Sean Spence

Sean Spence Hopes To Be Ready To Practice After Bye

During his post-game press conference following the Sunday win over the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin indicated that inside linebacker Sean Spence had inured a hamstring during the contest.

Being as the team is currently on their bye week, Tomlin won’t be updating the health of the team until next week. However, according to Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Spence said on Tuesday that he hopes to be ready for practice next week.

According to the tape from Sunday’s game, Spence was on the field for the Steelers final kickoff of the game and there was no real visible sign of him getting injured on that play. That, however, was the final time he saw the field after playing a total of 12 defensive snaps and 16 special team snaps.

With starting inside linebacker Ryan Shazier now back in action, there’s a good chance he’ll see his snaps start increasing again following the team’s bye. While Spence is a heavy contributor on special teams, there’s probably a good chance that fellow reserve inside linebacker and special teams ace Terence Garvin might be able to be resume playing in Week 12 after missing the last four games due to a knee injury.

Garvin, who has registered 4 total special teams tackles so far this season, was able to practice on a limited basis all three days last week.

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Sean Spence: 'The competition pushes you'

Jerry Olsavsky smiles when you ask him about the talent he has at inside linebacker. Lawrence Timmons. Ryan Shazier. Sean Spence. Vince Williams. All players who have started for the Steelers. Add in Terence Garvin and the position is stacked.

That depth has come in handy as Shazier has missed the last four games with a shoulder injury, and Spence stepped in to start and Williams saw significant playing time.

“That is a great problem to have,” said Olsavsky. “You can never have enough good football players. You need everyone you can get. My goal is those guys in my room I am going to give them everything however they need it, not how I want to give it to them. That is how I have been doing it.

“Inside linebackers, we stand in front of the huddle, we set the defense, those things are important. That starts everyone off for the play. These are guys who can handle the job. I have really good guys in my room and it’s hard not to be happy.”

Timmons leads the team in tackles with 44, Spence is sixth with 25 tackles. Shazier, who Coach Mike Tomlin expects to return to action this week, is seventh with 22 despite missing time, and Williams has 16 stops.

“I feel like our corps of linebackers can be the best corps of linebackers in the NFL,” said Shazier. “Me Timmons, Vince, Spence, and Terence. I feel like we can be the best group in the NFL. We have to keep working and feed off each other.”

The talent level at the position makes for great competition in practice, helping each of them continually grow. 

“Just our backgrounds make us competitive,” said Spence. “All of us come from big Division I colleges where competition is high. It’s the same here, guys are talented and we push each other.

“The competition pushes you a lot. You see a guy make a play and you want to come back and make one. They see you make a play they want to come back and make one. It’s pushing us in the right direction to be great as a linebacker unit and a defense.”

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Peter King tabs Sean Spence as Special Teams Player of the Week

Sean Spence's impressive tackle to stop Ravens fake field goal attempt got the attention of many, including longtime NFL writer Peter King.

King, who writes a weekly column for titled The Monday Morning Quarterback, awarded Pittsburgh's linebacker as his Special Teams Player of the Week along with Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos, who booted seven field goals in Kansas City's loss to the Bengals on Sunday, and Justin Tucker, the Ravens kicker who made the game-winning field goal on Thursday night.

Here's what King had to say about Spence's jarring tackle of Baltimore's Nick Boyle in the third quarter of Thursday night's game:

"Midway through the third quarter of a huge rivalry game (Steelers-Ravens always comes down to big plays in the second half), Spence made the best special-teams play of the season so far. Pittsburgh led 20-14, and Baltimore had fourth-and-2 from the Pittsburgh 20. Justin Tucker was lined up to try a 38-yard field goal. Holder Sam Koch took the snap and, immediately, left-wing player (Nick) Boyle, a backup Baltimore tight end, went into motion to the right and took a shovel pass from Koch. Spence knifed in through a slight gap in the Ravens’ line and dove at Boyle, tackling him for a three-yard loss. It was as though Spence knew exactly what was coming. That’s the kind of play that doesn’t happen without great instincts by players, or without attentive coaching. Special-teams coach Danny Smith, the 21-year NFL coaching veteran, clearly got his field-goal defense team ready to sniff out possible fakes. Beautiful play."

They play is just one several beautiful moments for Spence after his career began with a devastating knee injury that sidelined him for the first two seasons of his NFL career. But after successfully rehabbing a torn ACL, LCL and dislocated kneecap suffered in the preseason of 2012, Spence has played in 21 consecutive games for the Black and Gold (including the postseason) since the start of the 2014 season. Starting in place on Ryan Shazier on Thursday, Spence made eight tackles with a sack to go with his sterling stop of Boyle.

While many players should be credited for the Steelers' surprising defensive efforts over the past three games, Spence is one of them, as the linebacker continues to enjoy a solid career while helping Pittsburgh's defense continue to climb up the ranks of the better units in the NFL.

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Sean Spence Could Continue To Share Time

Should Ryan Shazier miss future time with his “shoulder weakness,” Mike Tomlin indicated Sean Spence and Vince Williams will continue to rotate at Mack linebacker.

“We’re going to continue utilize both of those guys in replacing Ryan. Both have played for us in the past. Both are capable of playing good, above the line ball. Both guys are high energy guys, good communicators, we’re comfortable with our depth at our position,” he told the media during today’s press conference.

Based on my snap count, Spence out-snapped Williams 41-11 in Sunday’s win over the St. Louis Rams. Williams played only two series with Spence picking up the rest. Unlike last year, the team did not play Spence in just base and Williams in nickel.

As Tomlin alluded to, the Steelers’ greatest depth might be at inside linebacker and it would be foolish not to rotate that kind of talent in. But based on what happened yesterday, it seems clear that Spence is much more “the guy” than Williams.

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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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Sean Spence: Steelers linebackers want to 'inflict pain' in 2015

LATROBE, Pa. -- The Pittsburgh Steelers' inside linebackers group, one of the deepest on the roster, delivered several loud hits in one-on-one blocking drills last night. The Steelers have five inside linebackers with NFL experience, and everyone got in on the hitting last night, particularly Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence and Vince Williams. Lawrence Timmons got one rep in this drill, executing a beautiful spin move.

Spence said it's all about a mindset with this group.

"We have to make sure we inflict that type of pain next year on offensive players," Spence said. "We’ve always had that mindset. We've had a lot o great linebackers come through here. It all started thereon defense. That’s what we're tyring to do, keep and raise that level."

Continue to watch this group because if young outside pass rushers Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones need more time to produce, the Steelers could blitz more from the inside spot. Early in camp, I've spotted Timmons rushing from the inside several times.

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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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Getting To Know: Sean Spence

Sean Spence
5-11, 231
4th Year

Who is your football mentor or inspiration?
Larry Foote. When I first came into the league he really took me under his wing. When I was hurt he came to see me in the hospital. He taught me the game even when I was hurt. I sat next to him in all of our meetings. I respect the person he is as a man, and as a father. I think that is what all men should strive to be, like Larry.

What motivates you?
My family, my daughter. Knowing I have to provide a future for her and it can be better than mine, her upbringing can be better than mine.

What is your football mindset?
To be aggressive and destroy everything. Channel my emotion, stay even keeled, but at the same time be ultra-aggressive.

Why do you play football?
Because I love the game. The good Lord blessed me with the passion for the game and the talent. What I do in this game is what I give back to the Lord.

What is your proudest football moment or memory?
My first NFL sack versus the Bengals. It was pretty cool. We were playing for the division and to contribute in a huge way was pretty cool.

When you hear Steelers football, what do you think?
Physicality. The Steel Curtain defense. The 2008 defense, Troy Polamalu, James Farrior, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, James Harrisonicon-article-link, and LaMarr Woodley. That’s the first thing that pops into my head, Steelers defense.

What do you like about Pittsburgh?
The loyalty and unity in the organization. Everyone is familiar with each other. Mr. (Dan) Rooney is always walking through here just like one of the guys. The family atmosphere we have here.

Steelers fans ….
Are the best. I think when I really knew Steelers Nation was big is when we played against the Falcons and we ran out of the tunnel and it was like a home game and there were so many towels and the fans were going wild.

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Sean Spence Talks Last Season

Linebacker Sean Spence returned to the field in 2014 after missing the previous two seasons with injuries and now takes a look back at what the season was like for him and where he can improve.

How would you evaluate your play last season?
“I thought it was pretty good. I still feel like I can be better in so many areas. I think with time it will come. I have been around three years but only played one. There are a lot of things I can do better.”

What can you improve on?
“I want to get better at getting off blocks, making tackles, communicating better and making sure all of the guys are on the same page. I want to be a better leader, and lead by example.”

What did you learn from fellow linebacker James Harrison last season?
“He leads by example. When he says he is going to do something, he does it. He is a warrior on the field. When he is out there he is giving you his all. It’s only right that you give him yours.”

Was last year the most fun you have had playing football?
“We had a winning record, I had a chance to play with some great teammates, and I finally got to play for Coach (Mike) Tomlin, who is a great coach. And I had the opportunity to play in a playoff game. There wasn’t anything better.”

What stands out from last season?
“It’s hard to pinpoint one thing because there were so many. I am just grateful to have been out there. To put on a helmet, go to practice every day, go to meetings and know the coaches are coaching you up after being invisible for two years. It felt great.”

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Sean Spence Turned “Why Me” Into “Why Not Me”

Professionally speaking, there is no denying that Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Sean Spence has gone through a lot of turmoil in his young career. A former third-round draft pick, he suffered a devastating knee injury in the final preseason game of his rookie year.

The torn ligaments were worrying enough, but we learned later on that he also suffered nerve damage behind his knee cap as a result of the freak injury.

And when he finally returned in his second season, even to practice, he suffered a finger injury that prevented him from taking full advantage of the opportunity to experience football activities. After his three-week practice window closed, he was placed back on injured reserve, still not knowing if he would ever play again.
In the interim, the Steelers used two draft picks in successive years on inside linebackers. Vince Williams was drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft and started several games as a rookie. Ryan Shazier was a first-round selection last season and was installed as the starter immediately.

It seemed that the opportunity there to be seized had passed him by, all the while being unsure if he would ever even play football again. But as faith would have it, he not only returned to the game that he has played since he was six years old, he even played a starting role in the defense.

Entering his fourth season now, Spence has the opportunity to compete for that starting job, and to do so in a manner in which he has never had the chance to before. Because in reality, this is the first time in his career that the young man will have a normal offseason like the rest of his teammates.

And he may never have gotten there were it not for the mental resolve that carried him out of the dark moments of the previous two years leading up to the 2014 season, when he questioned in anger why it was he who suffered that freak injury.

But as time went on, the question that occupied his thoughts evolved from “why me?” to “why not me?”, as in—as he told Teresa Varley—“why couldn’t I be the guy that comes back from this type of injury and beat all odds?”

Indeed, it is most difficult to find many parallels to Spence experience, much less examples that have the subject emerge victorious at the end of the line. What the former Miami Hurricane has come back from, personally and professionally, is already remarkable, but that is in the past now.

What Spence is focusing on now is the future, and what he can still accomplish in the sport that he grew up playing and fell in love with. With a full offseason at his exposure to get stronger, to master the nuances of scheme and position, and to generally improve himself, there is no doubt that he is entering the most critical moment of his career, now that he knows there is a career there to be had.

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Sean Spence: 'This could be the best offseason'

For the first time since he was drafted by the Steelers, linebacker Sean Spenceicon-article-link has the luxury of a full offseason. No trying to learn the defense in a rush like he had to prior to his rookie year. No rehab, no recovery, like he had to deal with after his first two seasons.

Instead he is attacking the offseason like the rest of his teammates, getting stronger and soon taking part in all activities like the rest of his teammates will be doing.

“I have a full offseason to do that now,” said Spence. “This could be the best offseason. I imagine it’s going to feel good this year. Last offseason I was trying to catch up and make sure my knee was going to be better for OTAs and training camp. Now I am riding along with the pack. I am trying to separate myself with my work ethic and work hard.”

It’s been a long journey for Spence, who suffered what many feared could be a career-ending knee injury on August 30, 2012 in the preseason.  He could have easily thrown in the towel, given up on any type of comeback with the severity of the injury. But to know Sean Spence is to know that he is not a quitter. That word doesn’t even exist in his vocabulary.

