2021 South Side Questions: How Much Will Robert Spillane Play, And At Whose Expense?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 season is underway, and they are hoping for a better outcome in comparison to last season. After starting out 11-0, they finished the year 1-4 in the regular season, and then lost in the Wildcard Round to the Cleveland Browns, ignited by a 0-28 first quarter.

They have lost a large number of key players in the offseason, like Maurkice Pouncey, Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, David DeCastro, Mike Hilton, and Steven Nelson, but they’ve also made significant additions as the months have gone on, notably Trai Turner, Melvin Ingram, Joe Schobert, and Ahkello Witherspoon. They also added Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Kendrick Green, and Dan Moore Jr., all of whom are starting.

There isn’t much left to do but to play the games at this point. Even if they play them poorly. They still have a lot to figure out, though, such as what Matt Canada’s offense is going to look like in any given week, or how the new-look secondary and offensive line is going to play.

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. There is rarely a concrete answer, but this is your venue for exploring the topics we present through all their uncertainty.

Question: How much will Robert Spillane play, and at whose expense?

As is always the case—and usually for reasons that aren’t embarrassing, but not always—Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler had some interesting things to say when he last spoke to the media yesterday. In particular, he talked about the linebacker position, and more or less outright said that Devin Bush is being demoted to rotational work.

“We’re going to rotate some people in and out, you know, and try to put the best foot forward as we can”, he told reporters. On Bush, he said, “we’re still going play other people, we’re not just going to play him all the time”.

That comes on the heels of the return of Robert Spillane, who started seven games for the Steelers last season, and who was in line to start next to Bush this year before they acquired Joe Schobert via trade. Spillane missed last week due to injury, but they were already playing rookie Buddy Johnson some.

And Mike Tomlin said earlier this week that we could expect to see more of Johnson going forward—unless Spillane eats into the snaps he otherwise would get. But the long and short of it is that there are going to be snaps taken away from Bush—and probably from Schobert, too.

The two of the starters played the same amount of snaps last Thursday. Marcus Allen played nine snaps as the dime linebacker, with neither of them on the field. Johnson played six snaps, three with each starter in base. Spillane could easily see 20-30 snaps, if not more. Maybe we’ll end up in a ‘hot hand’ situation. With their running game acting like a sieve these days, they can’t afford not to try different options.

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