Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said a little over a year ago that it would be miraculous if then-second-year linebacker Sean Spence would be able to take the field the following season, let alone during 2013.
Spence, of course, suffered a severe knee injury in August of 2012 when his leg bent backward awkwardly during a preseason game. He tore multiple ligaments in the knee and suffered damage to the peroneal nerve as a result of the dislocation of the kneecap.
Even though he started the season on the Physically Unable to Perform List last year, however, he did practice, and head coach Mike Tomlin was encouraged by what he saw. It’s possible, but unknown, that he would have been able to be on the roster last year, if not contribute in same shape or form, if given the opportunity.
But he also broke his finger in his first practice, which required surgery and landed him on injured reserve once again.
After the injury occurred and he found out that it would require surgery, he said that he went home and cried, and then cried himself to sleep that night. But now, in hindsight, he calls the injury a blessing in disguise.
It was a blessing because it gave Spence the opportunity to get his knee in better shape before trying to make his return to football:
It gave me more time to heal, more time to learn. The knee held up pretty good last year when the bullets started flying in practice and that was my first time having contact in a year. It felt good on my knee. It didn’t bother me much. This offseason I had more time to train and rehab and going through the offseason workouts I felt good.
Now, Spence is off the training wheels, doing everything that everybody else is doing, interacting with his teammates on the field instead of being isolated in the rehab room. His football life is returning to a state of normalcy, and he couldn’t be happier about it.
“I can’t wait to be coached again”, he said, “to be part of the meetings, when coach is talking and you feel like he is talking to you. Just all of things I missed make me appreciate it even more now”.
The injury and the rehabilitation process changed him, he said. “It made me look at the game differently, appreciate it more and I am just excited to get back to playing again”.
Still, returning to the football field is just the first step, and he’s still got a long way to go to get back on track of where his career to this point might have been had he never suffered that injury.
For starters, he’ll need to earn his keep on special teams, all the while eyeing a battle for a starting job at inside linebacker with incumbent Vince Williams and rookie first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier. There’s no telling what role he’ll ultimately play this season, but considering how far he’s come to reach this point, I’ll not be the one to put a ceiling on how much he can achieve.