There were bumps in the road, there were discouraging moments, and there were tears. But Spence fought through it all and a little over two years after suffering the injury, he saw his dream come true when he started at linebacker against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field last season and played the entire year, his first full season after being in the league for three years.

“It felt great,” said Spence of the 2014 season. “I really missed the game being away from it for two years, having to watch guys I got drafted with play and I didn’t. Then see guys the next year come in and get drafted and playing and I am not. Through every trial there is a lesson and I learned a lot.

“I learned to be patient, good things come to those who wait, everything happens for a reason. When I was injured I was mad at the world. I was saying to myself of all people, why me to have this freak and tragic injury. As time went on I told myself why not me. Why couldn’t I be the guy that comes back from this type of injury and beat all odds?”

It was Spence’s mental strength, his ability to take a negative and turn it into a positive that kept him fighting through the tough times.

“Every time I went to visit the doctor they would tell me something good, but then there was a ‘what if’ scenario,” said Spence. “Every time I got a bad report I never quit. I never went home and said I am not going to go in today because there is no hope. I got up every day even when I didn’t want to, came in and worked out so I could get that edge.”

And it all paid off when he got back to being what he wanted more than anything last season, a football player.

“It was amazing,” said Spence. “The first preseason game felt good. I ran out of the tunnel, looked around and bust out into tears telling myself, I am here. I am not supposed to be here. I am in a helmet and it means something. It was the first time it hit me I was going to be playing, that I was going to be a pro football player.

“It was great. I was in deep sorrow for so long, for two years, after playing so many years since I was 6 years old. To get to my dream and almost in the blink of an eye have everything almost gone. It was scary. When I had the opportunity to get back on the field, even for the preseason, I couldn’t hold back my emotions.”

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Sean Spence Familiar With Long Odds In Bid For Starting Job

Earlier this offseason, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin basically said that the starting jobs across about half of the defense can be deemed as legitimately up for grabs in training camp and the preseason this year. This is, of course, not exactly the norm for a team who won double-digit games, along with a division title, in the year prior.

But that is indeed where the Steelers find themselves, with, arguably, three positions in the secondary, and another three at the linebacker level, open for competition. The defensive line is the only unit on defense that has some manner of stability within the starting lineup.

I believe the most interesting competition to watch will take place at inside linebacker next the Lawrence Timmons, where there are three players with starting experience, each of whom logged at least 250 snaps a year ago.

While it may be true that Ryan Shazier has the simplest path to the starting spot opposite Timmons, it would be false to say that the job is his, by any means. He may have the most pure talent of all three contestants, but he also has the least amount of playing time and experience.

The Steelers may have erred when they handed Shazier the starting job a season ago. No doubt they may have rubbed Vince Williams the wrong way, who technically was playing the position for most of the previous season, even if he was frequently subbed out. But he was the only one of the roster who’d done so.

Sean Spence was probably more understanding, due to the fact that he wasn’t even sure himself if he would be able to play. But as the practices progressed, and he started a game in the preseason and tested his knee, perhaps he, too, felt he deserved to be the starter.

After all, nobody knew the defense better than Spence, who had already been learning the system for two years as he recovered from injury. And he had always been an instinctive player to begin with.

It was Spence who ended up as the primary player and starter at the mack linebacker spot anyway after Shazier started to pile up injuries in the regular season. He started nine games, making 53 tackles in the regular season, and notching a sack in each of his last two games played.

There’s no question that Spence acclimated himself well enough last year to be in the conversation to start at inside linebacker in 2015. It’s also reasonable to predict a jump in performance, given that he was out of football for basically two seasons and, from a physical standpoint, was a rookie last year.

The truth is that Shazier hasn’t shown yet that he needs to be in the starting lineup right away. That could change, quite easily, but that is not the state of affairs as we see it now. Shazier may have all the speed in the world, but Spence is one of the more naturally instinctual players on the team. If he could show an improvement in getting off or avoiding blocks, it would be unfair to exclude him from the conversation.

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Sean Spence proves worth the wait during 'rookie' year

It turns out during the 2014 season, Sean Spence learned the same thing about himself that the Steelers, their coaches and their fans learned about him.

“That I still know how to play football,” Spence said.

A four-year starter at Miami lauded for his instincts and intangibles, Spence said he “knew how to play football” when the Steelers took him in the third round of the 2012 draft and pictured him as a long-term fixture at inside linebacker.

They just never got to see him play it — at least during a regular-season game — until this season.

Spence's career — even his ability to walk or run — were being questioned after he suffered a gruesome knee injury during the 2012 preseason finale.

That was supposed to be his rookie season. Instead, after two full years of rehabilitation, 2014 became Spence's debut campaign.

“This year,” he said, “I was pretty much a rookie.

“Even though I had two years in the system, it's different when you've got to go out there playing (because of) the speed of the game. So next season I'm going to understand the defense better and understand myself better.”

Spence fought his way back onto the field after destructive damage was done to his left knee when his cleats stuck awkwardly in the Heinz Field turf against Carolina on Aug. 30, 2012.

The diagnosis was lengthy and cringe-worthy enough that a medical degree wasn't needed to interpret its severity: torn ACL, torn posterior cruciate ligament, torn lateral cruciate ligament, dislocation of the kneecap and peroneal nerve damage.

“I beat a lot of odds,” Spence said. “(God) really blessed me, and I thank Him for that. ... I just try to give it back to him the way I play.”

For his efforts, Spence has become an inspiration — to teammates, fans, coaches and those who played and coached him at Miami, where he was an All-ACC honoree.

“The fact he got through the season healthy is truly a blessing,” Miami defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said. “We're all really proud of him and happy for him.”

D'Onofrio, a former Penn State linebacker, noted Spence's greatest attributes as a linebacker — instincts, football IQ — aren't affected by injuries.

Spence was productive in college and high school, but it was never pure physical tools that made him a standout. Spence was the shortest (5-foot-11) and smallest (231 pounds) of any of the Steelers linebackers who played this season, and his 4.71-second, 40-yard dash time at the 2012 NFL Combine was hardly eye-popping.

“He has really excellent football intelligence. He understands the game, very instinctive, which are huge attributes in playing linebacker,” D'Onofrio said. “If you know where the ball's going, if you're an instinctive player, you can play fast.”

With some of Spence's burst robbed by the injury, the Steelers found out about him this season. He started nine games, including the entire four-game winning streak on which they closed out the regular season.

“I was out for two years and had to knock off some rust,” Spence said, “but I feel like every game, every practice, I got better, and I'm just going to try to carry it over to next year.”

With 2014 first-round pick Ryan Shazier playing his position, Spence isn't expected to start next season.

Then again, the odds he faces pale in comparison to those he already has scaled.

“It was a good start for him in terms of getting back on the field,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “But … he's going to be working to ascend, and he better.”

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Linebackers Sean Spence, Williams a split decision for Steelers while Shazier is out

It's been a frustrating year for inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who has spent much of his rookie season nursing knee and ankle injuries.

However, Shazier's absence has paved the way for Sean Spence and Vince Williams to gain immeasurable experience. Spence started four games before Shazier returned in Week 8 against Indianapolis, but Williams got the nod last Sunday against the New York Jets.

Spence and Williams have split time the past two weeks. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has tried to play to their strengths in hopes they can elevate the performance of a defense that has been mostly up and down all season.

For Shazier, he's trying to salvage something from a disappointing season. If nothing else, he's had a chance to watch and learn.

“It helps me a lot watching all three (inside linebackers),” Shazier said. “I can use all their styles to learn. With all of us rotating, it's going to make us better.”

Again, Spence and Williams are likely to split duty when the Steelers face the Tennessee Titans (2-7) at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday
“I think we are learning to play together and understanding our roles,” Spence said. “Right now, we're trying to execute better.”

Admittedly, Williams isn't exactly sure of his role in the defense. It is, however, much different than it was in 2013.

“It's directly opposite of what I did last year,” said Williams, who played sparingly until Shazier went down against Baltimore two weeks ago. “Last year, I was coming out on nickel packages and third downs. Now, I'm playing exclusively on nickel packages.

“They ask me to go in, and I go in. That's pretty much the way it goes. I go in mostly on nickel packages, but the rhyme and reason for that I couldn't say.”

Williams and Spence have become situational players. Spence plays primarily in the base defense, and Williams is used largely in the nickel, meaning he's trusted more in pass coverage and blitz packages.

“I don't know if my role has evolved,” said Spence, who has 31 tackles and three quarterback pressures. “Sometimes, you don't understand your role until you get the game plan.

“Right now, I'm just focusing on stopping the run. I have improved on my tackling and I'm recognizing plays better.”

So far, both linebackers are convinced that splitting duty hasn't affected their overall performance. They played reasonably well in a 20-13 road loss to the New York Jets on Sunday, but more is expected against Titans rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

“We have to execute no matter the circumstance,” Spence said. “I think the coaches are trying to get two good players on the field. Vince practices hard, and it's hard to keep a player like that off the field.”

Mettenberger is the Titans' third starting quarterback this season. So, Spence and Williams have only limited information on a rookie quarterback slated to make his third start ahead of former No. 1 pick Jake Locker and Charlie Whitehurst.

“(Mettenberger) stands in the pocket, and he doesn't run away from pressure,” Spence said. “He can make all the throws, and he does a pretty good job of reading coverages. We have to not beat ourselves, especially against a young quarterback.”

Williams isn't trying to complicate his role. He lines up inside, then goes headhunting.

But Williams and Spence had problems containing Jets quarterback Michael Vick. They allowed the 36-year-old quarterback to scramble for two first downs to set up the Jets' first touchdown.

“I went through the entire offseason working on nickel formations,” Williams said. “I was already acclimated to it, so I felt like I was trying to improve my overall game. I can still play aggressively and strike people from the nickel formation. It's part of being a complete linebacker.”

In Mettenberger, the Steelers face an immobile quarterback with a strong, accurate arm. Clearly, he's a stark contrast to Vick.

“We have to understand what he's capable of doing,” Williams said. “He's a strong-arm guy who can make all the throws. Regardless of his background, you have to be aware of what he can do.”

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Sean Spence Had Specific Package Roles Sunday Against Jets

Being as Pittsburgh Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier has missed quite a few games so far this season with injuries, the team has had to use Sean Spence and Vince Williams in games in order to replace him. During his press conference last Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin wouldn’t reveal his strategy when it comes to using Spence and Williams with Shazier sidelined, but thanks to what we observed Sunday in the loss to the New York Jets, we now have a pretty good idea as to what he and the rest of the coaching staff thinks about both of those players.

According to our defensive charting of the Jets game that Alex Kozora compiled, Spence played exclusively in the Steelers base defense alongside Lawrence Timmons, while Williams played exclusively in the nickel.

When Spence was in the game, he played more of a mack linebacker role while Williams played more as a buck when he was on the field. This rotation certainly makes sense as it allows Timmons to play either the mack or buck role. It also allows the defense to best maximize what Spence and Williams each do best.

We should get a pretty good idea Tuesday from head coach Mike Tomlin as to whether or not Shazier will make back this week for the upcoming game against the Tennessee Titans. If Shazier’s unable to shake his ankle injury this week, I think we can expect Spence and Williams to continue to split his snaps against the Titans based on personnel groupings.

If, however, Shazier is able to return this week for the Titans game, it will be interesting to see if they allow him to play every snap being as he’s missed so much playing time this season.

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Sean Spence: 'My faith and courage was tested'

Steelers LB Sean Spence received the Ed Block Courage Award on Tuesday.

Courage. It’s defined as “strength in the face of pain or grief,” but also in the actions of those who possess it. Courage is never quitting. It’s never giving up, never losing hope, even when others around you might have doubts.

Courage is working out on your own, day after day, to achieve a dream that seems so out of reach.

Courage is believing, when others don’t. It’s having faith, when nobody else does.

Courage is what makes Sean Spence’s heart beat. It’s what makes him tick. It’s what makes him a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers. And it’s what makes him the team’s 2014 Ed Block Courage Award recipient, presented annually to a Steelers player who has fought back from an injury or tough circumstances to return to the field.

Spence was presented with the award by Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday at the 22nd Annual Arthur J. Rooney, Sr. Courage House Luncheon at Heinz Field, benefiting Holy Family Institute. Maryana Stern, a Holy Family Alumni, was also honored at the luncheon.

