Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. Neither did they expect second-year linebacker Robert Spillane to become such an integral part of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense in 2020. But as fate would have it, a season-ending knee injury for Devin Bush opened that door, and now several games into that journey, the team continues to win.
Originally signed by the Tennessee Titans as a college free agent out of Western Michigan in 2018, Spillane recently appeared on SiriusXM Radio yesterday to talk about his journey through this season, and he mentioned that he had a rookie minicamp tryout with the Minnesota Vikings before getting a second with the Titans and finally being signed.
He would spend some time that season on their practice squad, and then with a brief stint on the 53-man roster as an injury call-up, but after being waived, he was never brought back, and he spent the second half of his rookie season unemployed before the Steelers brought him in the next year.
He opened some eyes in training camp and special teams, and was kept on the practice squad despite having a deep roster at inside linebacker that year. A midseason injury got him the call-up, however, and he wouldn’t look back. He played extensively on special teams and recorded double-digit tackles in just eight games.
“During my time on special teams, I just wanted to show them that I could be a trusted member of the team, and when they asked me to run a car on the car defense, that I was gonna do it the right way”, he told his hosts during the interview. “Through those repetitions, you just start to earn respect from your teammates and your coaches, and they start to trust you more and more, and when they see you doing good things throughout the week in practice, they trust you, and they eventually want to see it on special teams”.
“When I was able to get my call on special teams, I knew that this was my second opportunity in the NFL and I didn’t want to let it slip through the cracks”, he added, “so I made sure when I was running down on kickoffs or doing my punts that I was going 120 miles an hour, getting as fast as I could to speed, showing them that I could run and make plays for the team”.
With Mark Barron and Tyler Matakevich gone from last season’s roster, and the Steelers not adding anybody else in the interim, Spillane managed to work his way up to the top backup inside linebacker at the start of this season, and even played a handful of snaps prior to Bush’s injury to give Vince Williams a blow on extended drives.
Since he has been on the field regularly, he has been growing more and more comfortable with his role and his assignments. He has already shown that he will not let this be like the 2017 season when the unit fell apart without Ryan Shazier.