Steelers 3rd Round Draft Pick Sean Spence Sure Looks Like A Strong Safety Prospect

The selection of Miami weak-side outside linebacker Sean Spence by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 3rd round of the 2012 NFL draft certainly has a few people scratching their heads it seems. I think that I am not the only one that figured the nose tackle position was likely to be addressed with the pick. Why in the world would the Steelers draft a linebacker that wasn\’t best suited for the BUCK role or rushing the quarterback on the outside?

Spence measures in at 5 foot 11 inches and weighs 231 pounds. He flies around the field like a bullet and is a more than willing tackler as evidenced with his 318 tackles in 47 games in college. Linebacker coach Keith Butler said during his press conference Friday night following the selection that they see Spence as an inside linebacker and certainly not as a BUCK. So they see him as a MACK backup to Lawrence Timmons, who signed a long term extension last offseason? Spending a third round pick on a backup to Timmons makes no sense at all, does it?

Whoa, whoa, whoa stop the clock. If you follow me on Twitter you already know where I am going with this. Spence flies around the field like another player on the Steeler defense and that player doesn\’t play linebacker, but he does line up in the box quite a bit like one. I am of course talking about Troy Polamalu. Spence easily separates from contact and is always around the football. He might be listed as having 4.66 40 speed, but he plays much faster than that. His short shuttle time of 4.28 does match his good agility.

Miami linebacker coach Michael Barrow called Spence a special player and stated that not only is Spence Peyton Manning-smart, but that he also has the instincts to match. Super smart and instincts? Sure sounds like Polamalu there as well. While I might be reading a little much into his play, I invite you to grab a look at some of his highlights. Maybe he can backup Timmons at the MACK position down the road and I firmly expect him to contribute on special teams initially. How can he not? Timmons however isn\’t going anywhere anytime soon and that is what makes this pick such a head scratcher.

Should the Steelers draft another linebacker in this draft, and they certainly could, someone needs to ask Butler during his press conference if Spence is candidate to be groomed as a strong safety. They say tape doesn\’t lie and the tape is telling me he plays a lot like Polamalu. Maybe the liar here is Butler, and I mean that in a good way mind you. You can\’t expect a coach to come out and tell you everything, especially right slap dab in the middle of draft.

Maybe the initials SS will always be his listed position for Spence down the road or maybe I just have the Hurricane linebacker pegged wrong.

ETA: Mark Kaboly asked about Spence and he was told the he is not a prospect to move to strong safety, but that he does need to put weight on which makes sense. Although I did not spell my thoughts out good in the post, the preface was to say how Spence plays a lot like Troy Polamalu does when used down in the box. Spence certainly fits a hybrid mold of nickel linebacker to help counteract these pass catching running backs and hybrid tight ends we are seeing. I will have extended thoughts on this after the draft.

  • RDOK

    Steelers have always used, or debated using, Timmons and Polamalu interchangeably at times. Seems to me that Spence fits that role perfectly. Waste of time defining him as ILB or SS. Instead just define him as a player who fits that very unique position on the Steelers perfectly. Makes complete sense Steelers would use third round pick for guy like that after filling their immediate needs in 1&2.

  • zbluez1

    Lets see, plays like #43, Steelers have an ex-linebacker turned safety coaching their secondary who was also very smart, and the linebackers coach says he is a Mack back up …HHHHHmmmm ?????? I believe that this is a pick with potential to be converted to safety as well who if he doesn’t work out that way was just drafted to be depth in an area where the Team really doesn’t need depth at, but was too good of an athlete not to take a shot at. Seems like Mr. Colbert is liking hanging out on a limb this draft.

  • TrueSteelerForLife

    I think LB. He bulks up, keeps the agility and becomes a great ILB who can cover. He is a quick twitch kinda athlete that Tomlin covets so hopefully he can push Sly, cause that’s the guy i really want to step up and be our leader out there

  • Intropy

    Any chance that they could be looking to put in a 3-3-5 package to be used on downs that aren’t necessarily considered “passing downs?” Against a team with a poor running game but a good quick or over the middle passing game that may be effective, and every season more of the league employs such an attack.

  • zbluez1

    Doubt it, IMHO , I do think they want to make this kid a SS, but I don’t believe at this moment they want to say that is their plan and take responsibility for it. To do so would put Colbert out on a limb way too far for comfort after the Adams pick.