It was emotional for Spence, who was unable to hold back the tears as he thanked the Steelers athletic trainers and strength and conditioning staff who were there with him every step of the way.

“It feels great to win it. It’s a blessing,” said Spence. “I think my faith and courage was tested over these past two years with what I was going through and being away from football for two seasons. It showed patience and continuing to work no matter what others thought the outlook was like. It’s been a long road, but I enjoyed the journey.”

Spence suffered what many thought was a career-ending knee injury on August 30, 2012. He could have easily thrown in the towel, given up on any type of comeback with the severity of the injury. But to know Spence is to know that he is not a quitter. That word doesn’t even exist in his vocabulary.

“This was a catastrophic injury, probably one of the most gruesome injuries that I have seen in person, and I have been around football all of my adult life,” said Tomlin. “He was presented with a unique challenge. It goes beyond the fact that he worked hard and was able to return and play for us. It’s the spirit in which he did it that left an indelible mark on me and his teammates.

“Sean didn’t have a bad day. Rehab can be lonely, it can be painful, challenging mentally and physically and it can create a distance for guys going through it. They separate themselves from the pack, can be scarce. This guy didn’t do that. He was there every day, he was there early, late and always had a smile on his face. It’s just amazing. His spirit is something we all feed off of. I have a great deal of respect for this young man.’

Spence missed the entire 2012 season and part of the 2013 season with the injury.  He spent almost every waking moment at the team’s practice facility working to get back on the field and after what seemed like an eternity, was cleared to practice again in October, 2013. While the knee felt good, he suffered a finger injury after returning to practice that required surgery and was out for the rest of the season.

Spence, the Steelers’ third-round draft pick in 2012 out of Miami, faced bumps in the road, there were discouraging moments, and there were tears. But Spence fought through it all and a little over two years after suffering the injury, he saw his dream come true when he started at linebacker against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Heinz Field.

“I think Sean Spence is the most deserving guy of this award since I have been here,” said tight end Heath Miller, who won the award last year. “Everyone on the team was as happy as he was to see him back on the field this season. We all know what he went through, we all saw the ups and downs.

“It’s a compliment to him, his character, perseverance and hard work. Everything good you can say about someone he encompasses it. Whenever I see him on the field I am smiling from ear to ear because I know how much it means to him and how much work he put into it.”

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Steelers looking for Sean Spence to step up game at inside linebacker

Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier was feeling good about his chances of playing on “Monday Night Football” when he returned to the practice field last week.

Even though he's listed as questionable against the Houston Texans, Shazier isn't likely to line up at Heinz Field. Instead, Sean Spence again will be challenged when the Steelers face one of the league's best running teams.

Admittedly, Spence and outside linebacker Arthur Moats are feeling the heat. While neither has played poorly, they haven't distinguished themselves, especially against the run.

That, of course, has to change if the Steelers are to slow down Texans running back Arian Foster.

“A lot of people are questioning me and Sean,” Moats said. “We know they're asking if we're good enough, but we get a chance to prove ourselves on “Monday Night Football.”

Spence, though, said it will take a team effort to shut down Houston's running game. The goal, he added, is to force quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to lean more on an erratic passing game that features wide receiver Andre Johnson.

“Houston has a great receiver, but this is a run-first team,” Spence said. “If we get them one-dimensional, it's to our advantage.

“As a defense, we have to be gap sound. Everyone from the defensive line to the safeties have to fit into their gaps because Foster is one of the best backs in the league. He has great vision, and if guys get out of their gaps, he'll find it.”

In 2011, Foster exploited nearly every gap, seam and crease. Ultimately, he wore down a leg-weary defense as he rushed for 155 yards, including a game-clinching 42-yard run in a 17-10 victory.

“I heard about that,” said Spence, a third-round draft pick in 2012. “The (coaches) talk about it all the time.

“The speed you see on film is not equivalent to Foster's game speed. On film he floats. In real action, he's running by you. So, we have to get more than one hat on him.”

In other words, the defense must get physical with Foster.

Spence acknowledged that while most everyone ignored former Steelers receiver Hines Ward's criticism that the defense is soft, there is pressure to prove that getting run over twice by Cleveland's ground game is a mere aberration, not the norm.

“The whole defense takes exception to those comments,” Spence said. “The Steelers defense has never been called soft. With that perception out there, we have to change it immediately.”

Yet, the defense is ranked 15th against the run and 23rd in rushing yards per attempt. The Steelers allowed 406 combined rushing yards in three games: Cleveland twice and Baltimore. But they limited Carolina, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay to 161 rushing yards.

The Texans aren't likely to deviate from a game plan that worked three seasons ago. They might be even more persistent with the ground game, considering Spence and Moats are still trying to fit into a rather complex defense.

“The biggest thing is stopping the run,” said Moats, who will split time with James Harrison. “When they're forced to pass, they can be rattled as they were against Indianapolis (in a 33-28 loss).

“We've had our ups and downs, but we're jelling. The communication has been much better this week than it has been in previous weeks.”

“We can talk about what we have to do, but we have to make plays,” Spence said. “If you do your job, the plays will come to you. We can't force it because that's how Cleveland hurt us with the run game.”

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Sean Spence Still A Piece Of The Puzzle After Ryan Shazier Returns

Pittsburgh Steelers third-year linebacker Sean Spence made his second start on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Unlike the week before, however, he played every snap of this game, although the defense played less in total.

Spence had never played a regular season game before this year after missing his first two seasons due to injury, so I wasn’t surprised to see that Steelers substituted for him on one drive the week before.

Although it was somewhat surprising that they substituted him with Vince Williams, which prompted Lawrence Timmons to shift over from the buck to the mack linebacker spot for the seven or so snaps he was in the game.

Nevertheless, Spence has shown that he can play a full game in the NFL now, and hold his own while doing it.

And just as that comes, rookie starter Ryan Shazier is set to resume practicing today. And from the sounds of the comments, it seems as though he will automatically resume his spot in the starting lineup when he returns.

I’m not sure that Spence can really do anything to change the coaching staff’s minds if he wanted to stay in the starting lineup.

But Shazier is a rookie, and the Steelers were already subbing for him with Spence for a drive for two during the first two games of the season.

I expect that that will continue throughout most of the season, especially in light of this little detour that has caused him to miss two valuable weeks of practice time already, with perhaps more time missed on the horizon.

Moreover, Spence has already proven that he is an asset on defense. And allowing an intelligent, knowledgeable player such as him take a few series here and there in place of Shazier should only help the rookie learn.

Relying on rookie starters proved to be an issue last year when the Steelers had to rely on a pair of them for most of the season among their linebacking unit.
The ability to balance that out with a comparative veteran can help neutralize some of the hazards that come along with playing a rookie. The veteran player can point out tendencies that he noticed while in the game, for example.

The bottom line is that, even if Shazier does manage to return this week, and is inserted right back into the starting lineup, I certainly don’t believe that we have seen the last of Spence until the next injury. It seems that he will likely be a part of a rare inside linebacker rotation for the Steelers for the foreseeable future.

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Sean Spence: 'There is a lot of talent in this league'

The Steelers will have a tough task on their hands this week, not only against an AFC North team on the road, but a team in the Cleveland Browns that have shown their ability to come from behind.

“This is the NFL and there is a lot of talent in this league,” said linebacker Sean Spence. “Any given Sunday you can be beat from a comeback or not playing well. We have to make sure we go in there focused and do the job.”

In week one at Heinz Field the Browns scored 24 points to tie the Steelers at 27-27. A last second Shaun Suisham field goal secured a Steelers 30-27 win. This past week the Browns came out on top in their comeback bid, coming back from a 25-point deficit to defeat Tennessee 29-28.

“I saw the highlights,” said receiver Lance Moore. “That was awesome for them and a credit to their heart and never giving up. They’re a good team. We have our work cut out for us this week as we did in week one. We will definitely make sure that we study them well and put the best plan together for them and hopefully go out there and take care of business.”

Moore said he sees the Browns as a more confident group now than they were at the start of the season, and that can be dangerous.

“They have that confidence that they can go in places and win games,” said Moore. “They have a lot of really good players over there. They definitely show confidence in their quarterback. Their receivers are stepping up and making plays for them. They have a tough defense. I am sure they will be just as confident this week and they probably feel like they let one get away in week one. We have our work cut out for us.”

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Sean Spence’s long road back to starting lineup pays off

Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler once said that it would take a “miraculous” recovery for Sean Spence to ever play football again.

So imagine how it must have felt for Butler to tell Spence he’s not only playing, but starting this week.

With rookie Ryan Shazier out with a knee injury, Spence will take his place in the starting lineup. For a guy who tore his ACL, LCL, dislocated his kneecap and had nerve damage in the 2012 preseason, it’s been a long road back that featured a year on IR and another year on the physically unable to perform list.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” Spence said, via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “”It’s going to be very emotional. I’ll try to hold my tears back; I’m not sure, but I know it will be emotional.”

The former third-round pick showed plenty of promise, but after that devastating knee injury, even he wasn’t always sure he’d return.

“It’s a blessing,” Spence said. “God is good. I’ve been through a lot of things. The tunnel was dark for me for a long time, but I stayed positive. Steeler Nation stayed behind me.”

And this weekend, he gets the chance to pay them back.

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Sean Spence to make first NFL start

PITTSBURGH -- Sean Spence will add another chapter to his inspirational story on Sunday when the Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker makes his first NFL start.

Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler told Spence Wednesday morning that the 5-foot-11, 231-pounder will start in place of Ryan Shazier, who is nursing a sprained knee, against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It had to be particularly gratifying for Butler to deliver that news to Spence.

It was Butler, after all, who said in April of 2013 that it would be a “miracle” if Spence ever played again.

“The tunnel was dark for me for a long time, but I stayed positive and Steelers Nation stayed behind me,” said Spence, who shredded his left knee in a 2012 preseason game and dislocated his knee cap while also sustaining nerve damage. “I finally get to get some good quality reps on defense.”

Spence actually got those last Sunday night when he replaced the injured Shazier in the third quarter of the Steelers' 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers.

And the 2012 third-round pick played well enough to earn the start this week with Shazier already declared out against the Buccaneers.

Spence recorded three tackles against Carolina, including one when he tripped up Cam Newton after the Panthers quarterback had escaped a collapsing pocket. Newton had a lot of grass in front of him when he started to scramble, but Spence limited him to a 5-yard gain.

Spence, who logged a career-high 35 snaps last Sunday night, said his play in Carolina proved “that I can play in the National Football League. I hadn’t done it in two years, and the preseason doesn’t really count and Sunday night counted. I think I held up pretty well.”

Spence will probably make more than a few calls after his work day is finished.

His parents are at the top of the list of people with whom he wants to share his latest good news. Spence will also call former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote, who is now playing for the Arizona Cardinals, at some point.

“I talk to Larry every week. He’s like a big brother to me,” Spence said. “He mentored me when he was here, not only in football but life.”

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Sean Spence To Start Sunday

The Pittsburgh Steelers finally got some good news on the injury front, as rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier isn’t expected to miss much time with an MCL sprain. He will, however, be inactive Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town.

Pittsburgh brought fan favorite James Harrison out of retirement to add depth to the outside linebackers, as Jarvis Jones is expected to have wrist surgery and miss at least eight weeks. Cornerback Ike Taylor is out indefinitely with a forearm fracture.

With all this bad news piling up, there is one bright spot. Sean Spence will replace Shazier Sunday, and make his first career start after making a miraculous recovery from a grotesque knee injury.

During the 2012 preseason, Spence suffered a torn ACL, LCL, and a dislocated kneecap in a game against the Carolina Panthers. He missed all of the 2012 and 2013 seasons rehabilitating, and some feared he would never walk right again, let alone play football.

Pittsburgh kept him around, knowing that he would be an impact player if he did recover. Well, he did. After a solid preseason, Spence easily made the team and is now going to start his first career game in 2014.

While we wish all the injured players a speedy recovery, it will be an emotional and awesome moment to see Spence get his name announced with the starting unit after suffering setback after setback.

The Steelers are looking to improve to 3-1 Sunday following Thursday night’s huge win over the Carolina Panthers.

