As much as linebacker Devin Bush is looking forward to getting back on the field for the Steelers this year, after suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2020, fellow inside linebacker Robert Spillane might be just as excited to have the young linebacker back out there.
Spillane and Bush saw very little time on the field with each other in 2020, Spillane stepping in when Bush went down, but they have formed a bond that has them excited to see what can happen if they are both out there together.
"Adding a guy like Devin back to any team is a major attribute," said Spillane. "He is one of the top inside linebackers in the league. He can rush the passer, play the rundowns and also cover people. He is an all-around player, a guy you love to have on your team. He would make any team better. Getting him back is such a huge improvement to our already dominant 2020 defense.
"I am just so excited to play next to him. I didn't get many snaps next to him last year. Just to be on the field with him. We communicate well. We are good teammates to each other. I am very excited to get back on the field with him."
Bush, who said earlier this week he is about 80-90% back to his old self and will be 100% by training camp, has been working in a limited basis on individual stuff during OTAs. But even without the defensive drills, him and Spillane are developing a rapport.
"We have also been working through walkthroughs which is good for our communication as well," said Spillane. "One thing me and Devin also have is communication off the field. We've been talking about this since the end of last season. We have an understanding with each other. We understand each other's skillsets. We're both very excited to get on the field together. I know he is gnawing at the bit to get back out there. He has been working his tail off all offseason, since the second he got injured, to come back and be the best linebacker he can be. I know that we'll figure out anything that goes on through the season like any two inside linebackers do."
With a healthy Bush, Vince Williams re-signed and Spillane getting experience under his belt in 2020, the inside linebacker spot is one where the division of labor will be interesting.
"That is one of those things that is up to the coaches and Coach (Mike) Tomlin does a very good job of understanding and recognizing people's attributes and what they can bring to the table," said Spillane. "He does a good job of trying to put players where he knows they are going to succeed. I believe we will be able to figure something out that makes us one of the most dominant inside linebacker corps in the NFL."
Spillane played in 12 games in 2020, starting seven, before an injury landed him on the Reserve/Injured List for the last four weeks of the regular season, and then activated for the AFC Wild Card game. While he saw more snaps than ever, he knows the workload could increase this year and he has to be ready.
"Coach Tomlin preaches physical conditioning being everything, especially in this offseason. I worked to put myself in position to be able to succeed for 17 games, plus playoffs."
He finished the 2020 season with 43 tackles, 37 of them solo stops, two sacks, four pass defenses, and an interception and fumble recovery. He had his best game in a Week 9 win over the Baltimore Ravens, with his first career interception, picking off Lamar Jackson and returning it 33 yards for a touchdown.
But he knows there is a lot more work to be done.
"I look to continue to improve as everyone on this team does," said Spillane. "You find things in your game you can improve on. Having that experience from last year I can look and decide this is something I need to clean up, or something I do well that I want to do even better next year. There's lots of aspects we are working on throughout any offseason. Having that film last year and point of reference I can go back and look at certain techniques and abilities I have been working on this offseason.
"Coach Tomlin mentioned how he liked my underneath coverage as a linebacker in our post year meetings and my hug blitzing abilities. He said that is two things you do well that I want you to even focus on more next year. I look to continue to take from where I left off last season. Also, I want to show the team I can be a pass rusher, a viable blitzer, and get home to the quarterback in rush and coverage downs and also be a cover player."
One thing everyone does know about Spillane is he can lay a hit on the best of them, just like he did against Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans on a bone-crushing stop on the goal line last season that defensive coordinator Keith Butler still raves about.
"That is a play that was special to me not only because it was third down and goal line stop against perhaps the best running back we have seen in the NFL in some years, but also being that the Tennessee Titans were the team that released me after my rookie season and that being my first career start as an inside linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers," said Spillane. "My whole family renting a bus and coming down to Nashville for that game. yeah, that brings back a lot of good memories."
The Steelers participate in day 9 of the 2021 Organized Team Activities at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex