The Pittsburgh Steelers lost starting mack linebacker Devin Bush back in the fifth game of the season. Last week, they lost Bud Dupree off the right edge. Neither of them are coming back at any point during the 2020 season, as both suffered torn ACLs. As a pending free agent, it’s likely Dupree won’t be back at all.
But how many other starters might they be without during their next game against the Buffalo Bills? By the end of Monday’s game, their loss to the Washington Football Team, there were three other starters sidelined for one reason or another, and none of them are guaranteed to be back.
The most significant injury was the Robert Spillane, who replaced Bush in the starting lineup. He suffered a knee injury of some sort as he came in to block an Alex Smith pass. He got a hand on it and then appeared to come down awkwardly. According to reports, he is expected to miss some time.
Neither of the Steelers’ starting cornerbacks finished the game. Steven Nelson was already out beforehand. Head coach Mike Tomlin did say that there is a chance he could play. Meanwhile, Joe Haden suffered a concussion in the second half of that game and is in the protocol. Whether or not he is available depends upon how he progresses, but being on a short week does not help.
Pittsburgh, like every team, lives by the ‘next man up’ philosophy, but you’re starting to push it when you’re asking four backups—including a backup to a backup—to come in and maintain the same level of play. Alex Highsmith did a nice job for Dupree. Cameron Sutton did fine. Justin Layne…needs work. Avery Williamson is flawed, but we haven’t seen enough of him. But no matter. The standard is the standard, all the same, and it’s not excuse for losing.
“We know our mentality, somebody gets hurt, it’s next man up”, cornerback Mike Hilton said after Monday’s game. “It’s been like that since Devin went down early in the season and guys have stepped up. We’re not frustrated or anything, we just know we must play better”.
Hilton was one of the Steelers’ best performers on the field that day, and they’ll need more of that against Buffalo, with Cole Beasley coming out of the slot as one of the most effective interior wide receivers in the NFL.
Williamson is no stranger to a starting role, but he hasn’t been the same since suffering a torn ACL and missed a season. The Steelers will need him to step up in a big way while Spillane is out of the lineup. And if Layne has to play an extended amount of time, well…I’m not overly excited about that. But I’m not in that locker room, so I don’t necessarily have to believe in the next man up philosophy.