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Steelers' Sean Spence downplays knee injury

PITTSBURGH -- Sean Spence said the injury he sustained in the Steelers' 31-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles is only a minor setback and that he hopes to be ready for the start of the regular season.

Spence sprained the post collateral ligament (PCL) in his right knee last Thursday night and the injury will prevent the third-year man from playing in the Steelers' final preseason game.

But Spence said he will sit out the Steelers' game Thursday night against the visiting Carolina Panthers only as a precaution.

"It's not a very serious injury. I should be good," Spence said. "I'm going to sit out this week and try to give it a go next week."

When coach Mike Tomlin announced last Thursday that Spence had been hurt in the Eagles game it resonated with fans because of what the 2012 third-round pick has overcome just to get back on the field.

Spence shredded his left knee two years ago in the Steelers' final preseason game, tearing all of the major ligaments and dislocating his kneecap. Spence also sustained nerve damage and the injury almost ended his career.

Spence has made it all the way back from that devastating setback, and he is a lock to make the 53-man roster.

The 5-11, 231-pounder said the severity of the injury he suffered two years ago let him know that he didn't experience anything close to that last week in Philadelphia.

Spence actually returned to the game briefly after hurting his knee.

"I went out there and did another play and it just didn't feel right," Spence said. "It's smart that I did stop because I didn't want to make it worse than what it was."

Neither Spence nor starting outside linebacker Jason Worilds practiced on Monday, Tomlin said.

Worilds also hurt his knee against the Eagles but Tomlin said it is not a serious injury.

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Sean Spence expected to be fine

Steelers ILB Sean Spence is expected to be "okay" after being diagnosed with a sprained PCL.

Spence has a history of bad knee injuries, but escaped a multi-week ordeal after exiting Thursday night's preseason game. A third-round pick in the 2012 draft, Spence projects as Pittsburgh's No. 3 inside linebacker this season.

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Sean Spence leaves game with knee injury

Steelers ILB Sean Spence was forced from Thursday's preseason game with a right knee injury.

It's foreboding for a 2012 third-rounder who has yet to appear in a regular-season game because of knee issues, but Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reports the injury isn't considered serious. It's not the same knee that ruined Spence's 2012-13.

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Sean Spence Talks About Returning To Game Action

Linebacker Sean Spence on returning to game action against the Giants after missing the last two seasons with a knee injury:

“It was fun. It was very emotional at the beginning of the game. But once I got in there I felt at peace, at home. I felt pretty good. I can continue to improve and I am going to try and do that. I think I did okay, but I think I can get better. I just need to work on some technique stuff, some alignment stuff.”

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Steelers' loss is Sean Spence's gain during preseason opener

The Steelers haven't won an exhibition game since Aug. 30, 2012, a date Sean Spence remembers all too well.

Until Saturday night, it was the last time the linebacker and 2012 third-round pick wore a Steelers uniform, made a play, stopped a run, looked ahead to the next game and felt like he belonged.

Now, Spence is back, and everything he missed so badly for two years has returned, too. It's one reason this Steelers preseason has an entirely different, new-as-it-gets feel.

“The Steelers organization stayed with me, waited for me, and words can't explain it,” Spence said following a 20-16 loss to the New York Giants on Saturday night. “I feel great. I can't wait (to play again).”

Neither can Dri Archer, LeGarrette Blount, Stephon Tuitt, Jarvis Jones, Mike Mitchell, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Daniel McCullers and all the other new — or almost new — Steelers.

They can't wait until tomorrow to play for a team that seemingly cares nothing about the Steelers' recent, disappointing yesterdays.

“It's going to be exciting. It's going to be fun. I can't wait to be able to go in there and play, a lot more than I did,” Blount said after carrying three times in his first Steelers preseason game. “Behind that offensive line? It's going to be a fine year.”

Those veteran-heavy teams of the 8-8 records in 2012 and 2013 couldn't help it as they kept looking back — at the three Super Bowls many played in, all the close games they lost, all the look-alike breakdowns they couldn't overcome, all the opportunities missed.

These 2014 Steelers made plenty of mistakes, failed to convert at key times and — flash back to the recent past — gave up a big play on defense on Rashad Jennings' 73-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

“It's a start. You just want to see where you are,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “The season isn't here until the first week of September, and we have a long way to go. It's just like a test right now.”

Tuitt, the second-round pick, started his first NFL game of any kind, making a tackle and flashing the kind of speed Dick LeBeau said a defensive end rarely displays.

And the speedy Archer didn't disappoint the teammates who were eager to see him in a game, gaining 46 yards on a screen pass that was one of only two attempts by Ben Roethlisberger, who made an early exit.

Archer had the second-fastest 40-yard dash time (4.26) at the NFL Combine in eight years, and he flashed that speed in a hurry.

“Coach (Tomlin) always says, ‘Fast guys play fast,' ” Archer said. “It was the perfect play, my teammates blocked it well, and I just ran behind my blockers.”
What's different is the player running it might be the fastest in team history.

No wonder the Steelers are looking ahead. Blink, and they might miss something. Something new and different they haven't seen before.

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Sean Spence Getting First-Team Reps

It’s been a long road back for Pittsburgh Steelers third-year linebacker Sean Spence, but it looks like all of the speed bumps have now been cleared.

With starting rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier sitting out Monday’s practice with an injury suffered late in Sunday’s practice, Spence is the one that is receiving the first-team reps alongside Lawrence Timmons.

This is also the Steelers sixth padded training camp practice in a row and the Miami product hasn’t missed one of them.

Spence missed the first two seasons of his NFL career because of a serious knee injury that he suffered during the Steelers final preseason game of his rookie season. The nerve damage suffered during that injury had several in the Steelers organization wondering if he would ever play again.

The Steelers will play their first preseason game of the 2014 season Saturday night against the New York Giants and Spence should be able to make his triumphant return to the field. It should be an exciting moment for him.

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Paul George in Sean Spence's thoughts

LATROBE, Pa. -- Sean Spence did not see a replay of the gruesome injury that Indiana Pacers forward Paul George suffered Fright night in a Team USA scrimmage.

Nor does the Steelers inside linebacker ever plan on watching it.

But if anyone can empathize with what George faces after breaking his leg, it is Spence, whose NFL career was nearly ended before it started by a devastating knee injury.

“I said a prayer for him [Friday] night because I know what the road is going to be for him,” Spence said. “As long as he works hard and keeps his faith in God, he’ll be good.”

Spence is a sublime example of the power of prayer and perseverance.

The 5-11, 231-pounder is almost all the way back from an injury so severe that even eight months after it happened, Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said it would be a miracle if he ever played again.

Fast forward to Saturday afternoon, a little less than two years after Spence got hurt.

The 2012 third-round draft pick flashed in front of a receiver at Chuck Noll Field and nearly intercepted a pass in one-on-one passing drills. Upset with himself for not making the pick, Spence dropped to the turf and started ripping off push-ups.

As the crowd both laughed and cheered, nothing seemed farther away than those days after Spence shredded his left knee in late August 2012 and didn't know whether he would ever play football again. Spence, after all, hadn’t just torn several ligaments in his knee. He also dislocated his kneecap and sustained nerve damage.

“Very few people had it or came back from it,” Spence said of the injury he suffered in the Steelers’ final preseason game in 2012. “It was a unique situation that I used to exercise my faith and grow. Everyone knows that I had a lot of dark times, and I had no one to turn to but God.”

Spence has made it through the dark days that clouded his football future, and people who didn’t know how badly he had hurt his knee wouldn’t know he injured it by watching him at camp now.

Spence ran right through overmatched tight end David Paulson in the backs on 'backers drill Friday night, and his reconstructed knee had held up under the weight of the padded practices that the Steelers have strung together.

Spence said he hasn’t taken any extra precautions with his knee, and he makes sure to ice it and stretch it out properly. He also tries to get at least eight hours of sleep. Good luck with that during training camp.

“It’s hard,” Spence said. “I get seven and a half.”

That Spence isn’t getting as much sleep as he would like only makes him like every other player who is grinding through camp. How good must that feel after what it took for him to get to this point.

“Every part of my body is pretty sore, but it’s camp,” Spence said. “I’m sure I’m feeling like all of the other guys.”

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Sean Spence's knee responds well to contact

The good news for Steelers inside linebacker Sean Spence keeps on coming. Spence said his body responded well Tuesday, a day after his first contact drills in almost two years. The 2012 third-round pick is not limited today with the Steelers again practicing in pads. Spence hasn't played since tearing several ligaments in his left knee and also dislocating his knee cap in a 2012 preseason game. Spence has made remarkable progress and doesn't have many more obstacles to overcome as he tries to return from a career-threatening injury.

"The test is going to come here in the next two or three days when he's feeling sore," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "We've got some live stuff going on and it gives him an opportunity to get confidence in that knee and that's the only way you can do it. I think as time goes along the more confident he's going to get. He's going to be sore a little bit like everybody else is. We'll find out in two or three days how he's holding up."

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Steelers' Sean Spence caps lengthy comeback

LATROBE, Pa. —The whistle blew and Sean Spence sprinted forward, each cathartic step distancing the linebacker from the horrific knee injury that threatened to end his NFL career before it even really began.

Spence almost gleefully smashed into fullback Bryce Davis during the Pittsburgh Steelers' first full contact drill of training camp on Monday. The two tussled for several seconds before Davis - his fists full of Spence's jersey - pulled them both to the ground.

Call it a victory for Spence, in more ways than one. He's a football player again, however unlikely that may have been in the agonizing weeks and months after he shredded his left knee in a 2012 preseason game against Carolina.

The former third-round pick used to watch replays of his knee bending in ways it's not supposed to bend - ripping up his peroneal nerve in the process - as he raced into the Carolina backfield. No longer.

"I don't even revisit it," Spence said.

For good reason. Spence spent too many nights crying himself to sleep wondering if he would ever make it all the way back. Sure there were times he doubted he would get this far. He responded by forcing himself to go in for treatment on the days he would have rather stayed home because watching the Steelers prepare for life without him was just too painful.

Slowly, his surgically repaired knee regained strength.

Amazingly, the nerve regenerated. The 24-year-old Spence looked as quick as ever during organized team activities during the spring, but he knew Monday would be the day of reckoning.

The Steelers begin the contact portion of training camp at Saint Vincent College with "backs on backers," which is just as basic - and as violent - as it sounds. A linebacker bolts toward the quarterback, with a running back or tight end the only thing in his way. It's a chance for rookies to make a name for themselves and veterans to show they've still got it.

For Spence, it was a homecoming.

"I was anxious," he said. "I was chomping at the bit."

It showed. He plowed into the breach again and again, winning some battles and losing others. Not that it mattered. He'll have plenty of time over the next month to prove he's worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster. Monday was simply about returning to the game he worried was gone for good.

"I was never a person who would quit," Spence said. "I'm never going to be that person."

Coach Mike Tomlin certainly isn't concerned. Standing a few yards away while Spence competed in just his second padded practice in two years - his initial comeback last fall was cut short by a broken finger - it hardly registered to Tomlin that Spence's long road back had reached its destination.

"We've had a great deal of comfort on where he is for some time," Tomlin said.

It's a sense of comfort Spence doesn't take for granted.

Considering the odds Spence faced as he laid on the Heinz Field turf in agony two summers ago, he knows many teams would not have invested the money or the time on what could have been a fruitless enterprise.

"They could have given up on me a long time ago," Spence said. "I'm just so thankful."

And so eager to pay that patience back. The one blessing of his injury is that it forced him to watch more football than he ever has in his life. While it may take a bit for him to get fully comfortable throwing his body around, there is little doubt Spence knows where to go when he's on the field.

The speed that overwhelmed him as a rookie has slowed to a more reasonable pace. It may be the one advantage he has over rookie Ryan Shazier, taken with the 15th overall pick in May to fill the job the Steelers expected would have been Spence's at this point if fate had not intervened.

The starting job next to Lawrence Timmons for the season opener against Cleveland is Shazier's to lose. Spence understands what he's up against but isn't ceding anything. He stressed he's "just here competing." For now, that's enough.

"Soon as I got the first hit, I was good to go," he said, "like back to football."

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Sean Spence says he's optimistic, has 'total confidence' in future

Sean Spence, meet Rocky Bleier. Fifteen years from now, Spence could be earning a living by traveling the country and retelling his inspirational story.

