Though he was likely looking at a reduced role, it was still a blow for the Pittsburgh Steelers, particularly inside the locker room, when veteran linebacker Vince Williams let everybody know on the eve of training camp that he was going to retire.
A sixth-round pick back in 2013, he has spent most of the second half of his career as a full-time starter in this defense, with nearly 70 starts in total and over 120 games played. It was an up-and-down offseason for him, that included his getting released back in March, but it seems he feels he made the right decision at the right time.
And that’s left his former teammates both happy for him and upset that he’s gone out of the locker room. Yet they understand that he wants them to keep going, and that he knows it’s Robert Spillane’s time to man the buck linebacker spot.
“Of course, it puts a little bit more on Robert’s plate. But that’s what you want. You want a full plate when you play in the NFL”, Steelers linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky said of Williams’ retirement forcing more responsibility upon Spillane’s shoulders.
“He’s not happy about (Vince’s retirement) because we love Vince. Great teammate, true professional”, he added. “However, the other guys want to play all the time too. Puts more on his plate, but not any pressure. He had a good year last year. He got hurt and came back. Rob is doing a great job”.
Spillane himself expressed similar thoughts when asked about what it was like moving forward with Devin Bush, but without Williams. “Of course we miss Vince a ton, but we can’t rest on that”, he told Missi Matthews after practice. “We’ve got to figure out what we’re gonna do going forward, and we’ve done a good job of that so far”.
— Missi Matthews (@missi_matthews) July 29, 2021
A former college free agent out of Western Michigan, Spillane first cut his teeth on special teams with the Steelers in 2019. He entered last season as their top backup inside linebacker, but gained extended playing time after Bush tore his ACL in Week 6.
Spillane would go on to start seven games in total in 2020, registering 45 tackles, including four for loss, with two sacks. He also had an interception against the Baltimore Ravens’ Lamar Jackson, returning it for a touchdown and setting up a key divisional win.
Now entering his third (credited) season, Spillane has the opportunity to put his stamp on a starting job. He will be a restricted free agent in 2022, and he’ll want to have shown that he can hold down a full-time starting job by then, especially with Buddy Johnson breathing down his neck.