came up short.
Considering the amount he was tested, I would argue that the young linebacker held up well overall in coverage. Despite the passing-game highlights above, he also does not appear to be a one-dimensional player, also able to contribute against the run and play on special teams.