It was news everyone already knew, but it also was what everyone came to hear, and so Coach Mike Tomlin dealt with it right at the top of his weekly news conference via Zoom today from the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
"Devin Bush is scheduled to have surgery to fix his damaged ACL on Wednesday," said Tomlin. "Our heart goes out to Devin. It's an unfortunate circumstance, but as we always say, injuries are as much a part of the game as blocking and tackling, and one man's misfortune is another man's opportunity.
"You saw Robert Spillane get an opportunity last Sunday and him make good use of it. We've got a great deal of confidence in Robert, and we'll continue to go largely with him in replacement of Devin. We will, through game-planning, look at all of our options in terms of dividing up the labor, but Robert will be the primary man responsible for replacing Devin, and we're excited about watching him play and play to the standards of our expectations."
Against the Browns, Spillane entered the game on defense when Bush was injured just before the two-minute warning before the end of the first half. He played 30 defensive snaps, along with his typical special teams load, and finished tied-for-third on the team with five tackles, including one for loss. He also had a special teams tackle.
While Spillane announced his presence in an impressive way, and Tomlin referred to him as "the primary man responsible for replacing Devin," it was intimated later in the news conference that this won't necessarily be a one-for-one replacement situation.
Also available to be included in the mix are second-year pro Ulysees Gilbert and Marcus Allen, who was drafted in the fifth round in 2018 as a safety but to this point he has played nothing but special teams. Gilbert appeared in seven games as a rookie, all on special teams, and was active for just one of the first five games in 2020, that being against the Eagles when Allen was out with a foot injury.
"We have a lot of confidence in all of these guys as I mentioned earlier," said Tomlin. "We still have some heavy game-planning to do here, particularly defensively for the remainder of Tuesday. We'll hammer out some of those details, such as who's wearing the 'green dot,' what's the division of labor. I doubt that Robert Spillane will be playing all of the defensive snaps, and so it'll probably require a combination of people in an effort to replace Devin Bush. That's not unusual under the circumstances, but all that remains to be hashed out. Just rest assured, we're comfortable with the capabilities of all of the men and there will be no excuses in terms of the performance of those who occupy the role."
Tomlin's reference to the "green dot" has to do with the player who receives the defensive call from the sidelines and communicates it to the rest of the players on the field at the time. It is a significant responsibility, and it was a testament to Bush that he was assigned that role in just his second season in the NFL.
"Let's be straightforward here," said Tomlin about wearing the "green dot." "It's not like Devin has been doing it forever. We just handed the keys to Devin five games ago. He was not the 'green dot,' or the central communicator in 2019. So we're very thoughtful about that area. We were not in an area of comfort there, because Devin was growing and growing every week. Are we going through a transition? Certainly. But it's not as though we had a grizzly veteran in that position who had been handling that job for a number of years. That's something that has been on our radar, it's something we have been very conscious of in its development here in 2020. That's just going to continue."
TOMLIN'S INJURY UPDATE
"Derek Watt experienced some hamstring discomfort throughout the game against the Browns as he worked his way back from his previous hamstring injury. That will make his availability questionable as we prepare this week. We'll look at his practice participation and the quality of it and let that be our guide in terms of his availability for the game. Mike Hilton, the same thing with his shoulder injury. It's probably going to limit him at the early portions of the week. We'll watch him and watch him close and let that be our guide in terms of how we proceed. David DeCastro is coming off an (abdominal) injury, and he's scheduled to practice on Wednesday. Diontae Johnson is coming off a (back) injury, and he's scheduled to practice on Wednesday. We'll let the quality of that work and how they respond to that work over the course of the week determine their availability, but we're optimistic about those two. The rest are bumps and bruises associated with play. I know that Stefen Wisniewski worked well today, and he's scheduled to work again tomorrow, and we're going to let the quality of that work be our guide in terms of how we approach his status."