Here's an article on Robert Spillane that doesn't have any earth-shattering news, but it does confirm that Spillane is currently firmly ensconced as a starter. And it doesn't call him unathletic, so it's got that going for it too.
Steelers' Robert Spillane eating off 'full plate' as he preps for 1st year as full-time starter
by Joe Rutter
Until Devin Bush’s season-ending ACL tear in Week 6 last season, Robert Spillane had played nine career snaps at inside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Instead of replacing Bush like he did in 2020, Spillane will be playing alongside the former first-round draft pick when the Steelers open the season Sept. 12 at Buffalo.
It’s an unfamiliar situation for Spillane, particularly in the wake of eight-year veteran Vince Williams’ retirement on the eve of training camp. The Steelers won’t have Williams available to provide a safety net at the position, putting more of an onus on Spillane to produce in his first full season as an NFL starter.
“Of course it puts a little more on Robert’s plate,” inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky said Thursday. “That’s what you want, a full plate when you play in the NFL. … It puts more on his plate, but not any more pressure.”
Spillane already has ascended further in his NFL career than most expected when he went undrafted out of Western Michigan in 2018. Released by the Tennessee Titans during his rookie season, Spillane was signed the following winter by the Steelers and played in eight games, with all but one snap coming on special teams, in 2019. That was the year Bush arrived as the 10th overall selection in the NFL Draft. Bush’s rise to an NFL starter was immediate. Expectations for Spillane to play a significant role in the Steelers defense were, um, not as lofty. That didn’t deter Spillane from preparing himself to eventually play regularly, if not start.
“I’ve always had confidence in myself,” he said. “People never thought I’d be here right now. Just the fact I’m here as a number one linebacker next to Devin Bush in this unbelievable defense, it feels special to me. But I don’t take it lightly, and I don’t take it for granted.”
To hear Spillane tell it, doubters might have come from within his own household. “Even some people in my family might say, ‘What are you doing? You’re not going to be out there. We don’t necessarily believe in you,’ ” he said. “But it’s having that faith in myself the whole way through, even when the odds weren’t in my favor. It’s trusting in myself and my abilities. Good things kept happening.”
When Williams retired, it left Spillane, at 25 years and seven months, as the oldest inside linebacker on the Steelers roster. He and converted safety Marcus Allen are the only players at the position who were in an NFL training camp in 2018. That experience — as limited as it is for Spillane — has made him a mentor of sorts at a position that counts Buddy Johnson, Jarvis Miller and Calvin Bundage as players trying to earn a spot on the 53-man roster or practice squad. “It’s weird calling myself a veteran, but this is my fourth year in the league,” Spillane said, “so I have the ability to help those younger players grow into the role they can possibly grow into.”
Even before Williams retired, Spillane was targeted to take regular snaps next to Bush. The Steelers’ decision to release Williams in March — he re-signed the next month at a greatly reduced salary — was an indication of the organization’s belief in Spillane.
“Either way, I was looking forward to taking that next step in my career this year,” he said. “I’m excited to keep learning from Devin, to give him the information I have. We play really nicely off each other. It’s really fun to be out there with him.”
Bush wore the helmet with the green dot and relayed the defensive signals until his injury. Spillane wore it until he missed the final four games of the regular season with a knee injury.
The job likely will return to Bush provided he is fully recovered when the season begins. Spillane is ready to have that responsibility, too. “For me, it’s easy to make the calls. It’s comfortable making the calls,” Spillane said. “I think he’s comfortable making the calls, too. We play really well off each other. We have communications about it every day.”
Spillane said he and Bush also have spent extra time in the film room studying tendencies. This attention to detail doesn’t surprise coach Mike Tomlin.
“It’s about cooperative work and communication in a tandem,” Tomlin said. “It’s cool from my perspective because it’s generational. I watched it happen with Vince Williams and Ryan Shazier when they were young. It’s really kind of born out of that and has been passed down from duo to duo over the years in that room.
“That’s one of the cool things that happens in this environment.”