Sean Spence putting injuries behind him

On Wednesday, coach Mike Tomlin said the defense controlled the momentum of practice. On Thursday, he didn't have to make it clear that offense was in control, and some of that could have been due to the absence of linebacker Vince Williams who missed practice because of a hamstring injury.

To fill that gap, second-string linebacker Sean Spence stepped in and got first-team reps.

Wednesday, Spence didn't get nearly as many reps in live plays, as he had more reps with special teams.

“That's just how the practice is scripted,” Spence said.

Spence, who missed his first two seasons with injuries, has recovered immensely and found a way to fit into the Steelers defense.

“It's been a journey,” he said. “My role is to do whatever they need me to do.”

It's hard to believe that it has been more than three years since Spence was taken in the third round of the NFL Draft out of Miami. A knee injury in the 2012 preseason was so severe that he missed the next two seasons, jeopardizing his chances of ever playing professionally.

First-year defensive coordinator Keith Butler didn't think Spence would ever play in the NFL after his consecutive injuries. But after Spence recovered and worked his way back into the system, he made contributions to the Steelers' defense and special teams.

Although Butler and others may have not given him a chance, Spence knew he would be back and he was going to do everything possible to prove it.

Spence appeared in all 16 games last season, starting nine. He contributed 53 tackles and one sack, and he had a fumble recovery. Perhaps Spence's best game came in Week 7 in a 30-23 win against the Houston Texas. He had six tackles and recovered a fumble.

He is among a crowded group at inside linebacker that includes Williams and former first-round picks Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons. When the Steelers released their first depth chart this week, Spence was listed as the second-team left inside linebacker, behind Shazier.

“I'm just trying to do what I can,” Spence said. “We're deep at every position and probably have the best linebacking corps in the NFL.”

In the goal-line drill Thursday, the defense gave up scores on each of the seven offensive attempts. In 11-on-11, it wasn't much different when wide receivers would get open cutting across the middle for more than 10 yards.

Through the defense's poor display, there wasn't anybody that could be a playmaker, not even Spence.

His next chance to make an impression will come Sunday when the Steelers open the NFL exhibition schedule by playing the Minnesota Vikings in the Pro Football Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio.

“I feel better in this camp than I did last year,” Spence said. “The game has slowed down for me. I just have to keep improving.”

And stay away from the trainer's room and injured reserve list.

“I'm glad those days are behind me,” Spence said.

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