One of the principle reasons that the Pittsburgh Steelers were so attracted to Devin Bush coming out of the 2019 NFL Draft was because of the athleticism and coverage capability that he offered from the inside linebacker position, something that they had glaringly lacked since Ryan Shazier’s injury in 2017.
While there are surely growing pains in his adapting from coverage in a man-heavy college system to a professional scheme that mixes and matches coverages more frequently, Bush was continuing to develop into the player that they brought him in to be, before he suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sunday.
The man that is principally being called upon as his most immediate replacement does not have the physical and athletic traits that match up with Bush and allow the Steelers to do everything that they would want to do on defense in terms of coverage. Nevertheless, he is confident in his own abilities.
“Devin’s a great player. He covers, he runs, he makes tackles”, he said in an interview Monday. “He’s all over the field, and all I can do is play my game. I’m going to do everything I can to cover the best I can, to play run defense, to blitz, to be a three-down linebacker”.
“I have confidence in myself that whoever I’m lined up across that I will cover them”, he went on. “I believe in myself strongly. I’m confident. I know that whoever they put out in front of me, I’ll make a play”.
While Spillane does not have an ideal athletic profile, he does have more athleticism than many might think, something that he showed during his time with the Steelers in the preseason in 2019—and which he will now have the opportunity to show at times over the course of the remainder of the season.
As mentioned, not having Bush will certainly force Keith Butler and Mike Tomlin to adapt, altering some of the things that they like to do defensively that Bush’s athleticism, quite frankly, enabled them to do. His rare profile is akin to having an athletic center like Maurkice Pouncey that opens up different and more creative and nuanced blocking schemes.
But there aren’t a lot of linebackers who fit Bush’s athletic profile, and yet defenses all around the league find ways to get things done. The Steelers will manage. And they also have Ulysees Gilbert III to potentially fall back on if they need athleticism at the linebacker position.