All 91 is a Pittsburgh Steelers Now series profiling each of the 91 members of the Steelers 2019 training camp roster.
20 • Cameron Sutton, third-year cornerback
Last year: After a hamstring injury cost him the end of training camp and the beginning of his rookie year in 2017, he played in just five games. He regained a greater role in 2018, making one start in playing in 15 of 16 games as a second-year pro.
Stats: Made 22 tackles (20 solo, two assists), had an interception, three passes defended, a forced fumble and two quarterback hits.
Made a late-game interception to secure a tie through regulation against Cleveland in Week 1.
— We Love Interceptions (@WeLoveINT) September 13, 2018
Camp outlook: Appears to have a regular role as a Dime corner, though the Steelers have been playing a 2-3-6 Dime with a third safety. He’ll compete for playing time with Mike Hilton, and to a lesser extent, Artie Burns, as well as whichever safeties earn backup roles. The current favorites are probably Jordan Dangerfield and either Marcus Allen or Kameron Kelly.
Projected role: Sutton seems assured of a roster spot and a helmet on gamedays, as he is also a special teams contributor. How much he plays will depend on how well he plays in the sub package reps he gets during camp and which packages the Steelers utilize more often. In particular, how much they use a traditional four-corner Dime vs. the three-safety heavy Dime will be an interesting thing to watch.
Saunders: How Will Steelers Replace Devin Bush? They Won’t.
How will the Steelers replace Devin Bush?
That was the question on the minds of many the moment Bush left Sunday’s Steelers win over Cleveland, even before it was revealed that the injury to the Steelers up and coming linebacker is serious enough to keep him out for the remainder of the 2020 season.
Now, it’s become a critical question, and as contenders around the AFC have faltered, perhaps the only major one standing in the way of the Steelers becoming a prime contender to play for a Super Bowl title this winter.
The problem is that it’s not a question there’s a satisfactory answer to. Just think about what it took to get Bush in the first place, who in his own way is also an injury replacement.
When Ryan Shazier suffered his season- and career-ending spinal injury in Cincinnati in 2017, the Steelers were left with a gaping hole in their defense that was exploited by Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars of all people as the team with a loaded offense whimpered to a first-round playoff exit.
Sean Spence started the last five games of the season for the Steelers at inside linebacker alongside Vince Williams. Those were the last five games of his NFL career.
In second-year backup Robert Spillane, the Steelers have a player of at least that ilk. Though the Steelers have confidence, his ability will be seen over the next few games. There are other options, as well, in the form of 2019 sixth-round pick Ulysees Gilbert III and converted safety Marcus Allen.
There are players that are free agents or that may be acquired from another team for minimal return that may represent an upgrade to that group, but none of those players are going to replace Bush.
After the loss to the Jaguars, took the Steelers over another year of wading through other options before they were finally able to replace Shazier. In 2018, free agent signing Jon Bostic made 14 starts at inside linebacker, L.J. Fort started two and Tyler Matakevich started one.
The Steelers fell from the No. 7 scoring defense in the league in 2017 to No. 16 with the 2018 unit. The only other starters that changed on the defense were Mike Mitchell and Artie Burns for Terrell Edmunds and Coty Sensabaugh in the secondary, and Sensabaugh did so by beating out Burns while he remained on the roster. The biggest change was the man playing next to Williams at inside linebacker.
Going into the 2019 season, the Steelers knew they needed to do something more. They signed Mark Barron as a free agent, but considered him another stop-gap at best, though perhaps better than the previous options. But a better free agent that would fit into the Steelers’ salary cap crunch could not be found.
Even when focused on the 2019 NFL Draft, there was such a dearth of inside linebacker prospects that Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert felt compelled to trade up to get Bush instead of waiting for a player at their spot.
To replace Shazier, it took going through nearly a half-dozen other options and trading up in the draft to get a player that could finally do at least most of the things he was able to do on the field in the middle of the Pittsburgh defense. Thankfully, it does not appear at this point that Bush’s injury will extend beyond the 2020 season, but replacing him for the remainder of this year will be nearly impossible.
The Steelers were able to pull off something similar to that feat in 2019, trading a first-round draft pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick after safety Sean Davis was injured. It was the first time the Steelers had traded their first-round pick since the 1960s. It’s unlikely they’ll find the combination of a talented player and a motivated seller once again, and even if they do, will Colbert want to trade his first-round pick again? The team has little else it could spare to offer a team to try to get them to part with a top talent.
Instead, it appears that a combination of Spillane, Gilbert and Allen, plus whoever else the team can scrounge up, will have to do when it comes to replacing Bush, and even though they’re unlikely to do a representative job of it, that seems about the best the Steelers can hope for.
