With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are 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).
Topic Statement: Robert Spillane is the Steelers’ best inside linebacker (even if he’s not used like it).
Explanation: Recent incendiary remarks by former Steelers running back Merril Hoge toward current Steelers linebacker Devin Bush drew headlines—as did his claim that Robert Spillane is their best inside linebacker, almost by default. Given how bad Bush was last year, and how little we know about Myles Jack in the Steelers’ system, it may be worth at least considering.
Heading into training camp, Spillane was going to be a starter, until the Steelers got a bargain deal for Joe Schobert as the Jaguars were shopping him. With the sudden retirement of Vince Williams, they needed depth anyway, but with Bush being their former first-round pick, you knew who the casualty would be.
Yet Schobert is gone, and guess who was actually starting at the end of last season: yeah, it was Spillane. He started the final four games, including the postseason, after working his way back from a late-season knee injury.
He might not be their most athletic linebacker, but he’s more physical than Bush or Jack, and can make a claim to being more assignment-sound. He probably knows the defense better, as well, and let’s be honest, as far as his coverage goes, we’ve seen him do better than he did last year, so we know he has it in him.
If the Steelers really believed in Spillane that much last year, they wouldn’t have shackled themselves with Schobert, whom, I might point out, nobody has even signed. They had depth. They just drafted Buddy Johnson. They carried six inside linebackers. Depth wasn’t the reason Schobert was brought in. Spillane was the reason.
Spillane’s reputation is built primarily on a small handful of highlight-reel plays, but breaking down his play snap to snap leaves a lot more to be desired. Bush had an awful season last year, but he wasn’t in a good place physically or mentally.
I fully expect Bush to rebound. He won’t be the guy they thought they were trading up to get, but he’s certainly going to be better than Spillane. And Jack can actually turn his hips in coverage. Let’s be honest, Buddy Johnson was drafted to be a Spillane upgrade. He has a chance to show it this year. Spillane might not even be the third-best inside linebacker on the team.