Coming into a critical year at the inside linebacker position for the Pittsburgh Steelers, many eyeballs were on the trio of Devin Bush, Myles Jack and Robert Spillane throughout the first day of training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
Throughout the first day of camp on an overcast afternoon at Chuck Noll Field in the rolling hills of Latrobe, Bush, Jack and Spillane rotated throughout the day with the first team, while guys like Mark Robinson, Buddy Johnson, Marcus Allen and Ulysees Gilbert III rotated on the second and third teams.
That came just one day after Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin volunteers his excitement over the group of inside linebackers the Steelers possess during his first session with the media upon the team reporting to training camp Tuesday.
“I like our inside linebacker rotation that has a lot of capable men, and I think that’s why we’re here,” Tomlin said to reporters Tuesday via the team’s official YouTube page.
On Wednesday, with a number of guys rotating in and out with the first and second team defenses, Tomlin cautioned reading to much into those rotations after one day during his post-practice interview with the media Wednesday, stating that with a number of hats in the same position that it’s important to rotate guys and give everyone an ample opportunity to show what they’re capable of, especially early on.
“I am into those things, man. And oftentimes, we do this [rotating] thing largely to give everybody an opportunity to be ready and show what they’re capable of and divide the labor up and so forth,” Tomlin said to the media Wednesday following the first practice of training camp, according to video via the Steelers’ official YouTube page. “And so when we got a lot of guys at a position, sometimes we’ll work a pair and spare in the first group in effort to see more guys like Buddy Johnson, for instance.
“…Sometimes you’re just thinning the herd to make sure that the guys in the second and third group aren’t sharing reps, because they got a lot to learn and a lot to show us and the more opportunities they get are significant,” Tomlin added. “And so I think it probably represents that. Him [Spillane] working with that first group, we have exposure to him. We know what he’s capable of and those others that you mentioned more than anything, it thins the herd so Buddy Johnson and Mark Robinson and guys like that can learn and show what they’re capable of.”
That’s a big old cup of ice cold water on any sort of position battle right away from Tomlin, and that’s the right approach.
Though Spillane played quite a bit in 2021 with the Steelers struggling at inside linebacker overall, his work with the first team on Wednesday at Latrobe really wasn’t any sort of message from the Steelers to Bush or Jack, or anything of the sort. Rather, it was just how the Steelers were trying to divide up reps for the players behind the trio of first-team caliber inside linebackers in the black and gold, giving guys like Buddy Johnson and Mark Robinson enough reps early on to at least make a mark, show what they’re capable of, and allow the Steelers to fully develop them to the best of their abilities.
Now, should that rotation carry over later into camp and through the preseason, more questions will arise, and rightfully so. But for now, Bush and Jack are the projected starters, and Spillane is the first reserve off the bench in a pinch, much like he was last season when everyone was fully healthy.