With the additions of Fitzpatrick and Steven Nelson and the emergence of Bud Dupree as one of the league’s premier pass rushers, this Steelers’ defense might be better suited to deal with the loss of an important cog at inside linebacker. But the way the NFL as a whole, and particularly the top teams in the AFC in Baltimore and Kansas City, likes to put pressure on a defense, it’s likely that the loss of Bush will be felt for quite some time.
Steelers Have Faith in Robert Spillane at ILB with Devin Bush Out
When Devin Bush went down with an injury in the Steelers’ win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, second-year man Robert Spillane got the call to replace the Steelers stellar inside linebacker.
Later on Sunday, when it was revealed that Bush suffered an ACL injury that will require surgery and for him to miss the entire 2020 season, that fill-in job got a whole lot bigger.
For now, it appears that Spillane will remain the next man up, in head coach Mike Tomlin’s parlance, and he acquitted himself nicely against the Browns, leading the Steelers in tackles the rest of the way and making several big hits.
Spillane also donned the green-dotted helmet that signifies the member of the defense that is in radio communication with the Steelers sideline and took the responsibility of relaying the calls to the rest of the team.
That’s a group that includes a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in T.J. Watt, a three-time All Pro in Cam Heyward and an eight-year veteran in Vince Williams right beside him at inside linebacker.
Spillane, on the other hand, hardly has a resume that merits mention. He went undrafted out of Western Michigan, didn’t get invited to the combine, won a roster spot with the Tennessee Titans as a tryout and played a total of 20 special teams snaps in his rookie season. He was cut mid-year and didn’t catch on anywhere else until the Steelers offered him a futures contract.
In 2019, he started on the practice squad, was cut from it for two weeks, then came back to the team and was promoted to the active roster, playing in eight more games and becoming a special teams regular while owning a grand total of one defensive snap.
That made his ability on the field something of a surprise to many, though not Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
“Guys that make plays in special teams, that’s usually a precursor to them making plays in defense,” Tomlin said on Sunday. “Since we brought him up the middle of last year he’s been a consistent performer for us. I don’t think any of us are surprised from quality play from him.”
On the field, Spillane’s older, more experienced and more accomplished teammates had no problem letting him make the calls while doing everything they could to make the 24-year-old playing the most important game of his life as comfortable as he could be.
“As soon as I stepped on the field, I felt like my teammates trusted me,” Spillane said. “They’ve respected the work that I’ve put in through the past 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’ and that felt really good to hear from them.”
It’s not clear how much Spillane will play going forward with Bush out long term. They have other internal options in second-year former draft pick Ulysees Gilbert III and converted safety Marcus Allen. They will also certainly look outside the organization, as they did a year ago when they lost Sean Davis to injury and traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick.
But for now, Spillane is the next man up, and unless he proves otherwise, he’s enjoying the team’s confidence in his abilities.
Steelers, Titans Set for 8th Game in NFL History Between 5-0 or Better Unbeaten Teams
The Steelers and Tennessee Titans will meet as a battle of unbeaten teams on Sunday, with both squads owning 5-0 records coming into the game at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.
It’s just the eighth time in NFL history that unbeaten teams with five or more wins will meet one another on the field, according to the Steelers public relations department. It will be the first time the Steelers are involved in such a game.
“We’ve got a significant challenge in the form of the Tennessee Titans coming up this week,” head coach Mike Tomlin said after the Steelers dominated the Cleveland Browns on Sunday to improve to 5-0. “That’s life in this game. We’re appreciative and more importantly we’re really excited. You can’t take anything for granted in this environment.”
The last time it happened was in 2015, when the 6-0 Denver Broncos faced the 6-0 Green Bay Packers. There have been five instances in the past 20 years, but there was just one from 1925 to 2005.
The last (and only) time the Steelers were 5-0 came in 1978, when they won their first seven games to start the season. That year, they faced the 2-3 New York Jets while 5-0, the 2-4 Atlanta Falcons while 6-0 and lost to the 4-3 Browns after going 7-0.
Here’s the full list of game between 5-0 or better unbeaten foes in NFL history:
2015 6-0 Denver Broncos 29, 6-0 Green Bay Packers 10
2007 8-0 New England Patriots 24, 7-0 Indianapolis Colts 20
2007 5-0 New England Patriots 48, 5-0 Dallas Cowboys 27
2004 5-0 New England Patriots 13, 5-0 New York Jets 7
1973 6-0 Minnesota Vikings 10, 6-0 Los Angeles Rams 9
1923 5-0 Canton Bulldogs 7, 5-0 Chicago Cardinals 0
1921 7-0 Akron Pros 0, Buffalo All-Americans 0