Robert Spillane’s NFL Career Nearly Ended Before It Started. Now, He’s Calling Plays for the Steelers Defense

PITTSBURGH — Robert Spillane’s journey to the NFL came with roadblocks that nearly left him on the outside looking in. The Western Michigan linebacker went undrafted in 2018 and found himself looking for tryouts as rosters were filling up. 

He eventually found himself on a flight to Nashville, Tennessee, to tryout for the Titans, only a week after failing to sign with the Minnesota Vikings following a tryout there. 

“I’ve come such a long way from those moments,” Spillane said on Monday. “If I go back a week before that tryout in Nashville, I had a tryout with the Minnesota Vikings. That didn’t go as planned. I wasn’t signed, and I didn’t have anything lined up for that next weekend. I didn’t get a call until Thursday from the Tennessee Titans, asking if I would get on a flight early the next morning to come down for their rookie minicamp. I went out there, and I knew what needed to be done to make that 90-man roster. I just put my head down and worked, and I haven’t stopped yet.”

That work carried him to the Titans’ 90-man roster, where he found himself in the mix to start at inside linebacker. Throughout the summer, Spillane’s name was amongst those in the defensive starters until a change in course sent him back into the market.

“You know how the NFL works. It’s a very fluent system,” Spillane said. “General managers and coaches have to do what they have to do and when I was out in Tennessee, things did go as planned, and they ended up going as well as planned.”

Spillane signed with the Steelers’ practice squad in 2019. Although his family history isn’t what earned him a spot, it is a talking point associated with his name. 

Spillane’s grandfather and 1953 Heisman trophy winner at Notre Dame, Johnny Lattner, spent his only NFL season with the Steelers. He made a Pro Bowl in his only professional season before entering the United States Air Force.

“I know he would be very proud of me,” Spillane said on his late grandfather. “He’s always seen the work I put in. He’s followed my career, he’s been at all the football games since I was a young boy. Too bad he’s not here with us now, but I know he’s looking down, and he’s proud of the man I’ve become, not only as a football player but off the field as well.” 

Which brought him to Pittsburgh.

On Sunday, the Steelers suffered a heartbreaking loss to their team when inside linebacker Devin Bush went down with a knee injury. Later reported to be an ACL tear, the second-year back’s season has come to an end. 

Spillane took the field to play just his 10th defensive snap for the Steelers in replace of Bush. 

Spillane took command of the defense in the second half of the Steelers vs. Browns game. He wore the green dot helmet, calling plays, and controlling the communication between the