Head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed after the Pittsburgh Steelers’ victory today that second-year inside linebacker Devin Bush suffered a significant knee injury. Though precise details are yet to be determined, it is believed that he suffered a torn ACL and will likely be finished for the season.
The next man up, in the game today and in replacing him for the time being, is Robert Spillane, the second-year linebacker who carved out a role for himself on special teams in the second half of the 2019 season. He has been dressing all season as the number three linebacker as a former undrafted free agent, and he made some plays during his time on the field today.
In all, Spillane finished the game with five tackles, including one for a loss, with a tackle on special teams. He laid some big hits in the process as well. He looked the part in the preseason last year, but, of course, we didn’t have a preseason in 2020.
“Spillane more than answered the ball”, head coach Mike Tomlin told reporters after the game today, “but we’ve got a great deal of confidence in him. He’s a capable guy. You know, guys who make plays on special teams, that’s usually a precursor to them making plays on defense”.
“Since we brought him up in the middle of last year, he’s been a consistent performer for us”, he added, “so I don’t think any of us are surprised with quality play from him. If Devin is down a while, those who’ll be called upon to step up, he’ll be among them”.
Tomlin did also mention Ulysees Gilbert and Marcus Allen, indicating that the Steelers will likely employ a diversity of defenders to fill in Bush’s role, who had up to the point of his suffering a knee injury had played every snap of the season for the defense.
But it sounds like Spillane will likely be the one to be in the driver’s seat. He actually was also the one to stay on the field over Vince Williams when they moved to the dime defense, but that could be a byproduct of the fact that Spillane probably had the backup green dot. Williams may be the every-down player moving forward.
What the Steelers do filling in Bush’s shoes remains to be seen, but we could see a similar approach that they took to losing Larry Foote in the season opener in 2013—which was basically to make their dime defense their primary package, removing a linebacker from the field altogether. This is also what they did after losing Ryan Shazier late in the 2017 season.