2012 NFL Draft Round 3: Pittsburgh Steelers Draft ILB Sean Spence With 86th Pick

The Pittsburgh Steelers closed out day two of the 2012 NFL draft with the selection of Miami linebacker Sean Spence with the 23rd pick of the draft. It was the 86th selection overall. Spence will move inside and learn the MACK role according to linebacker coach Keith Butler.

Any talk about Miami linebacker greats begins with Ray Lewis, but just like Jon Beason (Carolina) and Jonathan Vilma (New Orleans) before him Spence holds a high place in Hurricanes lore as being the most important cogs on the defensive units they starred on. Ever since his first season at Miami, when he captured Atlantic Coast Conference honors, the weak-side outside linebacker has been the team’s unquestioned leader.

Not only has Spence grown on the football field and in the Hurricanes fan base, but he has also developed a once 211-pound skinny frame into a stout 230-pounder who could follow the aforementioned linebackers by converting to an inside position at the next level. The weak-side linebacker actually started a game in the middle as a senior, responding with a ten-tackle performance vs. Georgia Tech.

With 318 tackles, Spence just missed out at joining the university’s Top Ten in that category, finishing eleventh for his career. However, the production from the Miami native in the last two seasons has earned him a place with the other Hurricane linebacker stand-outs. During that span, he became the first Miami defender to record back-to-back 100-tackle seasons since 2003.

Spence also became one of six Hurricanes to register over 100 tackles at least twice during their time at the school. His 318 tackles rank 21st among active NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision performers. Known for his ability to attack the backfield on a regular basis, his 47 tackles behind the line of scrimmage is the fifth-best total among active FBS players.

As has been tradition with the university, most standout performers from powerhouse Northwestern High School usually enroll in Coral Gables. The leader of the Bulls’ back-to-back undefeated teams that were named national champions in 2007, Spence was joined by receiver Tommy Streeter, defensive tackle Marcus Forston and quarterback Jacory Harris in enrolling at the University of Miami. Another of Spence’s “partners” in the Bulls linebacker is another projected 2012 early round draft prospect, Lavonte David of Nebraska.

At Northwestern High School, Spence was a four-star prospect, rated 13th among the nation’s outside linebackers by Rivals.com, as that recruiting service placed him on their Florida Top 24 squad. Scout.com also regarded the 194-pound prep senior as a four-star recruit and rated him the fifth-best weak-side linebacker in the country.

Spence moved into the starting lineup for head coach Billy Rolle’s Bulls as a sophomore, picking off a pair of passes while recording 96 tackles. During his junior campaign, the team compiled a 15-0 record, with the linebacker leading the state with 197 tackles that included ten stops behind the line of scrimmage while picking off two more passes.

In 2007, the team’s national championship campaign, Spence delivered 123 tackles with two interceptions and three sacks. He was rated the second-best outside linebacker in the country by ESPN and earned All-American honors from Prep State. He added All-State accolades from the Florida Sportswriters Association and ranked sixth on the Miami Herald South Florida Top 25. Selected to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Super Southern 100 team, he competed in the inaugural Under-Armour All-Star game.

While is might appear that Spence was an instant success when he arrived on Miami’s campus, the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and Freshman All-American actually spent the first four games of his career in a reserve role before the coaches inserted him into the lineup for the final nine 2008 games at weak-side linebacker. He finished third on the team with 65 tackles, leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 stops for losses.

One play that is best remembered from his first season was of Spence throwing then-Florida quarterback Tim Tebow to the ground with ease, a highlight from Spence’s freshman season that got replayed around Miami for months.

A left knee injury cost Spence three games of action in 2009, but even though he started just seven of the ten games he appeared in, the sophomore registered 6.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage to go with 36 tackles. The linebacker admitted that he was disappointed with his sophomore season. “I was injured. There was nothing I could do, except to continue to work hard.” Spence said after his production dropped in every category.

While playing hurt vs. Clemson, he was beaten badly on a touchdown reception by running back C.J. Spiller. “Yea, it was very disappointing,” Spence said. “I wanted to be out there with my team to help them win a couple of games.” Spence kept a smile throughout the struggles, something teammates are accustomed to.

