As the Steelers are seemingly rotating starters at inside linebacker with Devin Bush, Myles Jack and Robert Spillane all getting first-team reps, Mike Tomlin offered some insight at his press conference as to what Spillane brings to the table, per the team’s website.
“I’m really just focusing on getting him better,” Tomlin said. “It’s been a nice maturation process for him. He asks good questions. He’s a football guy, he’s a junkie. You’re starting to see that turn up in his play. And I think that’s a reasonable expectation for a guy that has that attention to detail and that passion for the game.”
Spillane has worked his way up from an undrafted free agent to special-teamer to valuable depth with the ability to start. Spillane has started 11 games in his career, so while it would be a bit of a surprise to see him start over Bush or Jack, it’s not as if he wouldn’t be ready for the occasion.
Per our own Alex Kozora, Spillane had an interception in practice today.
It’s early, and training camp stats like that aren’t a huge deal, but it does speak to Spillane’s continued progression. He hasn’t been a great cover guy in his career, and his struggles in coverage are a big reason why he hasn’t seen the field as regularly as he probably would like.
He endeared himself to Steelers fans with this pop on Derrick Henry in 2020, and while he’s tough as nails, he probably could still manage to improve his tackling, as he has 10 missed tackles over the last two seasons. If Spillane wants to see the field more, cleaning up the missed tackles and improving in coverage will be key.
Ultimately, I like Spillane has a third ILB on this team right now. I think Devin Bush deserves a chance to rebound after a poor 2021 season, and Myles Jack is probably the best player at the position on the roster. If Bush and/or Jack struggle though, Spillane is more than capable of filling in and becoming a starter. Depth is one of the most valuable things an NFL team can have, and given Pittsburgh’s recent struggles at ILB having a capable third guy at the spot could be key.
However it shakes out with Spillane, he’s the type of player who earned his role through his work ethic. Whether or not his unorthodox workouts have something to do with it, Spillane went from a guy with long odds to have a role in the NFL as an undrafted free agent to someone with a consistent place on an NFL roster. As Tomlin said, his work ethic and football acumen are a big reason for that, and if he can make necessary improvements to his game, we could see a big year out of Spillane in 2022.