Vince Williams helped to clarify the depth chart quite a bit with his decision to retire, making it unambiguous that the Buck linebacker position is Robert Spillane’s moving forward. Spillane, a former college free agent, started seven games last season following Devin Bush’s knee injury, at the Mack spot, before succumbing to a knee injury of his own.
Early in the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers already released Williams, but did so as a salary cap casualty. He re-signed a month later for the veteran minimum, but on the eve of training camp, made the decision—unbeknownst to his coaches and teammates—that he would be retiring.
One can’t help but believe that one of his reasons behind this was simply because he believes he is leaving the spot in good hands with Spillane, who did play well during his time on the field, and should profile even more naturally at the Buck this year. He had a good practice session today, including an interception, which prompted questions about him from head coach Mike Tomlin.
I’m not assuming that he’s stepping in”, Tomlin said when it came to anointing him as a starter, it should be noted. “We’re here competing to divide the labor up and our work is going to determine what happens”.
“But Rob is a guy that ascended over the course of last year and had an opportunity to make some plays for us”, he added, from the transcript. “Hopefully, that’s a springboard for him to continue to do some of the things that you saw him do today and beyond. I like his attitude. He came ready to go”.
Back when the NFLPA was encouraging its veterans not to show up to voluntary workouts, Spillane was one of the players who was actually saying that he was hopeful that he would get an opportunity to get on the field with his teammates in May and June. He would eventually get his wish.
Spillane ran with the starters throughout OTAs and minicamp, and appears to be continuing to do so now. He is listed as the starter next to Devin Bush on the team’s first official training camp depth chart, for whatever that’s worth.
The reality is that there aren’t many other encouraging options. Ulysees Gilbert III and Marcus Allen are listed as the second-string linebackers, with fourth-round rookie Buddy Johnson out on the third team, along with Tegray Scales and Jarvis Miller (Miles Killebrew was listed with the safeties).
Through seven starts in 12 games during the 2020 season, Spillane compiled 45 tackles, including four for loss, in addition to two sacks, three quarterback hits, an interception returned for a touchdown, and four passes defensed. He also had a fumble recovery.
He originally signed with the Tennessee Titans in 2018 out of Western Michigan, spending two games on their 53-man roster and playing 20 snaps on special teams, before being let go. He was acquired by the Steelers in February of the following year, making the practice squad initially.
He replaced Gilbert due to injury mid-season and impressed with 11 tackles on special teams in eight games, before opening the 2021 season as the primary backup inside linebacker. And now, he’ll be a starter, regardless of Tomlin’s unwillingness to crown him publicly.