The Pessimist’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 pessimistic side of the coin.

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

When the Steelers first re-signed Larry Foote after the 2009 season, there was an understanding that he would phase out James Farrior and serve as a bridge to the next generation at the Buck position.

The organization had hoped that that bridge would lead to Sean Spence, the slight but athletic and intelligent inside linebacker out of the Miami Hurricanes program. He showed a fair bit of flash and promise during his time on the field in the 2012 preseason as a rookie, but an ugly knee injury quickly ended that for the year.

As we would eventually learn, the damage was so extensive that it still legitimately jeopardizes his chances of having a successful athletic career. Part of that damage was to the peroneal nerve behind the knee cap, which doesn’t have the greatest success rate in terms of making a full recovery.

While Spence was able to practice some last season during his three-week window on the physically unable to perform list, and he continues to train on his own in Miami, there’s still much that we don’t know about his current condition.

General manager Kevin Colbert recently approached glowing levels of accolades that he attached to a single workout in practice Spence had during that time period, but it’s important to remember what the actual reaction was at that time.

The practice in question came on October 17, the day after he resumed practicing—it was also the day that he broke his hand, which limited him for the rest of his time before being placed on injured reserve. This was Mike Tomlin’s reaction the day after that practice, courtesy of Jim Wexell:

It was just a Wednesday practice. It definitely wasn’t NFL football. He did a nice job in practice but I don’t want to mislead you. You know how it is: it’s a Wednesday practice. Wednesday practices, from an intensity and speed standpoint, are not NFL football. He represented himself well for a Wednesday practice, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to go.

Here’s a video showing just what kind of things entail a “Wednesday practice” and what Spence was actually doing.

The reality is that we have yet to see much of anything in terms of Spence’s future availability to actually play in a live action football game. It’s likely that he hasn’t participated in much, if any, live contact in about a year and a half since his injury.

Even if he is eventually receptive to live contact, there’s still no guaranteeing that he will be able to play efficiently, or at a high level. While he hasn’t necessarily been atrophying for the past year and a half, he’s been separated from the game for a long time now, without ever playing against starting-quality talent.

Assuming everything goes as planned, even if he has close to maximum speed and cutting ability despite the nerve damage he suffered, there’s simply no guaranteeing that he can actually come back and be a quality contributor on defense, let alone starting. But one thing is for sure: he’ll get every opportunity to do so.

The Optimist’s Take – Sean Spence As The Wildcard

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • pittsburghjoe

    I am starting to get really tired of all of this Spence talk. This guy has never played a down in the regular season, was drafted in the 3rd round, and had a catastrophic injury. People (not Marczi) seem to have unrealistic expectations about the guy. Even if he has recovered, he was not drafted in the first two rounds for a reason. Yeah, I know…. that does not mean 3rd rounders can’t be All-Pro or even HOF. But, cripe….why dont we just start talking about winning the lottery all of the time? If Spence pans out, the Steelers just hit the lottery. Don’t get me wrong, I hope he recovers and does well. If and when that metamorphosis occurs, I will be interested in resuming discussions. In the mean time, let’s put a lid on it. Merry Christmas everyone.

  • nicolaisim

    The pessimist in me still knows that if it doesent come back and plays this year, it wont be different from the last years. Im still optimistic though! I’ve had my fingers crossed for Spence for so long – the pain is getting to me. Now we’re 2 guys with nerve damage.
    Btw, I have a man-crush on coach Butler but those are some awful hands. Get it together coach! 🙂

  • Dutchess Hershberger

    spence is done lets be realistic, move Jarvis to the buck position which first him perfectly, keep Woodley at a reduced rate and sign worilds long term that’s four good solid backers to start, and for the love of god get rid of CHRIS CARTER they guy takes up space

  • HoustonJr

    Buzz Killington in the house, everyone. Spence seems like a great kid and I personally am holding out hope as long as the Steelers keep him on their roster.

  • SteelersDepot

    Move Jarvis inside? Are you serious? Hopefully you are just being sarcastic.

  • Milliken Steeler

    So the stenosis worries and the ” he is to light” arguments go away when you move him inside and into even more contact by big, road grading lineman more often?

  • Matt Manzo

    There seem to be quite a few people who think he should be inside. I’ve been waiting for someone to argue it! Thank you for showing me that it’s not even a conversation. I have enough to do this offseason.

  • RedCarpetDefense

    Spence reminds me of the Raven’s LB Sergio Kindle. Granted they had two entirely separate circumstances in regard to their injuries but the results of them are looking quite similar. Two talented guys coming out of college with loads of potential for success at the pro level but we’re just never able to recover effectively enough to play a meaningful down though Spence may still have time.

  • Kevin Gobleck

    How is Spence done? from what I’ve read he was going to play last year until he broke his hand, and he is already working down in Florida. I won’t count him out. Also Jarvis isn’t an Inside guy. Although I think the only thing I will agree with you on is that Carter has to go


    The window is already short for an NFL LB…while I applaud the patience of the Steelers here, Spence is starting to look a like a one contract player. I think they have move on by drafting another player they can count on at worst for ST play this season.


    IMO JJ does look more like a 4-3 OLB than he does a 3-4 OLB…maybe the year of strength training, and experience will make the difference.

    People forget that Timmons was drafted as an OLB as well.

  • Kevin Gobleck

    Yes he was drafted as an OLB but he had a completely different build than Jarvis


    No push back from me…I’m a GA guy, saw a lot of this player…of the UGA LBs, Ogletree was always the pick for me from an athletic standpoint…JJ is a good player, but the title to the thread drew me in…I’m concerned…he looked overmatched.

    LeBeau felt like he was on track…for now I’m rolling with that thought.

  • Kevin Gobleck

    Right now i feel like LeBeau is kind of like a mad genius, he has something planned for Jarvis but no one really know what that is exactly

  • Who is this Woodley you speak of?