Linebacker Darryl Sharpton said he never saw Spence “in the tank for more than 30 seconds.” “That\’s just part of football,” Sharpton said. “If you\’re a good player getting a lot of reps, you\’re going to get hurt. Everybody\’s been through it. I\’ve been through it. Obviously, you can\’t improve when you\’re injured. The only thing you can do is learn and take mental reps.”

The team’s MVP and second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference choice in 2010, he added over ten pounds of bulk to his frame prior to his junior year. The added bulk helped, as he recorded 111 tackles, the fifth-best total in the league. His team-high 17.5 stops for loss placed fourth in the ACC.

“He’s special,” Miami linebackers coach Micheal Barrow said. “Not only is he Peyton Manning-smart, but he also has the instincts to match, which is very rare for a guy to be both super-smart and instinctive. Most guys are either-or. Not him. He has the ability, he’s a fast learner. We’ve just expected big things from him.”

It was perhaps fitting that Spence served as team captain as a senior, as the Hurricanes sorely needed guidance on a unit beset with injuries and off-field issues. The linebacker missed the season opener while awaiting clearance from the NCAA that was investigating a university-wide booster scandal. He returned to start the final eleven games, leading the team with 106 tackles (54 solos) and ranked second in the ACC with fourteen stops for loss.

The Butkus Award semi-finalist and All-ACC pick finished his final campaign averaging 1.27 tackles behind the line of scrimmage per game. His average of 9.64 tackles per game placed fourth in the conference. His performance earned the respect of the Hurricanes first-year coaching staff. “Sean Spence right now is playing lights out,” head coach Al Golden told the Palm Beach Post.

“There\’s good years, there\’s great years and then there\’s special years. Right now, he\’s having a special year.” Defensive coordinator Mark D\’Onofrio weighed in by saying, “Sean\’s play has been spectacular. He makes negative plays, he makes physical plays and he makes big plays.”

Spence started 40-of-47 games at Miami – 39 at weak-side outside linebacker and the 2011 Georgia Tech contest at middle linebacker…Ranks 11th in school history with 318 tackles (170 solos) that included 10.5 sacks for minus 87 yards and 47.0 stops for losses totaling 164 yards…Caused four fumbles, recovered another, deflected nine passes and had a 7-yard interception return for a touchdown…Spence is the first Hurricane to record 100 tackles in consecutive seasons (111 in 2010 and 106 in 2011) since 2003 (jonathan Vilma made 133 stops in 2002 and 127 in 2003)…Is just one of six Hurricanes to ever record 100 tackles at least twice in a career.

Spence earned All-American fourth-team honors from Phil Steele, as the Butkus Award semifinalist was the recipient of the team’s Captain’s Award and Jack Hardin Most Outstanding Player Award…Earned All-Atlantic Coast Conference first-team honors from the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association…Started the team’s final eleven games, including ten at weak-side outside linebacker and at middle linebacker vs. Georgia Tech… Led the team with 106 tackles (54 solos), three sacks for minus 23 yards and a team-high fourteen stops for losses of 39 yards, as that total ranked second in the league and tied for 30th in the nation…Finished fourth in the ACC with an average of 9.64 tackles per game…
Also caused a fumble and deflected one pass…Registered at least ten tackles in six games.

In the Kansas State clash, Spence posted the first of six double-digit tackle performances with fourteen hits (8 solos), causing a fumble on a 4-yard sack vs. Kansas State…Added eight tackles with a 12-yard sack vs. Bethune-Cookman…Continued his defensive dominance with a team-best 13 tackles in the loss to Virginia Tech. Spence, also recorded two stops for a loss vs. the Hokies…The Hurricane earned ACC Linebacker of the Week honors in consecutive games, first vs. North Carolina, as Spence led all defensive players with 14 tackles, including a crucial sack late in the fourth quarter for a loss of seven yards. The Miami native finished the game with 1.5 tackles for loss for seven yards…His second honor came vs. Georgia Tech, as he moved to middle linebacker and was again the Canes’ leader on defense. The prolific linebacker racked up 10 tackles to lead all Miami players. The senior had six solo stops and a tackle for a loss of two yards. As the defensive captain, Spence helped hold Georgia Tech—one of the nation’s most potent offenses—to a season-low seven points, 35.9 off of its average…He continued his assault, posting ten tackles (6 solos) vs. Virginia, had eight hits with two stops behind the line of scrimmage vs. Duke and closed out his career with fourteen tackles vs. Boston College.

