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How will Robert Spillane, paired with Devin Bush, impact the Steelers’ defense?

The Pittsburgh Steelers made a move at ILB, and what kind of impact will it have on the overall defense?

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens Mitchell Layton-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers made a decision at the start of the 2021 new NFL league year, and that decision was to release veteran Vince Williams and retain Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA) Robert Spillane.

It seemed like a simple transaction, and one which many might have expected, but the question which remains was this about more than salary cap savings? Was this more than the front office working financials? Or was this about the Steelers believing Spillane, paired with Devin Bush, could improve the interior of the defense?

Spillane and Bush haven’t played much together in a regular season setting, not after Bush tore his ACL in the Week 5 blowout over the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field, but Spillane, speaking with reporters via Zoom, said he doesn’t think their lack of on-field experience together is a big deal.

“We have been working together for the past two years,” Spillane said. “I know and understand his style of communication and his play. So I think we feed in well with each other, we work well together and we’ve been able to do that off the field, so now it’s just going to be translating to taking our communication styles and meshing them together to get the best message to the teammates.”

Spillane is a player who hasn’t had anything given to him since he entered the NFL. After going undrafted in the 2018 NFL Draft, Spillane was signed by the Tennessee Titans. He was signed to the practice squad, and eventually elevated to the active roster in October of that season. However, when he was cut a few weeks later he spent the rest of the season as a free agent and signed with the Steelers in February of 2019.

Since getting the opportunity to play in place of Bush in 2020, he has proven his worth, but don’t think how he got to this point has him thinking his spot is guaranteed.

“I don’t pencil myself in anywhere because nothing’s guaranteed,” Spillane said. “Nothing’s given to you. I know I’m going to have to go in to (organized team activities and minicamp) and earn everything that I have.

“I don’t expect anything to be given to me. I don’t want anything to be given to me. I expect to go out there and earn it. Go through the offseason program and show that I can be a better player than I was last year. Show that I’ve gotten better — that’s my goal every year. Nothing’s changed with that. I look forward to getting back with the guys and showing the improvements I’ve made this offseason and going from there.”

There are a lot of people who would like to see the Steelers sign a linebacker at some point early in the 2021 NFL Draft. The overall consensus about this falls on whether you believe a Spillane and Bush duo would be sufficient at both stopping the run and in coverage to help the Steelers’ defense succeed.

For as great as Vince Williams was throughout his time in Pittsburgh, his lack of athleticism, and overall coverage skills, was what had Keith Butler using Williams in only specific situations. If Williams is paired with an athletic linebacker, like Bush or Ryan Shazier, he is fine, but without that athleticism to complement his hard-hitting, downhill style, he becomes a liability.

The Steelers might draft a linebacker at some point during the draft, and adding talent to the group will certainly boost the depth at the position; however, Spillane isn’t about to just step aside and let someone else take his job.

He’s come too far to do that, but he also realizes nothing will be given...he will have to earn it.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the rest of Free Agency and the NFL Draft.