He could take some inspiration of his own from the story that is Bleier's. Granted, Spence's tale does not contain the drama of Bleier's, whose foot was mangled by shrapnel in a Vietnamese jungle. Spence's knee was blown up on home ground at Heinz Field as the rookie linebacker chased down a quarterback.

Yet, their long, seemingly impossible comeback attempts in football parallel one another. Bleier's was a miracle. Spence's is still a possible miracle in the making.

Injured in August 1969, Bleier had trouble walking in training camp in 1970. Chuck Noll wanted to cut him. The Rooneys instead carried him on their injury list. He made the team in 1971, gained 1,000 yards in 1976 and retired after the 1980 season with four Super Bowl rings.

A book, a movie and thousands of inspirational speeches followed.

Today an important milestone in Spence's comeback takes place. This will be his first day in pads and contact at Saint Vincent College in two years. That contact promises to severely test his injured left knee that has been two years on the mend, particularly when he plants his foot and takes on a block from one of the big linemen.

"I'm looking forward to it," Spence said Sunday.

He has waited two years for this day, since that gruesome injury in the final preseason game of his rookie year against the Carolina Panthers. The anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments tore. The knee dislocated. More important, the peroneal nerve was damaged. That nerve had to regenerate and often it does not. Spence was one of the lucky ones.

There have been some low points over the past two seasons as Spence mounted the long rehabilitative process, but the moment of that injury was not the worst.

"Going back on [injured reserve] last year," Spence cited as No. 1.

Spence, placed on the physically unable to perform list to start last training camp, was allowed to practice with the team for a three-week period in the middle of last season, and it could determine if they would add him to their 53-man roster. Then came another setback when his right middle finger was broken after one day in pads. They wound up putting him on injured reserve again.

"After going through what I went through, then to finally getting back out there and had to break my finger and go back on IR, it was painful," Spence said. "But I think it was best."

Spence said he knows other organizations might not have had so much patience as he continues his comeback, much like the Steelers showed with Bleier.
"I was very blessed to be with this organization because I could have been cut loose a long time ago," he said. "But they didn't, they stayed and waited for me and I'm very thankful and grateful for that."

He remains an optimist, convinced that his left knee will do just fine today while digging in against bigger men from his inside linebacker position.

"The way I trained in the offseason, the way it feels, I have total confidence in it," Spence said. "I'm just looking forward to it."


"I'm a happy nervous, not nervous that I'm afraid, just the regular jitters you get when you put on the pads the first day."

Two summers ago, Spence was among the hits of training camp and in preseason games. A third-round pick, he was the original young inside linebacker expected to move Larry Foote aside and he looked the part.

That promise, the knee injury and his long ordeal since have helped make his story a popular one with Steelers fans.

He believes he can turn his story into a Bleier-like happy ending.

"I hope to play a 10-year career," Spence said. "People probably think it's unlikely, but they probably didn't think I'd be back in this setting and I am. I'm going to take one day, one year at a time and see how it goes.

"The story is still writing itself."

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Sean Spence: 'There is no hesitation at all'

Linebacker Sean Spence is one of the happiest guys to have training camp underway, after missing the last two seasons with a serious knee injury that left many, but not him, wondering if he would ever play football again.

I have been waiting all offseason for this opportunity and I am up for the challenge,” said Spence. “Having to watch all of training camp last year and be separate from the guys, it feels good to be with them and working with them.

“Last year was full of a lot of down moments, sad times. I was away from football for my second year in a row. This year I am full of joy, around the guys, taking advantage of every opportunity.”

Spence has no concerns either about how things are going to pick up when the players put on the pads on Monday and the hitting begins.

“There is no hesitation at all,” said Spence. “I am very excited.”

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Sean Spence healthy, finally ready to play for Steelers

PITTSBURGH — In his third season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, linebacker Sean Spence showed enough in minicamp that he might be ready to contribute in 2014.

Spence had a good week in minicamp, picking off his first pass in practice in two years and showing the kind of quickness that prompted the Steelers to draft him in the third round in 2012.

“I made some huge strides,” Spence said. “I’m still not where I want to be. I have time to do that and I look forward to doing it. Everybody tells me I’m looking good and moving well. I think my quickness is still there.

“Being out of football for two years and being able to read the quarterback and break on it and make an interception without thinking about it felt pretty great.”
In his final preseason game as a rookie, Spence tore three ligaments, including the ACL, and damaged the peroneal nerve in his left knee.

Many people thought he would never play again and linebackers coach Keith Butler predicted it would be a miracle if he did.

Spence was on injured reserve for 2012 and on PUP for 2013. He hopes to be on the roster in 2014.

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Sean Spence eyes return to Heinz Field

Each offseason of the Mike Tomlin era has included a trip to Heinz Field where the Steelers conduct one of their 10 allotted OTAs. The one there this past Tuesday marked an anniversary of sorts for Sean Spenceicon-article-link, one that didn’t go unnoticed.

It was two years ago when Spence, then a promising third-round draft pick, came up with an acrobatic, athletic interception that seemingly captured the attention of everyone who was at Heinz Field that day. Two years later and still in the process of working his way back from a horrific knee injury suffered in the preseason finale later that summer, Spence hasn’t forgotten.

“It was actually my first practice in this building as a rookie,” Spence recalled just after the Steelers had completed the 2014 version of that workout on their home field. “I remember it was off of Byron Leftwich. It was a great play.

“I remember it like it was yesterday.”

Spence has gone through quite an ordeal since then, but he’s also made remarkable progress toward a comeback that was no sure thing in the immediate aftermath of the surgery required to repair his knee.

Spence won’t yet declare himself 100 percent in his recovery. But if the Steelers had another event scheduled for this Sunday at Heinz Field, Spence is of the opinion he’d be capable of participating in that, too.

“If we had a game, yeah, I think I could play,” he said.

He said he’s been playing “with the No. 2s” (the second-team defense) during OTAs, but Spence made it clear he isn’t coming back just to be a backup at inside linebacker.

“I don’t think anybody wants to stay with the No. 2s,” he said. “We’re all competing as a linebacker group. I trust the coaching staff to make the best decision for this team.”

Although he’s designated as a third-year player on the roster, Spence is still waiting to play in his first NFL game, but he’s at least been around the past two seasons, and he kept his eyes and ears open while rehabbing his knee.

The experience is paying dividends now that Spence has made it back onto the field.

“It’s a big edge,” he said. “Especially being around Larry Foote a lot. I was always up under him the two years I had here with him and I learned a lot from him. Being able to sit and watch, it helped a lot.”

OTAs will be followed by minicamp and then it will be on to training camp, an event Spence is embracing as “another test for me, another step.”

He’ll be a confident player when the shoulder pads come on and the hitting commences.

“I think I could be the best,” Spence said this week.

On the team? In the league?

“I’ll just leave it at ‘the best,’” he said. “It feels good to be out here, period. And then to bring it to Heinz Field and practice again with the guys is very humbling, I’m grateful for it. I’m just taking it all in right now.”

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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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Sean Spence Participated In All Six Steelers OTAs

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Sean Spence in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft with the hope he would add to the lineage of standout Steelers linebackers.

However, a gruesome knee injury in the 2012 preseason has kept Spence from appearing in a single game for the Steelers the last two seasons.

Spence suffered a torn ACL and LCL, a dislocated knee cap and nerve damage when he was blocked while chasing after Carolina Panthers backup quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Spence returned to the practice field for the Steelers last October after beginning the season on the physically unable to perform list. After practicing for three weeks, Spence ultimately landed on injured reserve, officially ending his second season in the league.

However, Spence is continuing to progress toward a return that was once thought to require a “miraculous” recovery to even be possible.

According to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Spence has participated in all six of the Steelers OTAs over the past two weeks.

“It is still a process,” Spence said. “This is just step one of coming out and competing and reacting off of other guys instead of cones. When I get to Latrobe (for training camp), I will be able to test it even more there.”

Head coach Mike Tomlin said in May he “can’t wait to watch” Spence play football again. Considering how close Spence’s career came to being over, making it back on the field for preseason games should be considered a major accomplishment. If he can make the roster, Spence may be able to give Pittsburgh an unexpected boost on defense.

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VIDEO: Sean Spence At Steelers OTAs

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No Apparent Mobility Issues For Steelers LB Sean Spence

While all of the talk Tuesday about the Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers centered around rookie Ryan Shazier working with the starters during the first OTA practice of the 2014 season, it was an equally important day for another young inside linebacker.

Sean Spence, the Steelers third-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, was back on the field with his teammates once again and according to Chris Bradford of the Beaver County Times, the Miami product didn’t appear to have any mobility problems nor did he need to wear a knee brace.

Spence, who suffered nerve damage in his knee when he injured it in the 2012 preseason finale, seemed to be on track to play late last season before injuring a finger during his first practice back. That injury required surgery and he was placed on injured reserve as a result.

As for the Steelers adding Shazier this year during the draft, Spence looks forward to working with him as well as competing against him.

“It’s all a friendly competition,” said Spence. “He’s here to better himself, I’m here to better myself. If he needs help, I’ll help him.”

Moving forward, no news is probably good news when it comes to Spence. At this point, he’s just another player on the 90 man roster that’s competing for a spot.

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Sean Spence: 'I cried myself to sleep'

After the Steelers drafted linebacker Vince Williamsicon-article-link in 2013, linebackers coach Keith Butler was asked about the future of Sean Spence. In the 2012 preseason Spence suffered a severe knee injury, one which left many questioning his future. Butler was among them.

“It will be miraculous if he does come back,” said Butler in response to whether Spence could return to the field in 2013. “It will be miraculous if he comes back next year. We are going to take a chance on him and see if he can come back. To me, he is worth every bit of that.”

Fast forward to the 2014 draft and in the moments after the team selected linebacker Jordan Zumwalt in the sixth round. Spence’s name came up again.

“From what I’ve seen on the field, I know I said about a year or so ago that it would be miraculous if he came back, and I hope he proves me wrong,” said Butler. “It is getting really close to being miraculous. He looks real good to me. We will see how the knee holds up when he starts hitting and things like that. Right now I’m real encouraged by the way he looks. He is such an exceptional young man and you hope that it works out for him, and I think it will.”

Spence, who missed the entire 2012 season and part of the 2013 with what was beyond a serious knee injury, was cleared to practice last October. While the knee felt good, he suffered a finger injury that required surgery and put him back on injured reserve.

“When the finger injury happened and I found out I had to have surgery on it, I went home and I cried,” said Spence. “I cried myself to sleep. I was so mad because I got back to where I wanted with the knee and to have a finger broken and need another surgery, it was so upsetting.

“But it was a blessing in disguise. It gave me more time to heal, more time to learn. The knee held up pretty good last year when the bullets started flying in practice and that was my first time having contact in a year. It felt good on my knee. It didn’t bother me much. This offseason I had more time to train and rehab and going through the offseason workouts I felt good.”

Spence has used his time wisely. He has been a constant at the team’s offseason program, working out in the weight room, running with his teammates, and doing everything his teammates are doing.  He can’t wait to take it to the next level, which includes OTAs, minicamp and then training camp.

“I am very anxious to be back practicing with the guys and not separate from them doing rehab,” said Spence. “I can’t wait to be coached again, to be part of the meetings, when coach is talking and you feel like he is talking to you. Just all of things I missed make me appreciate it even more now.”

Every Steelers player, the coaches, trainers, and team staff, are all pulling for Spence. They want to see that miraculous return more than anything for a guy who is not only considered to be a fantastic football player, but even more a special, fantastic person.

“It’s been a long journey. It’s definitely changed me,” said Spence. “It made me look at the game differently, appreciate it more and I am just excited to get back to playing again.

“People are going to doubt you no matter what. I don’t pay attention to the doubters. I am just going to do what I can and that’s keep working. I always kept faith. I knew if I continued to trust God and have faith I would get through it. There were a lot of bumps in the road but I am starting to see the light now.”

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Steelers “can’t wait to watch” Sean Spence play football

The Steelers got linebacker Sean Spence back at practice for a few weeks last fall, a significant step forward for a player who had not been on a field since a catastrophic knee injury in the 2012 preseason.