The team’s Most Valuable Player earned second-team All-ACC honors from the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association…One of seven Hurricanes to start all thirteen games, the junior weak-side linebacker finished second on the team and fifth in the conference with a career-high 111 tackles 959 solos) that included 2.5 sacks for minus 21 yards…Paced the Hurricanes and ranked fourth in the league with a career-high 17.0 stops for losses of 61 yards for a team that ranked 22nd in the nation in total defense (323.31 ypg)…Caused two fumbles, recovered another and deflected six passes…The junior was all over the field and posted eleven hits with a pair of stops behind the line of scrimmage vs. Ohio State, adding nine tackles as he registered 2.5 tackles for losses, including 1.5 sacks. vs. Pittsburgh and had …”We needed this win really bad. We needed that momentum. Coach told us we may have lost before but we\’re a better team today,” Spence said after Miami\’s bounce-back win over Pittsburgh following the loss at Ohio State…Spence called the Hurricanes\’ performance in a 45-17 loss to Florida State before a packed house at Sun Life Stadium. He got little argument from his coach. “It\’s embarrassing,” coach Randy Shannon said. “But it won\’t happen again.” In a game that was supposed to be an opportunity for Miami to prove itself as the favorite in the ACC\’s Coastal Division, the Hurricanes were outplayed from start to finish, despite Spence making six tackles (5 solos) that included a stop for a loss…The junior posted eleven tackles with three stops for minus 12 yards vs. Georgia Tech, had ten hits that included a 3-yard sack and 2.5 stops for loss before ending the year with a ten-tackle performance vs. Notre Dame in the Sun Bowl.

The sophomore sat out the Wake Forest, Virginia and North Carolina contests with a left knee sprain, starting seven of the ten games he appeared in, as he finished with a career-low 36 tackles (19 solos)…Credited with three sacks for minus 28 yards, 6.5 stops for losses of 33 yards and his only career quarterback pressure.

The Freshman All-American selection by The Sporting News and College Football News, Spence was named the Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Rookie of the Year after he received 39 votes of 67 ballots cast by members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association…The weak-side linebacker started the last nine games, finishing third on the team with 65 tackles (38 solos) that included two sacks and a team-high 9.5 stops for losses of 31 yards…Also caused a fumble and deflected a pass, scoring on a 7-yard interception return during his first career start, vs. Florida State, adding ten tackles vs. the Seminoles…Caused a fumble in the final moments of regulation vs. Virginia.

2009 Season…A left knee medial collateral ligament sprain kept Spence out of the Wake Forest, Virginia and North Carolina contests.
2011 Postseason…Managed just 12 reps in the 225-pound bench press at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine, but that poor performance was due to a deep bone bruise in his left shoulder sustained while competing in the Senior Bowl and he was not completely recovered by the time he got to Indianapolis. When he was asked to do the bench press, the words, “no thanks” didn’t occur to him. “Unfortunately I pushed out 12, but I know I can do more,” said Spence. “Once I get healthy and get back to my old self I’ll videotape it and send it to all the teams that want to see it.” Spence said his shoulder is still not 100 percent, so he didn’t bench press on the early March 2012 Pro Day conducted on the Miami campus. According to Spence, no one connected with the NFL has asked him about it. “It’s not good, but on the field, you don’t bench press,” said Spence, adding he can rep 225 pounds 19 times when healthy.

4.66 in the 40-yard dash…1.55 10-yard dash…2.57 20-yard dash…4.28 20-yard shuttle…
7.08 three-cone drill…33 ½-inch vertical jump…9’11” broad jump…Bench pressed 225 pounds 19 times…31 ½-inch arm length…9 ¼-inch hands…74 ½-inch wingspan…12 Wonderlic score.

Spence attended Miami Florida powerhouse Northwestern High School, playing football for head coach Billy Rolle…Was a four-star prospect, rated 13th among the nation’s outside linebackers by Rivals.com, as that recruiting service placed him on their Florida Top 24 squad…Scout.com also regarded the 194-pound prep senior as a four-star recruit and rated him the fifth-best weak-side linebacker in the country…Moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore, picking off a pair of passes while recording 96 tackles…During his junior campaign, the team compiled a 15-0 record, with the linebacker leading the state with 197 tackles that included ten stops behind the line of scrimmage while picking off two more passes…In 2007, the team’s national championship campaign, Spence delivered 123 tackles with two interceptions and three sacks…Rated the second-best outside linebacker in the country by ESPN and earned All-American honors from Prep State…Added All-State accolades from the Florida Sportswriters Association and ranked sixth on the Miami Herald South Florida Top 25. Selected to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Super Southern 100 team, he competed in the inaugural Under-Armour All-Star game.

