Robert Spillane doesn’t fit the mold of a new-age linebacker. He isn’t rocked up with 2% body fat, doesn’t run a 4.4-something, and isn’t picking off five passes a season. But he’s giving Devin Bush, the man who was supposed to be and do all of those things, everything he can handle in this inside linebacker battle.
Spillane made the battle a little tighter yesterday. At the risk of recency bias, Spillane had one of the best individual practices of any Steeler this camp, making plays in all phases of practice. Some highlights of his day.
1. Combined on tackle to make goal line stop on Benny Snell in 7 shots.
2. Breakup on out route by Anthony McFarland in 1v1s
3. Recovery, close, and finish to breakup corner route for Connor Heyward in 1v1s
4. Defeated block to make thud tackle of two yards in team session
5. Diagnoses and blows up Heyward screen for no gain
6. Shoots gap and blows up Jaylen Warren run
7. Covers McFarland on extend play/wheel route to help force tough throw and incompletion in team session
8. Shoots gap again to tag Warren behind LOS
And that’s all from just one practice. Spillane was everywhere. Run game, pass game, screen game. He’s spent camp being part of a three-man rotation alongside Bush and Myles Jack, though Jack will be this team’s everydown player once the season begins. It’s just a question of what, if any, role Spillane will have come Week 1. Right now, he’s making it hard for the Steelers to make him an exclusive special teamer.
Devin Bush’s camp has been…ok. Saying it’s been bad would be an overstatement. But it’s left me wanting more, especially in coverage. One-to-one, Spillane’s been the better player. His game has his limitations and I wouldn’t expect him to look nearly as good in the regular season, Spillane isn’t facing ultra-athletic running backs or receivers like he will in-game, but on a merit-based system, Spillane’s earned regular season reps. Pittsburgh loves the guy. He’s tough, physical, technical, durable and available. For a Steelers’ defense that needs to rebuild its run defense, Spillane is the better option, and the AFC North is a division in which teams are willing and capable of keeping the ball on the ground. Here’s how the AFC North ran against Pittsburgh last year.
– 24 carries, 96 yards
– 23 carries, 96 yards 1 TD
– 38 carries, 193 yards 3 TDs
– 25 carries, 107 yards 1 TD
– 20 carries, 93 yards
– 36 carries, 249 yards 1 TD
A total of: 166 carries, 834 yards and six touchdowns. An average of 5.02 yards per carry, a crooked number that has to change. Spillane can help that. And while he isn’t as athletic as Devin Bush, he’s arguably not that much worse in coverage. He lacks some of the foot speed to run vertically in man and match zone but Bush has struggled with his technique and hasn’t made many plays on the football over his career.
Overall, Spillane’s had a fine summer and at the least, he’s putting as much pressure as possible on Bush for that starting role. If their trends remain the same, Spillane keeps playing the way he is, Bush keeps playing the way he has, Spillane might be starting next to Myles Jack come Week 1 in Cincinnati.