Fans tend to have conflicting views about the practice squad. Some simply don’t seem to care about it and just view these players as warm bodies to practice against, who don’t have the talent to play in the NFL. Others believe the practice squad should be a developmental squad where you stash players and groom them for future roles.
The reality has always been somewhere in between, but seasons like this year provide us a reminder of the importance that is can hold, as the Pittsburgh Steelers now have two players playing significant roles who began their career on the practice squad as recently as last year, and others who have ‘graduated’ as well.
Robert Spillane is a virtual full-time starter on defense right now in the absence of Devin Bush, and even before Bush’s injury, he was the number three inside linebacker who would occasionally rotate in to give Vince Williams a blow during long drives. Henry Mondeaux is now a rotational player along the defensive line who saw his most extensive action in yesterday’s game.
Spillane spent the first half of the 2019 season on the practice squad before being called up to replace Ulysees Gilbert III following his back injury, carving out a role on special teams. Mondeaux spent all of last year on the practice squad and the first five games of this year before being called up for special teams purposes.
The two of them were roommates last year, and while they were on the practice squad, he said, they would talk about a planned future where both of them would be contributors. A year later, the future has arrived, and they are positively contributing to a winning team.
“It’s maybe unlikely from a fan’s perspective, but I actually lived with Robert Spillane all of last year, and we were talking about moments like this all last year, preparing”, he told reporters earlier today. “We were both on the practice squad last year, and it’s been part of our plan, doing what we can, stepping in the game”.
“I think it’s definitely something that we had prepared for, and it’s what guys on our team prepare for if they’re not in the positions they are”, he added. “When the season starts, they’re all getting ready, whether it’s on the practice squad or an inactive spot. We try and get guys ready to play, and I don’t think anyone bats an eye when people go down. We know we have guys that will step up and take on some of those loads”.
Spillane finished yesterday’s game registering six tackles, logging over 90 percent of the snaps, a career high. Mondeaux finished with one tackle and one quarterback hit across his 15 snaps on defense. Each of them also logged double-digit snaps on special teams.
Other practice squad graduates who logged time in yesterday’s game: Marcus Allen, Jordan Dangerfield, Jayrone Elliott, J.C. Hassenauer, Matt Feiler, and Alejandro Villanueva. Plus Antoine Brooks, who made his NFL debut in terms of actual snaps, but he is still on the practice squad, having dressed as a standard elevation.