The Optimist’s Take – Sean Spence As The Wildcard

By Matthew Marczi

For a team facing so much adversity in the past season and heading into the next with a litany of questions to address, it’s natural to consider the issues and how they can either go right or wrong, as well as how they will affect  the broader dynamics and future success of the team, both heading into this season and into the future.

Though not statistically true, it is technically true that every team enters the offseason with the potential to finish the year as the league champion or as the first team on the clock in the next draft.

Some teams have a wider realistic range than others, and I think the Pittsburgh Steelers are one of those teams. Think of them as Schrödinger’s franchise; in February, they are both future champions and future owners of the top draft pick.

In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.

Question: Can Sean Spence possibly make a significant contribution to the Steelers this season?

Sean Spence may be the most popular player in team history that has never taken a snap in a regular season game before. It seemed the more the Steelers’ fan base learned about him, the more they embraced him.

That is largely why it was such a gut punch—beyond what it would normally have been for anybody, of course—to see him go down with that gruesome knee injury at the end of his first preseason.

Since that time, everybody, including Spence, has been left to play the waiting game. Not only did he tear multiple ligaments in his knee, the dislocation of his knee cap also resulted in nerve damage that is never guaranteed to heal, let alone fully heal. That is what lead linebackers coach Keith Butler to use the term “miracle” during this past draft when asked what it would take for Spence to play in 2013.

Of course, he didn’t play in 2013, but at least he wasn’t immediately placed on injured reserve. He spent the first six weeks on the physically unable to perform list and then had a window of three weeks to practice.

Unfortunately, he suffered an unrelated setback when he broke a finger, which forced him to miss time and limited what he was able to do in practice, and ultimately helped lead him back to the injured reserve list.

It’s been reported that Spence is training in Miami, where he played in college, at Bommarito Performance Systems, which, if nothing else, shows how dedicated Spence himself is in trying to return. He has already lost two seasons of his career, so nobody wants to see him back on the field more than himself.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert also recently said that the organization was encouraged about where Spence is in his rehab. That is, however, considering where he had been, and shouldn’t be taken to mean that he is nearly ‘recovered’. Indeed, he later went on to say that it would be naïve to think he was “over the hump”.

That is certainly quite true, but given the near strictly positive trajectory of his recovery over the past year, and the fact that he was able to practice and train last season without obvious ill effects on his knee, it could be difficult not to get enthusiastic about the prospects of him re-joining the team in a football capacity.

We saw glimpses of his football instincts and athleticism during his rookie preseason. He appears to be a highly intelligent football player with a great understanding of the game, so I do not believe that he should have fallen far behind when it comes to keeping up with the mental aspects of football.

Indeed, I’m sure he’s been buried in the defense, which is why Butler described him the way he did, and talked about why the organization was so ready and willing to do whatever they can and to wait on a player, and a person, like Spence. While it would be foolish to bank on him contributing this season, or even next season, until proven otherwise, the optimist in me can’t help but be a little excited about his chances.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Matt Manzo

    By now we should at least know if he can still run and cut, right?
    He practiced a few days with us, he’s clearly training right now. I’m confused by the dead foot; does he or doesn’t he have it?

  • Jonathon Bert Schade

    If he can play…the D is BAAACK !

  • Ike Evans

    Its all about the knee and if it affected his speed and quickness….because he’s been in this system going on 3 years so he knows it and won’t have to think as much when hr gets on the field…but that knee…what did the time off do to his physical ability? If he and Jarvis work out…..its alllllllllllllll good…if not then its gonna take longer then ppl are expecting for us to start contending again

  • Jason

    Not trying to be negative but how can you say that considering we’ve never seen him play a snap of meaningful NFL football. A 100% healthy Spence would surely be a welcomed sight in camp but he alone will not return this defense to it’s dominating self. Many other things need to fall into place, including a defense heavy draft.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    This is what you call the optimists take? Cautiously optimistic maybe. Mildly pessimistic if the reader is a homer.

    I was most encouraged by Colbert’s use of the word very and the idea that he appeared to have recovered his speed when he broke his hand.

    The optimists take is that he has maintained his speed and proven his durability and recovery ability through his workouts since the hand injury. If his legs are ready to go he’ll take the other ilb spot and that has big implications for the draft and team overall.

    I would take Mosley at this point but a healthy Spence would allow us to fix the linebackers and still use the first pick for the top TE, CB or safety.

    I think he would be way ahead of a draft choice so a healthy Spence is like another 1st round pick.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I have to think they have a pretty good idea at this point. He’s been working out for a long time since he regained his speed. Durability is always going to be a concern but he’s either bascvk or he’s not by now.

    The drop foot was just the risk the injury carries as opposed to an assessment of a current question.

  • Jonathon Bert Schade

    A defense-heavy draft will mean…….a lot of rookies sitting on the bench. If Spence can play in certain situations, he will make a difference and with Williams and Jones more seasoned, who knows?

  • charles

    Agree with Spence being ahead of a draft choice and, if he is half of our expectations then you are right, Spence, Williams, and Timmons and we have a solid center. I can’t agree with your draft suggestion. What keeps the Steelers out of the playoffs is no pass rush. We seriously need a franchise DL to complement Heyward. Draft 7 DL. Sign practice squad DLs from other teams…Nose would be a gift from the Super Bowl Gods.

  • LayDownTheHammer

    Yes, the nerve regenerates quickly in a young patient like him so the foot drop won’t be there. Hardest part for nerve regeneration is the quick/fast-twitch ability which will come last and with lots of time.

  • LayDownTheHammer

    We wish you all the best Sean, and we sincerely hope you stay with our team for a long long time. If everyone on the team, as well as the NFL, had the same amount of work ethic, passion, commitment, and drive as you do – despite your so unfortunate setback – then every team and the league would be a million times better for it. Warmest wishes for you buddy and we’re all supremely proud of you.

  • Steve

    This reminds me of Rocky Blier who was a war vet and came back with a bum leg. Rockey started out with the Steelers on Special Teams and did a fine job making a lot of tackles before joining the backfield with Franco Harris…..This will be a long way back for Spence. It will not be easy and there will be set backs. He will have to work hard and we will see how he does. We are all pulling for you.