The Pittsburgh Steelers just traded for an inside linebacker, after losing their starter for the season, whom their defensive coordinator said he hopes he doesn’t have to play this week. That wasn’t a slight to Avery Williamson. If anything, it was more a vote of confidence in Robert Spillane, the second-year former college free agent who has played his way into being the top option in filling in for Devin Bush.
While he certainly has his hits and misses, his hits have been particularly impactful. He really gained some traction the Sunday before last with his thumping goal-line stand against Derrick Henry. On the third play against the Baltimore Ravens, he had a pick six.
“He’s a good kid. We love him and we think the world of him because he doesn’t say a lot, he talks on the field like he should, he makes plays and he’s in the right place at the right time”, defensive coordinator Keith Butler said of his young injury fill-in starter, via transcript. “How many people you seen jack up the dude from Tennessee like he jacked him up last time we played Tennessee a couple of games ago?”, he asked.
“He’s in the right place at the right time. First defensive play of the series that we are playing the dadgum Ravens, he picks it off and goes down for a touchdown? That doesn’t surprise us. It might surprise some other people, but it doesn’t surprise us because that is what he has been doing in practice. He’s where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there”.
Of course, if these sorts of plays were surprising to them, then they would never have allowed him to be in the position of being the top backup inside linebacker all season to begin with. He earned the right to be the next man up, and now that the next man is needed, Butler is showing that they weren’t paying lip service. The job, and the task of filling Bush’s shoes, is primarily his.
Spillane had a career-high 11 tackles on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. Aside from the interception early in the game, he also had an additional pass defensed, and recovered the fumble on the 4th-and-3 stop late in the game.
Of course, when you got from one of the fastest linebackers in the league to one of average athletic prowess, you’re going to see some differences in the way in which you’re capable of defending, and we did notice this in the game against the Ravens, Spillane lacking the lateral speed to reach certain plays Bush perhaps would have made.
But Bush isn’t coming back in 2020, and Spillane hasn’t done anything to indicate that he isn’t their best option. It wasn’t by accident that he was left as the number three at the position at the start of the season. It’s because they believed he could do what he has done so far.