The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Robert Spillane can have a Vince Williams-like career as a starter-capable buck linebacker.
Explanation: Vince Williams was a sixth-round pick when he came to Pittsburgh in 2013. Over the next eight years, he would start 69 games (nice), logging 3648 defensive snaps during that time in addition to more than 1000 on special teams, nearing 500 career tackles with 20.5 sacks, two interceptions, and the statistic that to this day continues to baffle me to no end, zero forced fumbles. He also served as defensive signal caller and was a bona fide leader on the roster.
It really somewhat depends upon how highly one thinks of Vince Williams’ career as to how big the shoes are that must be filled. After all, he only served as a starter for three out of his eight seasons, and was replaced as a starter multiple times, first by Ryan Shazier in 2014, then by Mark Barron in 2019. Had Ryan Shazier not gotten injured, Jon Bostic may have started over him in 2018 as well.
So if the barometer is ‘guy who’s good enough to be a starter provided that there are no other options’, I could see Spillane filling that niche rather well, and he already gave strong indications of that with the seven games he did start last year. And it’s worth noting that those snaps came at the mack role. He would be more comfortable and better suited in the buck role he is likely to play this year.
The jagoff above is certainly not giving a very charitable reading of Williams’ time in Pittsburgh. He spent most of his career playing behind Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier and then Devin Bush, a trio of first-round draft picks who were all superior athletes.
While he might lack the range in coverage that you would prefer at linebacker, he offered everything else you could want at linebacker, and in today’s game, most buck linebackers are being taken off the field 20-25 snaps a game anyway.
Williams had his role, and he did it extremely well for a long time. I don’t see Spillane being a full-time starter for more than a year or two before they seek another option. It really remains to be seen whether or not he’ll even end up starting this year. Playing by necessity due to injuries is one thing, but being handed the keys is a different category.