General Studies major…Born 06/07/1990 in Miami, Florida.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    dumb and undersized…wow…who smoked what here….Lewis was still on the board…really? Hilton was still on the board. really?…Miller was still on the board….really?…Robinson was still on the board… really?…I dont get it

  • Guest

    I like Spence. If I was an Eagles fan, I would love for him to play the WILL for me. For the Steelers it is a head scratcher. Especially when having a space eater in the middle is a big question mark going forward. Spence is very weak and gets engulfed if anyone gets into him. I like Audie Cole much better and you could have take Chapman in R3 and then gotten Cole in the 5th. We shall see.

  • Bleebo77

    I’m also confused. NFP says that Spence is too undersized to anchor inside in a 3-4. I actually don’t mind them passing on a NT, RB, or CB since there will be value at those positions later in the draft. I would have like to see R. Lewis from Oklahoma or maybe a S.

    Mayock said that he loves Spence’s instincts, and you can’t coach that. Folks were down on Hightower b/c he wasn’t a 3-down guy, and Spence offers a sideline-to-sideline guy (or at least a nickel backer).

  • Devon Carson

    They clearly view him as a potential 2013 starter at ILB next to Timmons. Watch some of the YouTube videos, solid against the run with the agility to cover backs and TEs.

  • Bleebo77

    P.S. And I have a note that Dave-Te really likes Spence, so that’s something…

  • Aevans234

    How is the kid dumb?…and he’s not that undersized .. he’s 231 out of college….Sylvester was 231, Timmons was, Farrior was 236 but i think he may have been smaller when he got to the Jets….did you see how big Timmons got from his first year to his second?

  • Jbatheist

    I lovE fans that are telling the Pittsburgh steelers how to draft LB. lol!!!!!

  • Garrett1771

    The Steelers should seriously consider trading to the beginning of round 4 to snatch Lamar Miller. They have plenty of picks to do it. With all the speed he has, he will be a good compliment to Redman then eventually Mendenhall.

  • Bleebo77

    Reading the transcript with Butler, I wonder if the mack and buck roles are morphing. It sounds like they want to go away from having a classic buck since so many teams are throwing TEs and smaller RBs at you, not guards and fullbacks. Are we seeing a bit of defensive evolution?

    Sounds like Foote will start at buck w/ Sylvester backing up and Timmons will start at mack with Spence backing up. Are they set at ILB since they have starters and back-ups at mack and buck?

    Still, it seems funny to spend a 3rd round pick on a guy just to back up Timmons for years to come. I’d like to see an OLB prospect to back-up Harrison/Woodley and push Worilds.

  • Bleebo77

    Dave,I saw your tweet about Spence as eventual SS. REALLY interesting thought. He’s not much heavier than Polamalu, and it sounds like Spence has really good instincts and football IQ. Hmmm…

  • PoKey21

    I hate the word instincts. Instincts doesnt have anything to do with it. Its is all about closing speed and vision. No one knows where the ball will be, instincts can also be referred to as a good guesser. I think ts all about seeing the play develop (vision) and closing in on the ball carrier (speed). I think his height will hurt his vision in the pros. He size will make it hard for him to get off blocks. However his speed and tackling is ideal.

    In reality I do not see how this kid is going to be a middle linebacker. Can anyone help me with this? He is undersized and will have a tough time getting of blocks. He is way better suited as an outside linebacker. And an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense at that, not a 3-4. Could this

    I think this pick is to replace Worilds who will be moving to the middle!

  • Shannon Stephenson

    he was a frail 215 or so coming into college and he has no strength…that is frail..not all weight is good weight…he also scored a 12 on a wonderlic…so maybe not undersized and dumb…weak and dumb…

  • mghjr88

    Is a transition to safety possible for Spence?