  • This title is funny because the second they drafted this kid and after I had a chance to read scouting reports/watch tape on him, my thought was they must have a position change in mind for Sean Spence. Safety was one of the possible switches, inside linebacker was the other. I don’t view this guy as an ideal fit as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Actually, when I was reading some scouting reports, my first thought was why not try moving him to inside linebacker kinda similar to the way the 49ers have done with NoVorro Bowman? Reason I say that is because A LOT of the concerns with Bowman coming out of Penn State (aside from character concerns) were he was a little small, not that fast and his best fit would be as a 4-3 OLB. Not too dissimilar to what I hear out of Spence. Both guys also did a nice job of getting into the backfield in college and put up great numbers.

    Not saying Spence will be as good obviously, but a few parallels are there. It’s something to think about. For the record, I’m STILL not happy the Steelers passed on Novorro Bowman twice in 2010 (excluding in the 1st round when they smartly took Pouncey). I thought he would be a beast in the NFL and I’m right. Bowman is one of the best young linebackers in the game playing in San Francisco’s 3-4 ‘D.’

  • mghjr88

    Tomlin seems to covet a player with similarities to former Buccaneer linebacker Derrick Brooks

    I think Spence could bulk up and be a great weapon at inside linebacker, but he really looks like he would need to add a considerable amount of mass. I would be more than happy to see him transition to safety though. He displays all of the characteristics of a player that could thrive as the team’s current saefties have.

  • mghjr88

    Given Timmons is firmly placed at the “mack” spot, it really could make sense if the drafting of Spence was intended for an eventual position change.

    Could Timmons possibly play the “buck” role despite being a more ideal fit for the “mack”? Spence also doesn’t favorably translate to the “buck”, so that sceanario would seem ill-advised, just throwing it out there though

    It certainly would seem that a 3rd round pick would have a future other than backing up Lawrence Timmons

  • Jefferson St. Joe

    I could see Foote playing in the base; coming out in the nickel. Timmons moves to Farrior’s role on passing downs with Spence moving in to his role.

  • Timmons isn’t an ideal fit for mack or buck. That is just where he fits us best. He is ideal as an 4-3 OLB, and I think that is what he was drafted for when Tomlin wanted to use the Tampa 2.

  • I’d transition Spence to Right Inside Linebacker like the Niners have with NaVorro Bowman. Keep Timmons right where he is. Spence might seem small, but he isn’t that much smaller than Bowman. As far as height goes, I’ve seen him in the 5’11” to 6’0″ range (maybe Miami is being kind with 6’0″, I dunno). Then as far as weight goes, anywhere in the 230-235 range. Plays faster than his timed speed. He should be able to add on some bulk (another 10 pounds or so) without too much of an issue. Bowman is only listed at 6’0″ and 242 pounds and he was great for the Niners. I’m not sure size is as big an issue as some will make it out to be as long as he adds a few pounds to his frame.

  • He’s definitely too small to play OLB.

  • On the Spence pick, I don’t really like it either. It’s pretty curious. Maybe they do intend to move him to SS.

  • mghjr88

    Right. That’s pretty much what I am trying to say, Timmons is utilized best playing the “mack” role. I don’t know about the part pertaining to Tomlin and the Tampa 2 though.

    Certainly he’s biased to 4-3, but I don’t believe the team intended to draft Timmons in hopes of playing him at outside linebacker and switching to a 4-3 scheme.

  • I think he definitely intended to install the Tampa 2 until he realized how effective our 3-4 is. Timmons’ whole draft was geared toward 4-3.

  • mokhkw

    Exactly what I was thinking, maybe even a 3-5-3 in the red-zone or short yardage with Troy playing a FS role & the “SS” role being alternated between Timmons & Spence?

    Or a 3-4-4 with Timmons & Spence at ILB on passing downs vs 2 TE/2 WR/1 RB sets?

  • TsarPepe

    Scouts say he’s not fluid in the hips to play the SS position. Take that FWIW

  • Csidhilall

    Didn’t Troy play LB at USC?

  • Harold

    This might be the best article I’ve read all month. On numerous occasions this past year, LeBeau introduced what I will call a “3 safety package” with Clark, Mundy, and Polamalu, all on the field at the same time. I believe part of that philosophy was to give opposing offenses a different look (confuse them) when they line up in double TE sets. LeBeau is likely dreaming up new defensive alignments as we speak, and Spence may be part of that.

