2020 South Side Questions: How Many Snaps Will Robert Spillane Play?

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the regular season, following the most unique offseason in the NFL since at least World War II. While it didn’t involve a player lockout, teams still did not have physical access to their players, though they were at least able to meet with them virtually.

Even training camp looked much different from the norm, and a big part of that was the fact that there will be no games along the way to prepare for. Their first football game of the year was to be the opener against the New York Giants.

As the season progresses, however, there will be a number of questions that arise on a daily basis, and we will do our best to try to raise attention to them as they come along, in an effort to both point them out and to create discussion

Questions like, how will the players who are in new positions this year going to perform? Will the rookies be able to contribute significantly? How will Ben Roethlisberger look—and the other quarterbacks as well? Now, we even have questions about whether or not players will be in quarantine.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: How many snaps will Robert Spillane play per game?

Head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed yesterday that second-year linebacker Robert Spillane would be the primary suspect in filling the void left by the injury of Devin Bush, who suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sunday. He logged 30 defensive snaps after Bush’s injury in the game and registered six tackles.

But Tomlin also said that it wouldn’t fall on Spillane’s shoulders alone, indicating that it would be a platoon effort, at least somewhat reminiscent to the approach that they took after Ryan Shazier’s injury in 2017, though hopefully with greater success.

To go from special teamer to full-time starter in an instant is a shock to the system, but one Spillane surely believes he is ready for, and he would welcome any assignment the Steelers hand to him. Of course, it doesn’t sound like he’s going to be logging 100 percent of the snaps.

Vince Williams typically plays around 75 percent of the snaps, give or take, with Cameron Sutton coming on in the dime defense. Will either of them be on the field in the dime defense? Might that be when they utilize one of their more rangey linebackers in Marcus Allen—a converted safety—or Ulysees Gilbert III? Or will the usage be on a more rotational basis?

The reality is, the Steelers don’t know right now. They’ll figure that out in practice. They’ll figure it out during games. They’ll figure it out over the course of the season. And the plan will likely change. It’s just the nature of such circumstances when you’re replacing a core starter without a direct heir.

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