  • mghjr88

    Carnell Lake played linebacker in college before switching to defensive back in the NFL. Maybe that’s the line of thinking with Spence.

  • Dave, as far as position is concerned, what are your thoughts on Spence long term? From what I’ve seen, he has in the box, strong safety written all over him. I know he’s going to be a special teams guy for the next year or two, and based on his tenacity, and ability to lay the wood, he should be a monster in that role. Big picture, I don’t see him as a true ILB, but more of a LB/safety hybrid. Thoughts?

  • I thought the same thing. This kid is a missile in the box, and can lay the wood. He looks like a perfect, in the box, strong safety.

  • Intropy

    Instincts generally refers to the ability to make instant determinations about what the opposing players are going to do based on what you’ve just seen them do. That’s prediction, which is distinct from reaction.

  • SteelersDepot

    Been breaking that very thing down on Twitter since the pick.

  • Has to be. I read some where, that Spence added weight before the combine, and was the reason his 40 time was so slow. From the clips I’ve seen, this kid looks like an in the box safety.

  • SteelersDepot

    Check my Twitter feed. lol

  • mghjr88

    If Spence was drafted with the intention of moving him to safety, is it still possible the team could draft Trenton Robinson(MSU, DB)?

    If Robinson were targeted, I believe Keith Tandy’s chances of getting drafted by the Steelers go way down, but I know everyone thinks he’ll end up in Pittsburgh.

  • 6rangs

    Claiborne scored a six shannon. Bet it means nothing.

  • dgh57

    At first I didn’t understand this pick being undersized at ILB! But maybe they have him drop some weight and play SS. Who knows how the Steelers plan to use him but the Steelers!

    USA Today NFL Draft Preview says: Spence’s instincts and explosive hitting ability are his best skills. He reads the QBs well enough to get a head start for the WR. He does a good job anticipating the snap count and zips through holes to trip up ball carriers.

  • Intropy

    This pick puzzles me. He seems too small to play buck, and Timmons has Mack locked down. The possibility of moving to safety occurred to me as well, so I’m kind of glad others are thinking along those lines. I also think Bleebo may be on to something that the quick passing game may lead to a blurring of the mack/buck distinction in favor of a more mack-type role for both ILBs.

  • Jandbmorow21

    Watch his video dude has a nose for the ball and goes hard every down. sit him behind timmons for a year slide timmons over and out have to ilb that can cover from sideline to sideline. i didnt like it at first but after watching his highlights this dude could be a beast. he seems to have the drive to always get better. important telling you he is a future starter at ilb for the steelers. he isnt fast enough to play safety. i like this pick a lot its going to boast on specials and give us depth. this dude is always in the backfield blowing plays up.

  • TsarPepe

    Love this pick! The Steelers do it the Steelers way. They get the guy for all the things that don’t make the draft ratings: character, intelligence, leadership, devotion to the game. He will give them all he’s got, and that will be plenty. There are very few organizations in football who pick up seemingly odd players and turn them into special pieces. There is New England and there are the Steelers, that’s about it. Remember, Woodley was an odd profile as well. Now the entire league is looking for the next Woodley. The Steelers don’t have to follow the standards of the butcher shop (how tall, how lean, how many lbs, etc.); they create standards.

  • Jec3179

    I agree on this pick being a wasted pick when there where several of the potential nose tackles on the board…Ronnell Lewis would have been a much better pick..even the best corner on their board..I would have been good with Lamar Miller the running back..this kid will not see the field for at least two years…I really like the first two rounds..but this is a reach for sure..trying to fit a player into our scheme that doesn’t fit at all..kinda like ziggy hood.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I wouldnt guarantee that…I had Claiborne down on my list because he does have a learning disability…our defense is complex and you need some basic cognitive skill to get it. We all shall see…it didnt mean much for Kendall Hunter of the 49ers last year and hopefully it means nothing here either..Spence is just a poor pick…I was just pointing out a couple glaring weaknesses but this kid has more…I hope Im wrong!!!

  • Jdpd

    Shannon, you clearly dont know football. Stick to your day job.

  • John B.

    you’re doubting Colbert and Butler/Lebeau? REALLY!?

  • Frasefra

    How is it a reach when I’ve looked at over a dozen of the top draft publications and the worst had him going as an early 4th with most having him go right where the Steelers picked him or earlier?