    Spence doesn’t have to “replace” Timmons or Polamalu, he could play “along side” them. You can call him a LB or a SS or a hybrid, I don’t care. The fact is Spence can play inside the box and has the instincts to adjust equally well to run plays or short pass plays.

    Lastly, if you look at how the Ravens attack us now it’s… “Short” out passes to the TE. “Short” crossing passes to the TE/WR. “Short” passes to the RB in the flat. (Then mix in an occasional deep ball.) I believe the best way to defend these short passes is to jam the hell out of them on the L.O.S., or play slightly off and then close hard on them when they make their first cut. A LB is much better suited to due that than a CB. And a SS/LB hybrid is even better suited. I think it’s highly possible Spence ends up playing a position that technically doesn’t exist right now.

    But perhaps the biggest reason to draft Spence is what’s between his ears. He is very intelligent. Captain-like intelligent. Who cares if you get Nigel Bradham-like measureables if he’s not smart enough to master LeBeau’s scheme he’s not getting on the field anyways (example: the 3-year Timmons pre-contribution training program).

  • Chrispaciello

    I think this pick is the product of a changing NFL, a pass happy league. You need guys who can cover slot receivers better and running backs and at the same time play well against the run.

  • Ty019

    This guy is a blitz happy steeler. I didn’t see him shed blockers in his highligt film. he mostly navigated through traffic and has a terrific burst. I see him more in the role of timmona, but a better blitzer. Imagine he and timmons side by side against the 2 te New England Patriots. They can match up with the 2 TE and blitz either player. I don’t know if he is fast enough based on 40 time to play ss, but based on film I see either ILB or SS. Great Pick

  • SteelersBall

    As a Steelers fan, the idea of Troy not always being superman on the field, makes me a little sad. Moving along past that…. Thought I would check Troys 2003 draft year stats. The 5’10 safety weighed 207 during that year, had a 40 time was as low as 4.35. Wow that is Mike Wallace fast, no wonder he looks fast on the field.


    Bill Parcels stated recently that if he were still coaching, he would transition to using 1 Safety and 3 CBs to counter the NE style offense which is becoming more trendy, which you mention.

  • SteelersBall

    Another comparison, this time to James Harrison. Mr Harrison was 5-feet-11½, his 40-yard dash time was 4.85 (how does he get to the QB being that slow LOL). Mr Harrison’s current weight is listed as 242 pounds ( guessing lighter in college).

    Seems to me that SS might be more like James than Troy.

  • Jesse

    What player come to mind when I think of Sean Spence ,BOB SANDERS, who used to play for the Colts, the video dosen,t lie, steelers did there home work, that why they choose him.

  • SteelersBall

    BTW. I got to confess my love for Mr James “Hero” Harrison.

  • SteelersBall

    Very interesting. Harrison too had to put in the years before becoming a starter… I would not be surprised if Spence had to wait a few years learning the program and putting on 11 pounds more muscle weight.

    I have heard that Tim Tebow is difficult to tackle, well Spence put it on Tebow. Hope the Jets don’t read this, never mind – Tebow will remember.

  • Jb

    I hope the Pittsburgh GM/Coaches have something up their sleeve with their 3rd round selection from this draft. I have seen too many, seemingly, long shots taken at linebackers in past drafts. Colbert seems to make some smart draft choices early, but then he seems to always have the 2nd,3rd, or 4th round pick(s) that he swings for the fences. These gambles have been for different positions. Now, the team has gotten a few right… example, of course, is last year’s pick of Gilbert. It seemed like a little shaky of a pick for the second round, but, so far, it has turned into a solid choice.

    However, when it comes to the linbackers think of all that Colbert has taken flyers on the past several drafts and most have been busts, or just marginal players. Woodley has been the only real recent winner… correct? And some might even question that. Timmons is okay, but certainly not great. Harrison was someone the team kept trying to get rid of, until they could clearly see his abilities. Joey Porter was good to real good, and Farrior was a very nice free agent pick-up. Like I said earlier, “way too many misses.”

    It’s good to think out of the box, I like people who think out of the box. Having said that, when you take a chance you need to be right more often than not. Otherwise, “stay” with the BPA selection!

