Presuming the remainder of his rehab and recovery goes according to plan, Devin Bush will be one of the team’s starting inside linebackers when the Steelers’ defense logs its first snap against the Buffalo Bills. But unless the team plans on running its dime package on 1st and 10 – don’t count on it – there will be another inside linebacker standing next to Bush.
Who will that be? Robert Spillane isn’t sure. But he’s confident Mike Tomlin and the coaching staff will figure it out. In a Zoom call with reporters, Spillane deferred all things depth chart to the coaching staff.
“That’s one of those things that’s up to the coaches,” Spillane said. “Coach Tomlin, does a very good job of understanding and recognizing people’s attributes and what they can bring to the table. He does a good job of trying to put players where he knows where they’re going to succeed. I believe that we’ll be able to figure something out that makes us one of the most dominant inside linebacker corps in the NFL.”
Spillane took over for Bush after his season-ending ACL injury last season and played well in relief, though Spillane suffered a knee injury himself that caused him to miss the final few weeks of the regular season. When Vince Williams was released in a salary cap move, it seemed like Spillane was the slam-dunk option to start. But Williams was brought back on the minimum leaving the starting role in flux.
It’s possible all three players, Williams, Spillane, and Bush see defensive snaps. Bush, of course, should return as the Steelers’ every-down player, the role he held before his 2020 injury. That leaves base 3-4 and sub-package snaps to figure out. Williams could play in base, he’s the better run defender who racked up 14 tackles for loss in 2020. Spillane could play in nickel packages as the better coverage linebacker. That maximizes the Steelers’ talent, keeps players fresh, and puts players in the best position to succeed, the ultimate mark of good coaching.
If that’s the way things play out, and we assume the Steelers’ defense plays 1100 total snaps, Bush will play close to that 1100 number. Pittsburgh used their base defense almost as often as they were in nickel a year ago (39.2% nickel, 36.6% base) and if that number holds, Spillane and Williams could play close to a 50-50 split. Of course, that all looks good on paper. Injuries, as the team dealt with last year, and performance could completely change those numbers.