Raiders LB Robert Spillane

Robert Spillane: The Answer To The Las Vegas Raiders’ Void At Middle Linebacker?

Is Robert Spillane the answer to the Las Vegas Raiders‘ void at middle linebacker? We’ll surely find out this season as the Silver and Black have made it very apparent they’re giving the former Pittsburgh Steeler every opportunity to solve the conundrum in the middle.

Signed as an unrestricted free agent in March, Spillane was one part of a trio of defensive signings Las Vegas made at the onset of free agency. Initially viewed as a depth/special teams signing, it was clear early on the 6-foot-1, 229-pound undrafted free agent (UDFA) is viewed as more than that by the Raiders.

“They told me I was going to come in and be given the opportunity to be a green dot and to play and to really be a leader of this team,” Spillane said during his introductory press conference back in mid-March.

It’s doubtful what Spillane was told when he became a Raider has changed.

Las Vegas didn’t add to the position further in free agency or in the 2023 NFL Draft. In fact, the Silver and Black did draft a linebacker—Florida’s Amari Burney in the sixth round—but that addition is better suited as a cover outside linebacker. Not a hard-nosed middle linebacker, in which Spillane is firmly rooted.

A look at the Raiders’ linebacker group…

Of the eight linebackers currently on the Raiders 90-man roster, Spillane and undrafted free agents Luke Masterson, Drake Thomas, and Kana’i Mauga are the trio with the most experience at the Mike (Spillane and Masterson in the pros, Thomas and Mauga in college at North Carolina State and USC, respectively). Unless the younger UDFAs impress in camp and overshadow Spillane, it’s difficult to imagine anyone but the five-year veteran manning the middle and having the green dot on their helmet. Masterson did gain valuable experience last season as a rookie, but he’s a better fit on the outside and may start with Spillane and Divine Deablo in the Raiders’ base 4-3 set.

Las Vegas could use another relentless presence on defense, especially in the middle of the unit. Spillane, whom Raiders defensive coordinator Patrick Graham referred to as “Spill,” offers that along with the ability to play tough with all-important durability.

Spillane isn’t one to have things handed to him. He’ll earn his snaps, much like he did in Pittsburgh.

“I don’t expect anything to be given to me. I’ve earned my way in this league, and I continue to hope to do so,” Spillane noted. “I think leadership is going to be big for me coming to a new team where you have to earn your way up the ladder. So, I hope to do that early on and to show my teammates I’m here to win games.”

A resurgent defense is imperative to the Raiders’ desire to win games. Especially one that continues to stymie the opposition when the offense suddenly stops scoring points—something Josh McDaniels’ offense did a ton in 2022.

Spillane could have a heavy hand in a defensive transformation.

He’s been given opportunities before and ran with them.

“Sometimes in this business, it’s somebody’s misfortune that gives you an opportunity to perform. So, when (Devin Bush) went down, I was given the opportunity to step in and be that starting middle linebacker, and I felt like I took that, and I ran with it,” Spillane said. “I love going out there and playing, so I want to be on the field for every opportunity that I can be, and I fight to be on the field. So, I’ll continue to do that.”

For a Raiders defense that didn’t add anything else substantial to the middle linebacker spot, Las Vegas has no choice but to trust Spillane to win the job and thrive. It’s supremely early, but the three starting linebackers are slated to be: Deablo and Masterson on the outside, Spillane in the middle. That’s subject to change, of course. But that’s what’s rolling at Raiders OTAs.

The 27-year-old Spillane gets the most out of his body with a high level of frenetic energy. His drive and motor are akin to Raiders edge rusher Maxx Crosby (both played in the same conference collegiately, Mid-American), and it shows up on game film. The 4.77 40-yard dash time Spillane clocked on his Western Michigan pro day isn’t indicative of what he truly brings to the table, either.

While that time is a hair faster than former Raiders middle linebacker Denzel Perryman’s, Spillane plays much faster, and his short-area burst is very similar to Perryman’s. Spillane is every bit as much of a thumping tackler, although outside of a stonewall hit on Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, it doesn’t show up as frequently.

Robert Spillane: By the numbers

Playing in all 16 games for the Steelers last season, Spillane started five and racked up 79 total tackles (52 solo) with four stops for loss, a sack, two quarterback hits, and four pass breakups. Pro Football Reference charted Spillane with five missed tackles in 2022.

Viewed as a run-stuffing tackling machine, Spillane’s coverage chops weren’t spectacular this past year. He was charted for allowing 36 completions on 43 targets (83.7% completion percentage) for 359 yards and a touchdown. Opposing quarterbacks targeting Spillane sported a 109.2 QBR.

He did show he could be an asset and not a liability in coverage during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. Spillane was stingy in 2020, allowing a 53.3 completion rate (16 of 30 for 135 yards, zero touchdowns), and in 2021, yielding a 66.7 percentage (16 of 24 for 161 yards, zero TDs). Recapturing that in the desert is a must.

*Top Photo: Raiders Today/Fan Nation

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