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: No Fans for Rescheduled Game vs. Ravens on Sunday
There will be no fans in attendance when the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Baltimore Ravens in their rescheduled game at Heinz Field this Sunday, the team announced on Wednesday afternoon.
The team had expected to host 5,500 fans at the game when it was originally expected to be held on Thursday evening, but that game was supposed to be the last with with any significant complement of fans for the time being.
On Monday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf announced an amended COVID-19 mitigation protocol that reduced the capacity for outdoor venues to a maximum of 2,500. With that limit, which includes players, staff and families, the Steelers have elected to not host any additional fans through single-game ticket sales.
“We are disappointed for those fans who had planned on attending Thursday night’s game,” team spokesman Burt Lauten said in a statement. “Our ticked office will communicate soon with those fans who purchased tickets from us regarding credits and refunds.”
Steelers, Ravens to Kick Off at 1:15 p.m. Sunday on NBC
The Steelers re-scheduled game with the Baltimore Ravens will kick off at 1:15 p.m. on Sunday and be broadcast nationally on NBC.
The slightly unusual schedule time will allow the game to still be broadcast nationally on NBC during the early afternoon broadcast window, so out-of-town Steelers fans will still be able to tune in.
The Steelers were originally scheduled to be broadcast on NBC on Thanksgiving, so the change will allow the network to retain the game, which is sure to be a well-viewed one with the 10-0 Steelers hosting their rivals and reigning NFL MVL Lamar Jackson.
It’s still unclear what the situation will be with fans at Heinz Field on Sunday. The Steelers had been expecting 5,500 fans for the game, but that was expected to be the last game with fans at home for the time being, as Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has modified his COVID-19 mitigation plan and there is a new maximum capacity of 2,500 at the venue.
Steelers Players Unhappy about Rescheduled Game with Ravens
The Steelers and Baltimore Ravens will not get their scheduled Turkey Bowl, as the NFL has pushed back the game between the teams to Sunday because of continued COVID-19 issues with the Ravens.
The Steelers players got the news along with everyone else on Wednesday afternoon, and suffice to say, they aren’t happy about the postponement. This is the second time the Steelers will have one of their games moved, after their Week 4 game with the Tennessee Titans was rescheduled, costing the team its mid-season bye week.
i’m not gone lie @NFL THIS IS BULLSHIT…
— Eric Ebron (@Ebron85) November 25, 2020
— Alex Highsmith (@highsmith34) November 25, 2020
Maaaaaannnnnnnnnn that’s some BS
— Devlin Hodges (@DevlinHodges10) November 25, 2020
What a joke….
— Chase Claypool (@ChaseClaypool) November 25, 2020
— Mike Hilton (@MikeHilton_28) November 25, 2020
— Zach Banner (@ZBNFL) November 25, 2020
First the NFL takes away our bye week because another team can’t get their Covid situation together, now they take away our Thanksgiving primetime game for the same reason. Smh.
— JuJu Smith-Schuster (@TeamJuJu) November 25, 2020
— Big Bud (@Bud_Dupree) November 25, 2020
One of the Steelers’ veteran leaders, Cam Heyward, took a more neutral tact.
See you Sunday! Back to the lab pic.twitter.com/uNG0cWJDiV
— Cam Heyward (@CamHeyward) November 25, 2020