The Pittsburgh Steelers were dealt a huge blow to their starting defense when Devin Bush tore his ACL and was lost for the season in the team’s Week 6 win over the Cleveland Browns.
But as Mike Tomlin always says, “Next man up.” or “The standard is the standard.”
So, who is the next man up? Who is being tasked with upholding the standard set by Bush? Steelers fans know the name by now, and that would Robert Spillane. But who is Robert Spillane? After all, wasn’t this backup job supposed to go to Ulysees Gilbert III, the training camp phenom?
Whatever the reason, the job is Spillane’s to keep, or lose, but I felt it appropriate to give fans a little background information on Spillane as a player.
Let’s get to know this Robert Spillane a little better...
Spillane played his college football at Western Michigan, the same school Chukwuma Okorafor attended, and Mike Tomlin said Tuesday he remembers Spillane from their time there scouting Okorafor.
“We like our MAC football. We’ve had our exposure to it, if you will, from a scouting standpoint. [Robert Spillane] was a quality player in college first. I think that’s what caught our attention.” Tomlin said.
Spillane went undrafted in 2018, but was signed by the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent. He was cut from the 53-man roster at the end of training camp and subsequently re-signed to the Titans practice squad. Spillane was promoted to the Titans active roster on October 9, 2018, and made his NFL debut on October 14 in a 21-0 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Spillane was waived by the Titans on October 29, 2018, but gained some valuable experience in his time in Tennessee.
“He was able to get some league experience down in Tennessee.” Tomlin added. “We just had an opportunity to acquire him when he was available. We thought he was a guy that could play football, that could add depth and competition to our fold. He’s proven that over the course of his stay here. He’s continually gotten better and continually worked to carve out a role for himself. Now, he will get an opportunity to display that readiness and that work in a significant amount of play time opportunity.”
The Steelers signed Spillane in February of 2019, and he hasn’t been with any other team since. Initially on the Steelers 2019 practice squad, Spillane was released ahead of the Steelers Week 4 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Spillane was re-signed to the practice squad two weeks later heading into Week 7. Less than a month later, Spillane was added to the Steelers 53-man roster fo the final 8 games of the 2019 season.
During his stay in Pittsburgh Spillane has been primarily been used as a special teams player and a depth player at inside linebacker. If Spillane is anything, he is worker.
“I just put my head down and worked and I haven’t stopped since.” Spillane told media via a Zoom call this week.
When asked how the Steelers defense plans to adjust without Bush, Spillane put it best by suggesting the unit doesn’t miss a step.
“The best way to support him is to leave where he left off.” Spillane said.
Will Spillane be asked to wear the green dot on his helmet? The one with the microphone in it so he can communicate the play calls to his teammates? Spillane said he is ready for it, if necessary.
“For me, it’s comfortable,” Spillane said. “I like speaking to my teammates during and pre-snap. I’ve gotten so comfortable with these guys over the past two years.
“It really feels awesome because as soon as I stepped on the field I felt like my teammates trusted me and they’ve respected the work I’ve put in the last two years. They told me, ‘Rob, you belong out here. This is what you’re meant to do so go out here and show everybody what we know you can do.’
“That felt really good to hear from them.”
As for Tomlin, he wasn’t ready to announce Spillane being the main communicator on defense just yet.
“We have a lot of confidence in all of these guys.” Tomlin said. “We still have some heavy game planning to do here, particularly defensively for the remainder of the day. We will hammer out some of those details like who is carrying the green dot. What is the division of labor?
“I doubt Robert Spillane will be playing all the defensive snaps, so it will probably require a combination of people in an effort to replace Devin Bush. That’s not unusual under the circumstances, but all that remains to be hashed out. Just rest assured that we are comfortable with the capabilities of all the men and there will be no excuses in terms of the performance of those that occupy the role.”
Stories like this in the NFL are not abnormal. A player who barely got a shot in the league getting an opportunity to shine. While the circumstances aren’t what Spillane probably envisioned, he seems poised to make the best of his opportunity.
Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the Tennessee Titans in Week 7.