Spence went back on injured reserve to end the season, but that didn’t slow the momentum of his comeback too much. Spence has been given full medical clearance to participate in OTAs, minicamp and training camp, leaving coach Mike Tomlin to say that the team “can’t wait to watch him take the next step in this process, which is play football.” Tomlin also said that he didn’t think the 2012 third-round pick would be starting from square one despite his extended absence from the lineup.

“I don’t think that we’ll start from scratch,” Tomlin said, via the team’s website. “These haven’t been empty days for him since he’s been here with the rehabilitation process and what he’s been able to do in terms of learning our system of football. I’m not going to assume that he’s starting from ground zero. I think that’s to be determined with how he performs and plays, but he’s been given a clean bill of health and we’ll go from there.”

Spence’s return to the field in any capacity is a major achievement given the severity of tearing your ACL and LCL, dislocating your kneecap and suffering nerve damage in your first summer as an NFL player. If he’s able to become a contributor on defense as well it would be an unexpected bonus for the Steelers.

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Sean Spence: (Knee/Finger) Participating In Offseason Workouts

Spence (knee/finger) has been participating in the Steelers' voluntary offseason workouts, the team's official site reports.

More importantly, the report adds that the 2012 third-rounder is said to have a clean bill of health in advance of the Steelers' OTAs, which begin later this month. It remains to be seen whether or not Spence will emerge on the IDP radar this season, but at the very least, health permitting, it looks like he finally has a chance to bolster the team's inside linebacker corps.

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Sean Spence ready to return

PITTSBURGH -- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Sean Spence has been given "a clean bill of health" and that the inside linebacker could figure into the team's plans this season.

"We can't wait to watch him take the next step in this process," Tomlin said Monday, "which is play football."

Spence, a third-round draft pick in 2012, hasn't played since sustaining a career-threatening knee injury in the Steelers' final preseason game his rookie season. Linebackers coach Keith Butler said last year that it would be a "miracle" if Spence played again after he shredded several ligaments and suffered nerve damage in his knee.

But Spence is working out with his teammates in Pittsburgh's offseason program, and he is a candidate to contribute at a position where the Steelers could use an impact player.

"I'm not going to assume he's starting from ground zero," Tomlin said. "These haven't been empty days for him since he's been here in terms of the rehabilitation process and what's he's been able to do in terms of learning our system."

The Steelers drafted Spence with the hopes that the former Miami Hurricanes standout would become a long-term starter at inside linebacker. Tomlin said it is too early to tell how much Spence will be able to do on the field or whether he will be the player he was before the injury.

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Sean Spence (knee) ahead of schedule

Steelers ILB Sean Spence (knee) is "significantly ahead" of where the team thought he would be at this point.
Spence wrecked his knee in the 2012 preseason. Among other things, he damaged the peroneal nerve in the knee. It caused a lack of movement and sensation in the foot and leg. The nerve has apparently regenerated, and Spence might be able to contribute in 2014. He could help replace ILB Larry Foote.

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Steelers brass impressed with recovery of Sean Spence

New Steelers defensive assistant Joey Porter had a fighting spirit as a player.

It seems as if the same quality can be said for a player he will soon be coaching.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported today that Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert is pleased with inside linebacker Sean Spence's progress after suffering multiple career threatening injuries during the 2012 preseason. The third round pick out of Miami back in 2012 suffered a torn ACL and LCL while also dislocating his kneecap and damaging a nerve in his leg.

Bouchette reported that Colbert said that Spence "had a great day of practice" near the close of the 2013 season. Spence practiced with the squad during the last three weeks of the season after spending the year on the PUP list.

While his career is still in serious doubt, Pittsburgh expects him to participate in the team's spring and summer practices.

The 5'11, 231 pound Spence enjoyed a decorated collegiate career with the Hurricanes. He was a Butkus Award semifinalist his senior year as Spence led the 'Canes with 106 total tackles while finishing second nationally with 47 tackles for loss.

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Two former Miami Hurricanes defenders say problem is players, not Mark D’Onofrio

With the Miami Hurricanes surrendering 41, 42 and 48 points in three consecutive losses -- the most points allowed in a three-game span in school history -- criticism of defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio has mounted.

Several former UM players such as Duane Starks, a postgame analyst on flagship radio station WQAM, believe D’Onofrio is being outcoached. Cardinals offensive tackle Eric Winston told Miami’s defense is “too bland, too vanilla.”

But where do players who actually played for D’Onofrio -- and other coordinators before him at UM -- place blame? Not at the man calling the plays.

“He’s one of the best defensive coordinators I’ve been around as far as planning and getting ready for a game,” said former UM linebacker Sean Spence, who played under Bill Young as a freshman and then John Lovett as a sophomore and junior.

Spence was Miami’s leading tackler in 2011 when D’Onofrio’s defense featured five current NFL players (Spence, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Olivier Vernon, Ray-Ray Armstrong and Brandon McGee) and finished 17th nationally in points allowed (20.1) and 45th in total defense (359.9). Spence said Miami’s woes are not related to scheme.

“A lot of times it does look like a lot of busted coverages and that has nothing to do with coaching at all,” Spence said. “D’Onofrio is a very patient coach who is going to take time with you to make sure everybody knows what they’re doing.

“It’s a great system to be in. He runs a lot of zone, switches it up and also runs a lot of man, and has a lot of nice blitz packages. It’s similar to a lot of the stuff run up here with the Steelers. It’s hard to say it’s his fault. The coaches [have] to coach and the players [have] to play.”

Spence, who spent his first two seasons in the NFL trying to recover from a dislocated kneecap sustained in a preseason game during his rookie year, was stunned that the Hurricanes lost to Duke and allowed 358 yards rushing.

“Not in a million years would have I imagined that,” he said. “I don’t know if its misfits or guys missing tackles. I know the tackling system they go through every day in practice and that system shouldn’t create problems like that.”

Former linebacker Jordan Futch, who played with Spence at UM, said the Hurricanes’ defensive struggles relate to a lack of toughness and talent at certain positions.

“You can have all the playbook in the world, but you can’t coach toughness,” said Futch, who plans to enter the Broward County Police Academy in January. “You’re looking at a few guys that are energy vampires when they come in the game. They’re not very tough and you are seeing it on film.”

Futch points to safety AJ Highsmith and linebackers Tyrone Cornelius and Thurston Armbrister as players he thinks have been forced into more duty because of a lack of depth.

“When it comes to [the] Virginia Tech and Duke [losses], I think it’s a matter of heart,” Futch said. “I was really happy to see Deon Bush come back in the game. That’s a kid that likes to put his face in the fan and isn’t afraid to tackle … just a few players can make a difference. Really, that’s what you’re getting in my opinion.”

Golden said Tuesday younger players such as sophomore linebacker Tyriq McCord, freshman safety Jamal Carter and freshman cornerback Corn Elder likely will see more playing time Saturday against Virginia (2-8) because they’ve earned it, and added that he would not turn his back "on the seniors who stood with us through all this [NCAA] tumult.”

D’Onofrio and Golden have avoided singling out players for their mistakes, but have repeatedly said the defensive breakdowns against the run have been the result of one or two players not sticking to their gap responsibilities.

Futch said Miami’s defensive backs and linebackers aren’t playing more aggressively in coverage due to lack of speed. In August, reported that UM’s fastest defensive backs were Elder (4.49) and sophomore Antonio Crawford (4.52). Every other played timed at 4.58 seconds or slower.

“I’d say that backing off in coverage is your defensive coordinator knowing his guys,” Futch said. “When you practice against [wide receivers] Phillip Dorsett, Stacy Coley, Herb Waters and Allen Hurns and you watch week after week those guys stretch the field, sending guys deep, letting it fly, you know if your DBs can cover like that.”

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Sean Spence remains upbeat

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers shut down Sean Spence for the rest of the season Wednesday when they decided against putting the inside linebacker on their 53-man roster.

But his abbreviated time spent practicing with the team left Spence confident that he will play again after suffering a devastating knee injury in the Steelers’ final preseason game of 2012.

“I have a sense of comfort from practicing with the guys and competing against them I’ll be able to do it again,” Spence said.

Spence remains on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he recovers from several torn knee ligaments and nerve damage that was also a result of a dislocated kneecap.

He was allowed to practice for a three-week period as the Steelers evaluated Spence and even during that period the former Miami (Fla.) standout had a setback.

He broke his finger, limiting the amount of work he got in practice, but Spence said he “should be ready to go” when the Steelers start offseason practice in the spring.

He remains confident that he will be able to help the Steelers at some point even though Spence still have plenty of work ahead him as he works his way back.

“This has always been my dream to make it in the NFL and to come to an organization like this that has the caliber of great defenses, great linebackers,” Spence said. I don’t need things from outside to come in and motivate me.”

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Steelers place Sean Spence on injured reserve

The Comeback Player of the Year award is given annually to the player in the NFL who overcame the most, in the opinion of the voters, to return to prominence in the league.

Perhaps that award will be Steelers linebacker Sean Spence's to win next year. It won't be this year.

The Steelers placed Spence on injured reserve Wednesday, ending his gallant efforts to return to the field this season, one year after a significant knee injury cast doubts over his playing career.

Spence returned to practice in October, only to break his finger (some reports indicate it was his hand), thus affecting his ability to practice and show his full range of ability.

There was optimism among the team, as well as among Steelers fans, that Spence, the team's third round draft pick in 2012, could not only return to the field, but eventually, see action within the defense. Varying reports obtained by Behind The Steel Curtain indicated he was close physically, but the hand injury set him back enough the team had no choice.

Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET was the deadline to make a decision on Spence, who began the year on the PUP list. His placement on injured reserve means he can no longer practice with the team, although he can participate in meetings.

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Mike Tomlin Says Sean Spence Decision Has Yet To Be Made

The Pittsburgh Steelers now have less than 24 hours to make the decision on whether or not second-year linebacker Sean Spence will be part of the 53 man roster for the remainder of season and as of Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin said during his press conference that a final decision hasn't been made as to his status.

"He did some good things [last week in practice] and we'll put our heads together at the appropriate time and make that decision," said Tomlin of Spence. "I think we have until four o'clock or so tomorrow. That discussion hasn't been had yet and will be had very soon. But I like his growth in his play, but we'll see where that takes us."

Spence's three week window is now closing after returning to practice in Week 7 and the Steelers now must decide where he is exactly from a health standpoint as he looks to make it all the way back after suffering a serious knee injury during the 2012 preseason finale. If he is not placed back on the 53 man roster, he must be put on injured reserve or waived outright.

During his first week, the Miami product suffered a hand injury of some sorts, but by the sounds of things, he is back practicing in some capacity.

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Steelers Will Have To Decide 2013 Fate Of LB Sean Spence Before Next Week

All eyes will be on Pittsburgh Steelers second-year linebacker Sean Spence this week as the team must make a decision as to his 2013 status before Week 10.

Spence, who injured a hand upon his return to the practice field in Week 7, must be placed on the 53 man roster, waived, or put on injured reserve due to the rules of the PUP list being as the three week window opened for him once he began practicing.

During his Tuesday press conference, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was not asked about Spence, so we will have to wait and see if any news comes out this week from the media as to whether or not he is back participating.

The Steelers could easily find a spot for Spence on the 53 man roster even if he might be a few weeks away still from being able to contribute as the team could waive linebacker Kion Wilson once again. Wilson, who was promoted back to the 53 man roster last week from the practice squad, was one of the seven inactives this past Sunday in the loss to the Oakland Raiders.

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Sean Spence enters third week of practice

Steelers linebacker Sean Spence began practice the week of Oct. 14. That means this is the last week he'll practice before the team has to either add him to the active roster or place him on injured-reserve.

Spence has been recovering from a knee injury since last August, but he broke a finger quickly into his return from the practice field - casting a pall over his comeback efforts, and possibly risking missing the remainder of this season.

If he practiced for the first time Wednesday, Oct. 16 - the first full day of practice for the week - a decision on his season must be made by Wednesday, Nov. 5.
The finger injury could be enough to inspire the team to keep him on ice until next year - an unfortunate situation that wasn't, nor could have been, anticipated before he got on the practice field. At the same time, it may not necessarily matter, if he shows he's able to play through it.

