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Merril Hoge: Robert Spillane Is Steelers’ Best ILB, ‘Period, End Of Story’

It’s fair to say that a number of Pittsburgh Steelers alumni are currently down on Devin Bush as he enters his fourth season. At least four of them openly criticized him last season, and frankly, it was probably more than that—I just don’t remember all of them.

Arguably the most prominent and critical was Merril Hoge, who seemingly went even further in his harsh comments for the former 10th-overall pick, speaking to Andrew Fillipponi on The PM Team program on 93.7 The Fan yesterday. He had a rather different attitude about basically all of the other inside linebackers—particularly Robert Spillane.

“Spillane is really their best inside linebacker, period, end of story”, he told his host. “You just watch him play inside. He’s athletic. He’s smart. He’s where he is supposed to be. He takes on people. He makes tackles. He’s not a liability in the passing game. You know, you can’t expose him in the passing game. There’s just a whole host of things that he’s so much better than Bush in and doesn’t jeopardize your team”.

Now, that’s not exactly an opinion that is going to be shared by many within the Steelers fanbase, though one wonders how far removed it is from the coaching staff’s view. After all, they did play him last season as their dime linebacker, which left many people scratching their heads.

Originally undrafted out of Western Michigan in 2018,  Spillane first found his way to Pittsburgh’s 53-man roster in 2019, spending the first half of the season on the practice squad. He was called up after then-rookie Ulysees Gilbert III was shelved due to a back injury. He carved out a niche on special teams and has steadily gained a presence over the past two years.

Going into training camp last year, it initially appeared that he was likely to be a starter, or at least in a heavy rotation with Vince Williams. After Williams suddenly retired, however, the Steelers went out and traded for Joe Schobert to be a full-time starter—until he and Bush both started rotating out for Spillane in dime packages.

In all, he played in 14 games last year, missing a few due to a knee injury, starting four. He recorded 56 tackles, some of which came during his 244 snaps on special teams (versus 346 defensive snaps). He did not record any other statistics.

Not even a pass defensed. As far as coverage goes, Pro Football Reference charges him with 16 receptions allowed on 24 targets for 161 yards, though he was not charged with allowing a touchdown. He did allow a touchdown in the postseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs—allowing three receptions on three targets for 40 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

While the Steelers released Schobert this year, it was only after signing Myles Jack to a two-year, $16 million contract. It certainly seems apparent that they have every intention to give Bush another shot at being a full-time starter, so even if Hoge is right about Spillane being their best linebacker, he’ll probably be spending more time on the bench.

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