The Pittsburgh Steelers have a new mack linebacker this year, and it’s not something that they planned on. Of course, the plan was for Devin Bush to play every single snap of the season, but the best of intentions are not spared a twist of fate. When Bush suffered a torn ACL, the team had to change its strategy in a hurry.
Not that they didn’t have a plan, which was to promote second-year linebacker Robert Spillane. While he might not be a household name or a player whom many believe possesses a lot of talent, they were satisfied with his understanding of the defense as well as his skill set.
Spillane has now played roughly 10 quarters since Bush went down, and during that span he has put up 20 tackles (11 last week), including two for loss. He also registered an interception, which he returned for a touchdown, an additional pass defensed, and a fumble recovery, as his playing time on special teams has diminished.
While he hasn’t made every play the team would like him to, the Steelers are satisfied with what they have seen from the Western Michigan product, a former undrafted free agent, who earned a helmet on special teams for the second half of last season.
Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked about Spillane last night on his show in advance of today’s game, in the shadow of the team’s decision to trade for Avery Williamson, who has been a starter throughout his career, and asked specifically if he has so far exceeded their expectations.
“I don’t know that he’s exceeded my expectations”, he said. “To be honest with you, I expected him to play well. We’ve got a great deal of confidence in him, and such as the case in team sports at this level. Oftentimes there’s a guy waiting in the wings and working and is very capable and all he needs is an opportunity. And Robert is just the latest example of that. We’re extremely proud of him and happy for him, but I don’t think that any of us are surprised by the way he’s playing”.
Although he was undrafted, Spillane had a very good career at Western Michigan. Part of the problem is that that school doesn’t produce a lot of draft picks—and Pittsburgh has been responsible for some of their recent ones, with Chukwuma Okorafor their starting right tackle, as well as Keion Adams, an outside linebacker who had been on the practice squad before.
I’m sure the Steelers only anticipate that the young man will continue to get better and better as he plays more and more, and if we’re being honest, he has faced some tough opponents. Today’s game against the Cowboys will be his ‘easiest’ challenge yet.