Coming off a disappointing 2021 season, former Pittsburgh Steelers first-round linebacker Devin Bush is reportedly not a shoo-in to start alongside the recently acquired Myles Jack. Former Steelers’ linebacker Arthur Moats weighed in on the race between Bush and Robert Spillane for the starting job in an interview with 93.7 The Fan’s Poni & Mueller Show.
“To give the large overview, I think both players have been playing well throughout camp,” Moats stated about the battle. “I think the biggest difference between the two players is that Devin Bush hasn’t had as much splash plays as Robert Spillane has had. So even though both are playing well, Spillane has been able to do things a little bit more frequently that catch your eyes, whether it’s a back on backers drill, whether it’s some of the things where you can really see his physicality coming into play.”
An undrafted free agent that had to earn a roster spot with the Steelers, Spillane’s work ethic certainly cannot be questioned. When Spillane’s name and physicality are mentioned, it’s hard not to think back to his goal-line stop against Titans running back Derrick Henry in 2020. As is the case with Moats’ training camp observation, Spillane made a name for himself in the 2020 season with several splash plays, including a pick-six on Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. Therefore, Spillane was slated to start alongside Bush in 2021 and likely would have if it wasn’t for the Steelers trading for linebacker Joe Schobert from the Jacksonville Jaguars. The team’s lack of confidence in Spillane may have been a product of his poor play in coverage, as he wound up playing just under 30% of snaps despite Bush’s struggles.
On the other hand, Bush’s play in 2021 was arguably worse, as his 2020 ACL tear may have hindered his play significantly. As the first player the team traded up for in the first round since wide receiver Santonio Holmes, Bush has yet to meet expectations due to a plethora of complications.
When pondering the question of who the team will start, it’s important to consider both players’ upsides. In order for Spillane to win the starting job, he has to display a large leap in play against the pass, which is easier said than done in the NFL. However, it appears that he has done so thus far in camp, seemingly proving his upside and capabilities. On the other hand, given that he was a top-10 pick, Bush has athletic upside and still has time to translate into quality play if he’s able to prove to the coaching staff that he can do so.
“But I think coming into this game on Saturday,” Moats said regarding the coming preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks. “I think that’s gonna be a nice big test for both of those guys. For Spillane to see that, all right, you may look good against these guys here, but you’ve been seeing these guys here for the past two to three years, you’re gonna understand what they do well and what they don’t do. You know their tips, their traits, and stuff like that. So that should help you. But what happens when you’re not familiar with the Seattle Seahawks running back, you’re not familiar with the Seattle Seahawks tight end? Devin Bush, what happens when this guard isn’t coming up and he is just gonna be nice getting by? Cause he’s actually gonna try and take your face off.”
Moats highlights the biggest obstacle for both players to prove their capabilities to the coaching staff. For Spillane, his playmaking and consistency in training camp must translate against opposing players in gameplay, as his playmaking can indeed be explained away by his familiarity with the training camp offense. For Bush, the biggest hurdle is proving that his biggest 2021 weakness in run defense was an outlier season due to his ACL tear, which can only be truly done in meaningful game action.
Given that the only sample size thus far for both players is training camp without pads, Spillane has yet to have a meaningful opportunity to showcase his improvement in pass coverage, nor has Bush to showcase his recovery from the ACL tear. This coming preseason game, as Moats mentions, will have a high bearing on this battle for the starting job if there even is a battle.
As training camp has gone on, as have the reports of the competition between Spillane and Bush. The fact is, Spillane’s training camp has had to impress many to even enter his name in this conversation. While it can’t be stressed enough that time will tell, the fact remains that as it stands now, Spillane may just start alongside Jack in week one.