The Pittsburgh Steelers have to find a way to cobble together the majority of the regular season without Devin Bush, their every-down mack linebacker and defensive signal-caller, after he suffered a torn ACL last week. The first man up, so to speak, was former college free agent Robert Spillane, after getting his first extensive playing time in the second half last week following that injury.
The second-year player logged the majority of snaps, but he was spelled in passing situations in the dime defense by Ulysees Gilbert III—likely in part because Spillane and I’m assuming Cameron Sutton both had the green dot, so it’s much easier to substitute both players.
But by and large, the role of defensive communicator fell on his shoulders, as it did last week, at least until he crashed his shoulder into Derrick Henry’s in a late goal-line stop that proved fruitless, as the back would score two plays later, anyway. Spillane would exit the game, but up to that point, he was in control.
“I felt like communication went well”, he said about his first extended action, via transcript. “Vinny is also out there talking. We have a secondary who knows what’s going on. Even our D-linemen and outside linebackers in front of us are very in tune with the communication of the defense. So it makes my job pretty simple just getting them the calls and then the secondary communication and going from there”.
There didn’t seem to be any glaringly obvious communication breakdowns during the game, to his credit. Even the 74-yard A.J. Brown touchdown came down to mechanical error after the snap, which Minkah Fitzpatrick taking a bad angle and slipping.
As we have explained in the past, the role of defensive signal-caller is important, but not all-encompassing. His responsibility is only to relay the play to others, who then continue the communication chain throughout the rest of the defense.
Spillane and Vince Williams are at the center of that defense and they will bark out the play, and each area of the defense will fine-tune their responsibilities relative to what the call was that came down from the sideline.
As long as you have a player who can both relay the message and play without excessively thinking, you can still execute even without an experienced player in that role, and Spillane looked as though he is capable of handling that job.
He has had the ‘backup’ green dot all year, even going back to the season opener, as he is the top backup inside linebacker. Most games, the only other linebacker dressed was Marcus Allen, though now Gilbert is dressing as well.
Provided that his shoulder is fine, he will continue to delay the majority of the plays for the remainder of the season for what is hopefully a championship defense.