Robert Spillane is a name that a lot of people outside of Pittsburgh may be just hearing for the first time. His big hit at the goal line against Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher, has rightfully been making waves, quite simply because that man is not stopped without gaining yardage very often, especially when he’s able to get a bit of momentum going.
But for the Pittsburgh Steelers and his teammates, they have been well aware of him and what he can do long before he was ever even on the 53-man roster. In fact, as David DeCastro tells it, the starting offensive linemen found him quite annoying—for the exact same reasons that he eventually did earn a spot on the team, and the opportunity he now has.
“As you get older, you kind of get annoyed by the young guys who come on scout team and make your day kind of miserable during the week when you’re kind of old and tired and don’t want to be out there for Wednesday practice and the guy’s running down and hitting you, and hitting you in the face”, he joked with reporters earlier today.
“And that was Spillane. You know, we always kind of joked about him. He was always making our day miserable on Wednesdays. So it was cool to see him take that” and bring it into a game, he went on. “That’s a big play, man. That’s a grown-up play right there”.
Of course, that was just one of dozens of snaps that Spillane played yesterday in his first career start filling in for the injured Devin Bush, who was lost for the season last Sunday with a torn ACL. And he will be making another 10 starts, presumably, except by technicality if they happen to open a game in a dime package.
Originally undrafted out of Western Michigan in 2018, he signed with the Tennessee Titans after the draft, spent some time on their practice squad, and was briefly called up to the 53-man roster that year, but was let go after two games and not re-signed to the practice squad.
He remained unemployed at that point until the Steelers brought him in on a futures deal in February of last year. He proceeded to open eyes during training camp and the preseason, earning a spot on the practice squad when the inside linebacker position was deep.
After Ulysees Gilbert III suffered a back injury mid-season, Spillane was called up to the 53-man roster for the final eight games, and he developed into a stud special teams player, putting his name on the map. He continued his ascent this offseason, emerging as the top backup inside linebacker, and now here he is poised to play about 70 percent of the snaps from here on out.