The Steelers’ loss of their athletic stalwart in Devin Bush is a loss that this defense is going to have a hard time recovering from. Even with the promising play of Robert Spillane against Cleveland, there are still significant questions to be answered. For one, who gets the green dot moving forward.
What happens if Spillane happens to get hurt himself? Could the Steelers look outside the organization? All of these are questions that have to come up when discussing this situation. At this point, there is no great answer, as it is unlikely the Steelers will fully replace Bush. However, in order to at least fill his shoes a bit, here are some options the Steelers have moving forward.
Move Forward With a Rotation
Mike Tomlin made it clear in his press conference Tuesday that while Spillane will get significant snaps, this is not just going to be a one-for-one substitution with Bush and Spillane.
“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,” Tomlin said. “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.”
Based on the comments and the fact that Spillane took all the snaps that once belonged to Bush, it would stand to mean that Spillane will work in the base 3-4 alongside Vince Williams. However, in sub-packages, Tomlin hints at a rotation here. Marcus Allen and Ulysees Gilbert III will have huge opportunities to clear out bigger roles going forward. Tomlin shows confidence in those players with his comments here.
Spillane is getting an audition test here on Sunday against the Titans. Most importantly, it is unknown what Spillane’s skillset in coverage is at this time. The tape from last Sunday against the Browns proved Spillane loves to hit and has great instincts, however. His role as a likely two-down linebacker could expand with a strong performance.
Gilbert III is the only player who has the rare athleticism of Bush in this linebacker unit. However, a demotion down the depth chart was not something that was foreseen after so much hype throughout the offseason. The Steelers mentioned in training camp that they view Gilbert III as essentially a rookie and are bringing him along slowly as a result. In sub-package defense, it would stand to say Gilbert III might get the first stab at things given how high the Steelers were on him throughout the Summer.
Allen, on the other hand, is a now converted safety. With good athleticism and hit power, he is really just a faster version of Spillane with worse instincts. He fits nicely into the Mark Barron type of role if that is what the Steelers want. However, there is no clear answer with anyone on the roster. The good news, at the very least, is there is lots of potential.
Trading for Jets LB Avery Williamson
There are zero reasons to rule out a possible trade at this point. There are a few candidates to pick from, but Avery Williamson makes the most sense on paper for a number of reasons. For one, the Jets are having a fire sale. They are just trying to get whatever value they can for their players at this point. With Williamson in the last year of his contract, there is a great chance he will be on the market. The Steelers could easily jockey up a day three pick to go acquire Williamson.
Even Williamson’s price tag is not too hefty in terms of the cap hit. The Steelers would easily be able to fit him under the cap. With good athleticism, solid instincts, and especially high peaks during his career, Williamson is not a perfect trade-off for Bush, but he fills the role that Bush played perfectly. The biggest thing the Steelers gain with him is experience and coverage ability.
The only concerning thing with Williamson is that he is coming off of a Torn ACL, but thus far on the season, he has looked quite good. Williamson’s fit feels about as good as the Steelers will get on the trade market.
Trading for Lions LB Jarrad Davis
Davis is a step down from Williamson in terms of talent, but the same principle makes sense here. The Lions are a middling team in the NFC North and could look to move assets at the trade deadline. Davis had his fifth-year option declined by the Lions this offseason and they could look to get any compensation possible for him as he is likely leaving this offseason anyway.
The Steelers met with Davis in the 2017 pre-draft process. They brought him to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit, in fact. That at the very least is a strong indicator that the Steelers could have an interest in him if he is on the market. Davis would bring athleticism, but lacks the instincts needed to be truly effective. It hurts him in coverage and he has never been able to rectify these issues as a result.
Davis could be a solid depth move, however. For a veteran with lots of experience, Davis does make some sense for the Steelers if they are looking to give up minimal draft capital to fill any hole they see.
Look at the Free Agent Market
The Steelers’ last true option is to look to the free-agent market. Unfortunately, it is a market that is rather bare. Some candidates could include Wesley Woodyard, Nigel Bradham, and Deone Bucannon.
Bucannon is the name to circle here. Much like Davis, the Steelers brought Bucannon to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit in 2014, so there could be mutual interest here. Even more prominent, Bucannon is a hybrid safety and linebacker and would at least bring some athleticism and coverage ability to the team. If the Steelers do not want to give up any draft capital and see some depth problems, Bucannon makes sense to fill that role.