  • He’s too slow for Safety.

    You can’t teach him the speed he would need for safety but you can bulk him up and since Mychal Kendricks from Cal is the same height and outweighs him by a couple of pounds I think he is a perfect fit as an ILB who covers TE’s and RB’s.

    The 3-4 needs a little adjustment away from complete run dominance and towards a slightly more balanced defense. Bagging the run stopping ILB and having both guys fast enough to cover is the best way to react to the new NFL passing emphasis.

  • Dave

    I think the 5’11.3″ number is scaring people off. Just call it 6’0″ like they do with James Harrison. His listed weight is the same as Stevenson Sylvester, same as Farrior’s playing weight, within a couple pounds of Timmon’s rookie listed weight.

    In the NFL today, you need a guy who can cover more than you need a 265lb thumper who is a liability against the pass.

  • SteelersDepot

    Don’t judge him on a 40 time. Watch the tape as he plays much faster.

  • absolute59

    Dave: Kudo’s on being the first sports blogger to incorporate the sayings of that great philosopher Ronnie Mund (Howard Stern’s limo driver/security guard for those who don’t listen) with the “whoa whoa whoa stop the clock” line.

  • SteelersBall

    Yea, Spence & the position selection was a real curve ball. I was just reviewing the stats for Spence, if the Steelers were seeking LB, then appears that he might have been the BPA for the position. I am still surprised, however the guys looks to have some nice upside. Too bad he was injured during the combine.

  • sweetleb

    maybe he just a guy who can cover rb, te, and anyone a spread offense throws out their on a pass play.this could be the new prototype “linebacker” in the new pass happy nfl.

  • Really?

    Ok, I have to say something. Over the past weeks this site has been losing a lot of its sensible credibility with far left, illogical post like this one. How is it more logical to move a linebacker to safety than it is to move Timmons to buck ILB? Timmons is definitely moving into the buck position as our best and highest paid linebacker. Foote played mack behind Farrior for years and Sylvester is horrible at taking on blocks. Timmons weighs 250 and is now experienced on the inside of our defense he is moving to buck. Sean Spence moving to back up Troy Polamalu? That’s something I’d expect to see on CBSsports. I think I’m going to stop coming here.

  • SteelersDepot

    Ok, thanks for coming.Never said he WAS going to move to SS by the way, just that he plays a lot like a SS. Be well in your travels.

  • guest

    Too often, as fans, we get caught up in position a guy plays. Sean Spence is one heck of a football player! Who cares what position he plays!? My prediction is he will be a defensive starter sooner than later. I don’t give a crap what position label you give him! He will be 1 of our top 11 defensive players, so therefore he will be on the field.

  • Ronin

    He actually reminds me a lot of London Fletcher. Fletcher is only 5’10” and he tackles everything that moves. Spence is right around Farrior’s playing weight and nobody ever said he played too light.

  • Moses

    How about this…

    I see this as Keith Butler’s pick all the way. Linebackers don’t start year one, blah, etc. When he installs HIS flavor of the defense when he takes over as DC, I bet he’ll be a perfect fit. Chess, not checkers.

  • SteelersDepot

    Don’t get so caught up with the SS tag, as much as the point I am trying to get across that Spence plays quite a bit like Polamalu when he is used down inside the box. Not looking at Spence as a deep safety type, just that he is more hybrid in nature.

  • mghjr88

    What is the source of your James Harrison 40 time information???????

  • mghjr88

    Kam Chancellor anyone?

    Different but similar

  • SteelersBall

    CBS history on James Harrison. Sorry I did not save the link. Also not to be confused with any other James Harrison.

  • SteelersBall
  • mghjr88

    Thanks for the link much appreciated

  • SteelersBall

    You are welcome. It was a difficult stat to find.

  • Thomas

    Whats the difference between Wagner, Hendricks and Spence?

  • mokhkw

    So is Elvis Dumervill, yet he managed to lead the NFL in sacks a few years ago playing OLB in a 3-4. 🙂

    Too small and slow for ILB? Sounds just like Sam Mills, Zach Thomas, London Fletcher etc. Sam Mills was a perfect example of why measurables mean little compared to football instincts. He was barely 5’9″, barely 230lbs and barely under 4.8 40-time – and a 4 time Pro Bowler.