(Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
On Dec. 4, 2017, in a game against the Bengals in Cincinnati, Ryan Shazier suffered a season-ending spinal cord injury that would ultimately, unfortunately, cost him his career. The Steelers had no serviceable replacement to fill in for Shazier and it arguably cost them a trip to the Super Bowl that year after having a 13-3 regular season.
The Steelers brought in free agent Sean Spence off the couch and he started for them in the Divisional Round playoff game against the Jaguars where they got beat, 45-42. The defense had no answer for the Jaguars' offense and Leonard Fournette rushed for 109 yards on 25 carries and three touchdowns, averaging 4.4. yards per carry.
"When we lost Ryan, I think we were pretty young," Cameron Heyward told Mike Prisuta of Steelers.com. "We were still dealing with trying to replace a guy like that."
With Devin Bush suffering a season-ending ACL tear late in the second quarter on Sunday against the Browns, Robert Spillane filled in and there was no drop-off. Spillane was tied for second in total tackles with six (five solos) and a 6-yard tackle for a loss when he read a screen to Browns' tight end Austin Hooper. In addition to Spillane, who will get the majority of the snaps at inside linebacker in place of Bush, the Steelers can possibly use Marcus Allen, Ulysses Gilbert III and Terrell Edmunds in a dimebacker role to help make up for the loss of Bush.
"I don't know what this situation holds going forward," Heyward said. "I know Rob had a great half but it's up to us to continue to get better. Everybody's got to step up their game from here on out. We've got to continue to make a conscious effort to communicate because Devin's down. It does help having a guy like Vince Williams in the background and able to tutor guys and get guys to the right spots."
Spillane is a better defensive player than Tyler Matakevich, who was initially supposed to replace Shazier after his season-ending injury in 2017 against the Bengals but he suffered a shoulder injury in that same game which would limit him to only special teams duties for the rest of the season.
The Steelers have been through this before with losing Shazier and are better prepared to deal with a big loss like Bush at inside linebacker. It won't be easy certainly, but they can get the job done with several players replicating Bush's responsibilities. They have better personnel and more options this time around in 2020.