Roster moves aren't exactly at a premium, considering the Steelers are 2-5 and have an offense that's failed to score more than 19 points in its last three games. The defense allowed 197 rushing yards in its loss to the Raiders, after stifiling both Baltimore and the Jets on the ground.

The team has this week to evaluate Spence and will have to use a current lens - if he can contribute to special teams, sub packages or even the base defense, they'd strongly consider bringing him into the fold. If it's still going to be a bit until either his knee or his finger will not limit him from playing at a high level, they aren't likely to risk putting him on the field for the remainder of the season.

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Sean Spence hopes to prove miracles happen

Linebacker Sean Spence donned pads and joined his teammates in practice for the first time since that terrible Aug. 30, 2012, preseason game at Heinz Field when it looked as though his football career ended before it could really start.

"We'll take it day by day," said Spence, who came off the physically unable to perform list. "I'm not going to try to look into the future, I just want to master each day."

Spence looked like a rookie with a good future, impressing everyone with his play through the 2012 preseason after the Steelers drafted him in the third round from Miami.

But in that fourth preseason game, his left knee was damaged nearly beyond repair. The anterior collateral and lateral collateral ligaments were torn, the kneecap was dislocated and, most importantly, the peroneal nerve that helps control movement down to the foot was damaged.

The nerve could not be repaired; they had to hope it would heal itself. So far, so good, said Spence, who believes in pulling off the miracle that linebackers coach Keith Butler said would allow him to play again.

"I do. But we'll see. I still have a couple more steps to make."

The Steelers have three weeks to observe him in practice before NFL rules force them to decide to keep him on the 53-man roster, put him on injured reserve for the rest of the season or waive him.

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Sean Spence practices on limited basis

Today was the day linebacker Sean Spence has waited over a year for, the chance to finally get back on the football field with his teammates.

Spence suffered a severe knee injury during the 2012 preseason, missing the entire year and spending the first six weeks of this season on the physically unable to perform list. But after uncountable hours of rehabilitation, Spence was back at it, taking part in individual drills during Wednesday’s practice in the team’s indoor practice facility.  He still hasn’t faced full contact, but it’s a step in the right direction.

“It felt good,” said Spence after practice. “It held up pretty solid. I have to look at the film to get a better diagnosis of it and continue to build. But it’s exciting, very exciting.”

Spence began running full speed several months ago, and has seen gradual improvement since the start of the season. This is the first he was eligible to practice according to NFL rules regarding the PUP list, and he anxiously awaited the day.

“I feel like I am blessed,” said Spence. “I have the opportunity and I am looking forward to it. I thought it was last week (I could practice), but they told me after week six. I jumped the gun but I knew in due time.”

He is permitted to practice for three weeks before the team must make a decision to activate him, put him on injured reserve or waive him. Spence is hoping to have the opportunity to play this season, but said he isn’t making any guarantees, just waiting to see how things go. The next step will be gaining trust in the knee.

“That is going to be the biggest thing,” said Spence. “When you are on the field there is no thinking. When you are rehabbing you have certain landmarks, but when it comes down to playing ball, you just have to go play.

“It’s a big step, but I am looking forward to the challenge. I am just happy and blessed I have this opportunity.”

Many didn’t think he would ever have the chance to play again, as the injury was that gruesome, so much so he only looked at pictures of it a few months ago.

“I never wanted to watch it but I had to relive it,” said Spence. “It was bad. I couldn’t believe my body made that movement, but things happen. I think it made my mental strength better. Being away from the team, not being able to do certain activities, but I am happy it’s over.”

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Sean Spence to practice this week

Linebacker Sean Spence will see his first football action in over a year when he returns to the practice field on Wednesday. Spence suffered a severe season-ending knee injury against the Carolina Panthers in the 2012 preseason; an injury many thought could have ended his career.

But after a long road filled with ups and downs, Spence is ready to start working his way back.

“We are going to look at Sean participating in some form or fashion this week, probably in a limited capacity, individual drills and so forth,” said Coach Mike Tomlin.  “We’ve got a window to evaluate Sean, but more than anything it’s about getting him on the field first and just watching him in a limited capacity to see where he is before we make any plans about his participation or how we move forward. We’ll see how he performs in practice and let that be our guide in terms in how we progress. Initially he will be working in limited capacity in look teams more than not.”

Spence opened the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, and Wednesday would be the first day he is eligible to return to practice according to NFL rules regarding the PUP list. He is permitted to practice for three weeks before the team must make a decision to activate him, put him on injured reserve or waive him.

“I know a lot of people have not been able to come back after damage like that, but I'm going to see if I can be one of the only ones,” said Spence this past spring, during the team’s offseason program. “Actually, I know that I’m going to beat the odds. I'm not really worried about that.”

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Sean Spence Can Return To Practice Next Week If Deemed Healthy

Next week is an important one for Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Sean Spence and tight Matt Spaeth as both can begin practicing with the team if deemed healthy enough to do.

Spence, who was placed on the Reserve PUP list at the start the season, can begin playing right away per the rules of PUP, but that's not likely to happen due to all of the time that he's missed. If he is able to resume practicing next week, however, and there's guarantee yet that he will, the Steelers will likely want to slowly acclimate him back into action being as he hasn't practiced since tearing up his knee in the 2012 preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers.

The Steelers don't have to rush their 2012 third-round draft pick along if he's not ready as they will have a three week window starting next week in which he must begin practicing. However, once he does begin practicing, a new three week window will then open at the end of which he must be placed on the active roster or on injured reserve. In other words, they could string this out for several more weeks if he's not quite ready.

When head coach Mike Tomlin meets the media next Tuesday, I suspect he will be asked to update the status of both Spence and Spaeth at that time, so we should have a little more clarity then.

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Sean Spence Placed On Reserve/PUP

Linebacker Sean Spence, who suffered a severe knee injury during the 2012 preseason, has been placed on the team’s reserve/physically unable to perform list.   He’ll be eligible to return to practice after Week 6 and through Week 11.

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Return of Steelers TE David Johnson could seal fate for ILB Sean Spence

Finally returning to practice with the Pittsburgh Steelers after beginning the year on the PUP list while recovering from an ACL injury, David Johnson may start defining the timetables for other injured players in his own positional group and inside linebacker Sean Spence.

Johnson returned to practice for the first time on Wednesday, and it has yet to be seen if he will be able to push the healthy tight ends on the roster. David Paulson has left much to be desired with his blocking ability, Jamie McCoy has been playing Johnson's old role of tight end and fullback, and Michael Palmer has looked like a veteran on the line and on special teams. Nathan Overbay and Peter Tuitupou have been fighting to remain relevant with little success.

If Johnson is able to exhibit the same skills which made him a regular part of the Steelers roster prior to his injury, his existence on the roster could dictate how the team handles the injury situations of Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth.

Miller is expected to return to practice soon himself, but just how soon is yet to be determined; but he is expected to join the team in the first quarter of the season. Spaeth suffered a lisfranc injury which will most likely sideline him for at least half the season. With each team only receiving one designation for return for players on IR, the Steelers will need to decide which player to use it on - Spaeth or Spence.

Spence, once thought to have lost his career when he suffered a severe injury during the final preseason game of 2012, has been making remarkable strides in his recovery leaving many with hope for his return to the field in 2013. Unfortunately, many believed he would be the player designated for return. Now, he may be looking at another full season on IR because of Spaeth.

The team did not rush to place Spaeth on IR even though previous injuries of a similar nature stole seasons from Santonio Holmes and Maurice Jones-Drew, although Spaeth's 'lisfranc' injury was not viewed as severe. The team seems convinced Spaeth will be able to return mid-season. Considering the team's lack of quality in the tight end department, Spaeth will be viewed as more necessary than another ILB; especially with the depth provided by Stevenson Sylvester, Marshall McFadden, Vince Williams and the rest of the off-season linebacking corps.

If so, Spaeth will wind up as the player designated for return leaving no room for Spence's triumphant return in 2012. Perhaps the extra recovery time will play to the benefit of Spence considering the severity of the injury which eliminated him in the first place.

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Sean Spence's recovery still progressing

Reports are positive on the progress of Steelers linebacker Sean Spence in his efforts to return from a gruesome knee injury at the end of the 2012 preseason.

What kind of linebackers groups is he returning to? One considerably deeper than the one he vacated last year, judging by the performances of the inside 'backers in the Steelers' first preseason game.

Marshall McFadden was an on-again, off-again roster member last year, but didn't have the same level of explosion he showed in the loss to the Giants. Vince Williams was preparing for his senior season at Florida State.

Stevenson Sylvester was thought of as the possibly heir apparent to James Farrior's vacated buck linebacker position, and Larry Foote was just a stop-gap.

Sylvester is now likely on the fringe of this roster, and, if Spence happens to begin the season on the team (something that can't be considered likely right now), he's likely not on this team.

Foote and Lawrence Timmons are the unquestioned starters, and will likely play over 90 percent of the Steelers' defensive snaps this year. However, with the youth infusion provided by McFadden, it gives the Steelers a few more options in terms of sub packages.

And to make it even more fun, what if Spence is able to suit up at some point in 2013? Let's make another hypothetical condition that he's at or right around the athleticism he displayed coming out of Miami in last year's draft. A nickel package involving Timmons and Spence is tantalizing. Or a bang package with Foote, Timmons and McFadden in a short-yardage situation is exciting.

While Spence's most likely outcome this year is to start on Injured Reserve with designation to return - a move that wouldn't be done until the Steelers have cut the team down to 53 players - he's currently on the PUP list, meaning it's still possible he's able to contribute early in the season.

The fact they haven't put Spence on injured reserve yet means there's still a chance - even if it's a Lloyd Christmas "one in a million" chance - he's on the Steelers' initial 53-man roster.

Imagine the results of Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and head coach Mike Tomlin spending time in the lab coming up with packages for a group of inside linebackers as athletic as this group potentially could be.

Maybe that's been the plan all along.

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RBs guru calls Lamar Miller 'the fastest running back I've ever seen'

With the Dolphins depth chart thinned after Reggie Bush's departure to the Lions, there are high expectations for second-year running back Lamar Miller. It sounds like the former Miami Hurricane is doing his best to fulfill them, too.

According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, Miller's in North Miami Beach being mentored by 49ers running back -- and fellow former 'Cane -- Frank Gore. The pair are working out twice daily along with other NFL players, including another former Hurricane: Steelers linebacker Sean Spence.

“The way Lamar is learning from Frank, it's a beautiful thing," Spence said.

The backs are also working with Pete Bommarito, who runs Bommarito Performance Systems and has trained a who's who list of running backs in the NFL. And Bommarito's praise of Miller is even higher.

“He's the fastest running back I've ever seen,” Bommarito said.

The trainer also noted that working with Gore has done positive things for Miller's "work ethic and mentality" toward the game of football.
“Since Lamar started gravitating toward Frank, his work ethic and mentality are unparalleled," Bommarito said.

It's easy to understand how working with Gore can help Miller: There's arguably not a more underrated running back in the league than Gore, and he also happens to be a guy who's been counted out and dismissed more times than you can count. He had multiple knee surgeries (right and left ACLs) in college, a slew of injuries in the pros, and people expected drop-offs in production every season. (And yet, since being named the 49ers starter, Gore has averaged 15 games, 1,176 yards and seven touchdowns a season.)

I digress, but you get the point here: Gore's a great role model. Per Bommarito, Gore's also showing Miller “how to take care of his body, what to do beyond what is required.”

So is the work paying off? Gore praised Miller, saying he's the "fastest" Hurricanes running back of the last 20 years (a group that includes Edgerrin James, Gore, Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee) and likened the youngster to Portis.

Miller says the result of his work with Gore is that he's "stronger" and "more explosive" than he was in his rookie season.

"I've gotten quicker doing lateral work, and I've become more explosive by training every day doing squats on my legs,” Miller said. "[And] I'm stronger. Last year, I was kind of lost getting adjusted to the speed of the game and knowing where I'm supposed to be at all times. Now I'm very comfortable with the system."
That's a terrifying thought for opponents looking to stop the second-year back. For the Dolphins, though, it provides early justification for their decision to let Bush walk on the open market and put their faith in a young running back who appears eager to live up to the expectations that surround his 2013 season.

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Travis Benjamin & Deonte Thompson Football Camp: Sean Spence

Travis Benjamin & Deonte Thompson Football Camp: Sean Spence from Generation Nexxt Youth Sports Nt on Vimeo.

