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.
2011 SEASON HIGHLIGHTS
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.