Sean Spence's return would shore up ILB

PITTSBURGH -- Sean Spence said he is at full strength but the Pittsburgh Steelers' linebacker stopped short of proclaiming he is all the way back from the career-threatening knee injury he sustained almost two years ago.

"It's still a process," Spence said Thursday after the Steelers' final practice of the week. "When I get to Latrobe I'll be able to test my knee more there."

The good news for Spence and the Steelers is he has looked good while testing his reconstructed left knee during organized team activities. Spence has been a full participant in all six of the Steelers' six voluntary practices, and he doesn't plan on taking any of the remaining practices off as a precaution.

What is most encouraging for Spence and the Steelers: the 2012 third-round pick said he is not thinking about his left knee when he is out on the field.

"Once I get warmed up I'm out there running around, having fun and competing," Spence said. "[The knee] has been responding pretty solid, and I've been out here every day. Hopefully I can continue that."

It has been an arduous road back since Spence shredded his left knee in the Steelers' final preseason game in 2012. The 5-foot-11, 231-pounder tore multiple ligaments and also sustained nerve damage, putting his career in peril before it had started.

Spence has worked tirelessly to get back to the field, and he overcame another setback last season when he returned to practice only to break a finger and get sidelined again.

"It was frustrating at times," he said, "but I had to be patient."

It's hard not to root for that patience to be rewarded given everything that Spence has had to overcome. And if his left knee holds up during the grind of training camp, Pittsburgh's inside linebacker position could become a strength a season after it was a liability last season.

Imagine Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier backed up by Vince Williams, who had to start 11 games as a rookie because of an injury to Larry Foote, and Spence.

It's still way too early to anoint Shazier as the starter alongside Timmons or expect Spence to make an impact in 2014. But the prognosis at inside linebacker is promising, especially when it comes to Spence. “

"Being out for two years and being able to sit in meeting and see coach (Keith Butler) makes corrections with the guys, I always try to use the mental aspect of the game as an advantage," Spence said. "To take that all in and bring it out to the field has been good for me."

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