The Pittsburgh Steelers face their toughest challenge of the season this upcoming game and under the most adverse circumstances they have dealt with so far, after losing Devin Bush for the season. After taking down their first quality opponent, they now take on the 5-0 Tennessee Titans, and do so on the road, just their second game away from Heinz Field so far in 2020.
It is, of course, the perfect time to be breaking in a new signal-calling mack linebacker when you are about to face the NFL’s leading rusher and reigning rushing champion in Derrick Henry. No doubt the Steelers will see a heavy dose of the hefty back. But they are also preparing for the inevitable eventuality of their looking to attack Robert Spillane, who will be starting in place of Bush.
“I’m not going to act like I know what’s going on in their locker room but we’re going to try to prepare Rob for that situation”, defensive captain Cameron Heyward told reporters today about the team getting Spillane up and running and prepared for whatever the Titans might challenge him with as the replacement piece. “Rob’s got to be ready”.
The second-year player, of course, is a former member of the Titans organization himself. Undrafted, he originally signed with Tennessee in 2018. He made the practice squad, and was called up to the 53-man roster in October, where he spent two games, but he was then waived and did not return to the practice squad.
The Steelers picked him up in February of 2019 and he showed up well in training camp and the preseason. He spent half of that season on the practice squad before an injury to Ulysees Gilbert III got him called up, where he carved out a niche on special teams. In 2020, he made the team as the top backup inside linebacker. And now he will be at least a part-time starter.
“He’s had a good camp and he’s had a good half but going forward we have to make sure he’s not under a lot of pressure”, Heyward admitted. “Give him the calls, let him succeed, but as a defense we have to surround him with good plays and make sure he’s in good situations”.
This is not dissimilar to the shoes Vince Williams was asked to fill as a rookie. Making the 53 as a sixth-round pick, he was actually fourth on the depth chart when Larry Foote was lost in the opener. After a couple of games of Kion Wilson seeing snaps ahead of him, the Steelers put Williams in the main role.
But they heavily supplemented him with dime defensive snaps. He logged 399 defensive snaps that season despite starting 11 games, with dime safety Will Allen playing 369 after returning to the Steelers after the first four games.