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Sean Spence expects to play in '13

PITTSBURGH -- Sean Spence's coaches appear split over whether the linebacker's mangled left knee will be ready to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013.

Spence, however, has no such concerns.

"The goal is for me to play this season," Spence said Wednesday during organized team activities. "That's the way I'm preparing."

Though he declined to mark a specific return date, Spence insists he can see the finish line for his recovery from a gruesome injury that cut short his rookie year before it even began. Spence was blitzing late in the third quarter of the team's final preseason game against Carolina when his knee gave out and bent awkwardly.

The third-round pick out of Miami (Fla.) needed to be taken off the field on a stretcher after tearing all three major ligaments and sustaining extensive nerve damage in the knee.

"I knew right away that something wasn't right," Spence said. "The knee went back. It didn't hurt as much as I thought it should have hurt, but I think I was in shock more than anything."

So were the Steelers, who were hoping Spence could become the eventual successor to James Farrior at inside linebacker. Instead he spent all of Pittsburgh's disappointing 8-8 season wearing a brace and wondering if his career was in jeopardy.

That doesn't appear to be an issue anymore. At least, not to Spence.

"I know a lot of people have not been able to come back after damage like that, but I'm going to see if I can be one of the only ones," he said. "Actually, I know that I'm going to beat the odds. I'm not really worried about that."

Spence's coaches can't seem to agree. Coach Mike Tomlin said before last month's draft that Spence was progressing as planned but linebackers coach Keith Butler appeared to be more cautious, indicating there would be little chance of Spence playing this season, if at all.

The Steelers re-signed veteran Larry Foote in the offseason and grabbed Florida State's Vince Williams in the sixth round of the draft. Williams is considered a project while Foote turns 33 next month. Spence remains very much a part of Pittsburgh's long-term plans. He would just prefer to be a part of the short-term one as well.

Though Spence says he can run and "do everything," he will not be on the field during OTAs or minicamp. His goal is to be ready when training camp opens in July but that seems a bit ambitious. Spence allows that might be too soon, but he doesn't see himself sitting out the year again.

"You do want to play it safe, in a situation like this, but at the same time if I'm good enough to go, I'm gonna go," he said. "I probably will take things slow, but I have trust myself in doing what I know I can do. And if I think I can go, I'll go."

Spence was a tackling machine for the Hurricanes, making 317 stops in four seasons, including 10.5 sacks. His speed makes him an asset in coverage and when he was drafted, the Steelers saw an opportunity to pair him with veteran Lawrence Timmons in the middle of Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme.

It's too soon to tell if Spence's burst will return, but he is using the downtime to become a better student of the game. Adjusting from college to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's complex system can be difficult for the most talented players. Spence hopes the studying he's done over the last year will help speed up the process whenever he puts the shoulder pads back on.

"I think I'm up to speed, and I know this defense pretty well," he said. "I'm still learning from guys like Larry Foote. I sit next to him in meetings, so he helps me out a lot. And I'm taking a lot of mental reps on the field, so I'm learning from them as well.

"They're almost as good as physical reps."


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Steelers GM Kevin Colbert Says LB Sean Spence Showing Small Signs Of Progress

During his Tuesday conference call with season ticket holders, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was asked about the health status of inside linebacker Sean Spence, who is still recovering from tearing up his left knee last preseason in the game against the Carolina Panthers.

“Sean is progressing," said Colbert. "When you have as serious a knee injury as he unfortunately had, it sometimes is a very long process. Sometimes it takes over a year to fully rehabilitate. But the good thing is we are seeing signs of progress, albeit small steps. But it is progress. Sean’s attitude is off the charts. He wants to rehab. He wants to be a great player. He is working hard to get there. He is making small progress, and as long as he is making progress, we will be patient with him and hopefully get him back at full speed at some point."

If you have followed along with the updates on Spence, you can clearly see that the Steelers have accepted the fact that he will not be playing in 2013. Linebackers coach Keith Butler said during his talk with the media following the selection of Florida State inside linebacker Vince Williams in the sixth round of the 2013 NFL draft, that it would be a miracle if he ever plays again.

"I don’t think he is going to be, Butler said when asked if Spence would be ready to play in 2013. "It will be miraculous if he does come back. It will be miraculous if he comes back next year. We are going to take a chance on him and see if he can come back. To me, he is worth every bit of that."

During the recent rookie camp, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was more positive with his remarks about Spence, the Steelers third round draft pick in 2012 out of Miami.

"I did hear the (Butler's)  opinion regarding Spence, my opinion differs," said Tomlin. "I think he's going to have a full recovery, but now you have two opinions, neither of which are expert medical opinions, so do with it what you wish."

It was reportedly early in the offseason that Spence had damage to his peroneal nerve, which is located on the outside part of the lower knee and is responsible for transmitting impulses to and from the leg, foot, and toes. When that nerve is damaged, the muscles may become weak and condition called foot drop, which is the inability to raise the foot upwards, can occur.

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Deciphering differing opinions on Sean Spence

They say no news is good news. But what do they say about conflicting news? That's the situation in Pittsburgh with inside linebacker Sean Spence.

During the NFL draft, Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said it would be "miraculous" if Spence came back from a devastating knee injury. A week later, coach Mike Tomlin weighed in on the outlook for the 2012 third-round pick.

"I did hear the opinion regarding Spence. My opinion differs," Tomlin said during rookie minicamp. "I think he’s going to have a full recovery. But now you have two opinions, neither of which are expert medical opinions. Do with it what you wish."

It would surprise me if Spence's position coach decided to paint such a grim picture (and do it publicly) without being informed by someone from the medical staff or another high-ranking official. So, why did Tomlin say something completely different? We already know the Steelers are going to keep Spence around for the 2013 season to give him every chance to rebound from a knee injury that involves two torn ligaments (ACL and LCL) and a damaged nerve. My take is Tomlin is giving some hope to a 22-year-old who couldn't have been inspired by Butler's comments.

The Steelers had high expectations for Spence before he injured his knee last preseason. He would have been one of the core special teams players last year and he might have been in line for a starting job this year.

Now, the Steelers are unsure, or at least not on the same page, as to whether Spence will ever play a meaningful game for the franchise. If I took one thing away from Tomlin's comments, it's that Butler, who is considered the heir apparent to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, won't be revealing medical updates anytime soon.

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Tomlin disagrees with LB coach about Spence

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin disagrees with linebackers coach Keith Butler. He said Sean Spence, the second-year linebacker who severely injured his knee in a preseason game in August, will make a full recovery.

Butler said last weekend it would be "miraculous" if Spence, the team's third-round draft choice in 2012, played next season.

"It will be miraculous if he does come back," Butler said last Saturday when he met with reporters. "It will be miraculous if he comes back next year. We are going to take a chance on him and see if he can come back. To me, he is worth every bit of that."

Tomlin offered the following Saturday when he was asked about the rehabilitation of Spence and other injured players at Steelers rookie camp: "All the rehab is going to according to plan. No news there. I did hear the opinion regarding Spence. My opinion differs. I think he'll have a full recovery. But now you have two opinions, neither of which are expert medical opinions, so do with it what you will."

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Sean Spence's Career In Doubt

Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler delivered some real bad news on Saturday about linebacker Sean Spence, the teams third round draft pick from last year, when asked if he would be back this year.

"I don’t think he is going to be. It will be miraculous if he does come back. It will be miraculous if he comes back next year. We are going to take a chance on him and see if he can come back. To me, he is worth every bit of that."

Butler was asked if it would be gravy if Spence every does return and his response was not surprising.

"I hope he’s gravy, said Butler. "I really do, because this kid is a great kid. He’s not only a very intelligent football player but he is going to provide some intangibles in our locker room that we desperately need, I think. We’re going to ride with him for another year I think. Hopefully his knee will respond and he can play again."

Spence shredded his left knee last preseason against the Carolina Panthers and it is believed that he did damage to the peroneal nerve, which could cause a condition known as drop foot.

Butler really sounded down about Spence, who he believes is a very solid kid and a good football player.

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proCanes return for Pro Day

The annual Miami Hurricanes Pro Timing Day reunion commenced Thursday morning at a chilly Greentree Field and ran well into the afternoon, when the sun beat down on the bare-chested players trying to impress dozens of NFL scouts or coaches.

Former Hurricanes linebacker Sean Spence, now with the Steelers, was there to watch. Former quarterback Jacory Harris helped out by tossing passes to receivers. Defensive end Olivier Vernon, now with the Dolphins, arrived in the afternoon, along with offensive lineman Brandon Washington, Browns receiver Travis Benjamin and Texans linebacker Darryl Sharpton.

They all came to support the former players who ran 40-yard dashes, lifted weights and partook in drills for NFL personnel — which included Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland — representing 30 of 32 teams.

“Overall, it went well,” said 5-10, 184-pound receiver Kendal Thompkins. “I just want to make a team.”

Thompkins improved his status with the best 40 time: 4.37 seconds. He also had the second-highest vertical leap (35 inches) and second-longest broad jump (10-4).

The Miami native said he misses college already. “It’s kind of different now that I’m in the real world,” said Thompkins, who earned his degree in liberal arts last May.

Ray-Ray Armstrong, who missed the 2012 season after being dismissed from Miami in July as the result of a number of missteps, returned to participate. Armstrong, who eventually earned his UM degree in sports administration, said he “could have handled” himself “a lot differently.”

“It was frustrating for the first couple months,” the 6-4, 215-pound safety said, “but I kind of put that behind me and am working on the next step of my life.
“I still have a lot of friends here. We have a tight bond. I feel it’s home still.”

Armstrong’s best 40 time was 4.65. He had a 34.5-inch vertical leap and benched 225 pounds 18 times.

“Football is what I do,” Armstrong said. “I wanted to show them how fluent I was in drills and that I run pretty good times. I’ve been working out a good three, four months preparing for this.”

Fellow safety Vaughn Telemaque, 6-2 and 202 pounds, was his usual cheerful, optimistic self. Though a knee injury limited his playing time this season, Telemaque said he felt great. He led the field with a 36-inch vertical jump, ran a 4.70 40 and only could muster 11 reps on the bench press.

When asked what he could offer to any team that gets him, Telemaque said, “I’m an all-around player, a team player, rangy safety, good stand-up guy trying to do the right things and trying to make sure everyone around me is in a positive attitude because it just brings out the best in everybody, including myself.”

Added Telemaque, refusing to focus on his injury and senior season: “I’m over that. It’s not about this one season. It’s not about who’s here now. It’s about Miami. It’s always going to be a part of me. Miami was the best place for me, and I had a great career here.”

Running back Mike James, who competed at the recent Combine in Indianapolis with Brandon McGee, said he “ran the ball well” and just wanted “to show the teams that I’m versatile and can play ball.”

And, like the others, he said how much it meant to have been a Miami Hurricane.

“It brought me up, helped me become a man,” James said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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proCanes Support Men's Basketball Team vs GT


Thank you to Harry Rothwell @mrallcanes for sending us this photo of proCanes: Lamar Miller Dolphins, DeMarcus Van Dyke Steelers, Allen Bailey Chiefs, Sean Spence Steelers, Travis Benjamin Browns, Brandon Harris Texans.

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Sean Spence damaged peroneal nerve

Steelers ILB Sean Spence's catastrophic 2012 knee injury included a damaged peroneal nerve behind his left knee.

Spence tore his ACL and LCL, dislocated the knee, and also damaged the nerve. Players are capable of returning from major knee injuries, but Spence's recovery is wholly dependent on the nerve recovery. The Steelers have no idea when the nerve will heal. It's why GM Kevin Colbert called this an "unknown injury."

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Sean Spence had 'unknown injury'

Colbert said there is still no timetable for the possible return of inside linebacker Sean Spence, whose rookie season ended after multiple ligament tears in his knee in the preseason.

Colbert said Spence, a third-round pick, is progressing and doing everything doctors and trainers have asked him to do. But the injury is so severe -- Colbert referred to it as "an unknown injury" -- there is some question if Spence will be able to come back, not when.

"He's not recovered yet and, quite honestly, we have to keep our fingers crossed," Colbert said.

"We just hold out hope Sean can have a successful recovery and be a Steeler.

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