Sean Spence hopes for more playing time at crowded linebacker spot

LATROBE -- At times, it’s still hard to believe that linebacker Sean Spence could make a career in the NFL after what he went through early in his career. Anyone familiar with Spence remembers the gruesome knee injury he suffered in the final preseason game of 2012, his rookie season, against Carolina.

The injury caused Spence to miss all of 2012 and 2013, and many believed he would never make it back on the field. But the Steelers held out hope that their former third-round pick would play again, and Spence worked tirelessly to make that happen.

Spence would not only return to the field in 2014, he played in all 16 games at inside linebacker and started eight of them, including the last four of the regular season and the playoff game against Baltimore. He finished the season with 52 tackles and a sack.

Now, with his first year of game experience behind him, Spence has an added comfort level heading into 2015. Spence said that getting a chance to have that extended playing time helped the game slow down for him as the season went on.

“I’m just a lot more comfortable,” Spence said. “The game slowed down a lot for me. Having those game experiences under my belt, I feel more comfortable in what I’m doing. I feel better physically and mentally.”

Spence is just one of several inside linebackers competing for playing time opposite Lawrence Timmons. Last year’s first-round pick, Ryan Shazier, is slated to be the starter, with Spence and Vince Williams behind him. Both Spence and Williams have shown that they are capable of starting at that position. Williams has started 13 games in his two-year career, including 11 in his rookie season of 2013.

The first few days of camp, including Wednesday’s first practice in pads, has shown just how much competition there is at that position. Both Shazier and Williams stood out in Wednesday’s backs-on-backers drill,  Williams in particular.

Spence knows that playing time could be hard to come by with all the talent the team has on the inside, but the competition helps make everybody better.

“I feel like we’re all competing to get better each and every day,” Spence said. “We have a great group of inside linebackers and we’re just going to compete and push each other each and every day.”

Though Spence has only played one season with the Steelers, this will be his fourth year in the league. The Steelers ultimately made the decision to keep him around after his injury because they believed in the potential that Spence showed his rookie year, and Spence rewarded them with his solid play in 2014.

Now, Spence knows that he has more to offer coming into the new season. Whether it’s on defense or special teams, Spence will try and make the most of what’s given to him.

“There’s not too much too much to talk about," Spence said. "You just got to make sure you do it on the field."

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