Sean Spence Says He Will Know During OTAs If He Can Play

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Sean Spence has been a topic of discussion since he was drafted, but for the better part of the past two years, it’s gravitated around what ifs, and whether he would ever even be able to play, after tearing up his knee in his rookie preseason.

As we all know, linebackers coach Keith Butler said last year that it would be miraculous if he were able to play this season, let alone last year, but he has recently conceded that it’s getting miraculous, and we’re only seeing more and more of that now that OTAs have gotten underway.

The team of Bob Labriola and Mike Prisuta wrapped up the opening round of OTAs during a segment on the team website recently, and their accounts of Spence’s on-field performance affirm previous reports that he looks fluid out on the field, maybe even as though he were never injured. It reminded Labriola of the way he looked back in 2012:

One of the things that really stood out to me [about him] as a rookie, before he injured his knee in that fourth preseason game against Carolina, was how he was able to find the football, and how sudden he was in showing up there. I really can’t remember back that far how quickly he was there and whether he’s as quick now as he was then, or is he half a step slower; I don’t know how to gauge that just yet.

But I did notice a couple of different times, as you’re watching 11-on-11, and the ball would go to one side of the field or the other…you see a bunch of gold jerseys there, and you look at the numbers to see who was there first, and 51 was there pretty quickly on more than one occasion. So it looks like what Sean Spence had that made him special as a rookie, he hasn’t lost all of that.

Spence, of course, dons the number 51 once worn by a recent Steelers great at inside linebacker, James Farrior. But maybe the most interesting piece of information culled from this segment was something that Prisuta relayed that Spence said in response to the numerous times that he was asked if he has to wait until training camp to really know if he would actually be able to play:

The really intriguing part to me regarding Sean Spence is…he’s been asked “are you really going to have to wait until training camp to know whether you’re back or not” and he said, in his words, “ no, I think I’ll find out right now if I can run and cut and do all the things that I’ll have to do on my knee. I know how to play in pads”.

So, evidently, Spence already knows, or should know soon, whether or not he feels his body is ready and capable of resuming the actual game of football, as opposed to “football in shorts”, as Mike Tomlin would say. And the signs seem to be pointing in the positive direction. As Labriola stated:

When Ryan Shazier learns a little bit more about the defense and it comes down to competing for a spot, Sean Spence might be the guy he’s competing with. We’re talking about Vince Williams as the incumbent starter there, at least for 11 games last year, but if Sean Spence really is back and is feeling like himself, that could be an interesting battle.

Spence does have one advantage on both of his fellow young inside linebackers, and that’s a more intimate understanding of the nuances of the defense. Even if he’s had to learn it from the sidelines, he’s been watching it now heading into his third offseason, and is capable of running it. This idle time over the past two years has certainly not seen Spence sitting idly by:

“I think it slowed the game down for me a lot. I’m picking up things a lot easier now, being able to watch for two years, correcting other people’s mistakes and not making the same mistakes on the field”.

For the first time in quite a while, the conversation about Sean Spence is finally back to just football. Now, we have a chance to look at where he’ll fit into this defense and speculate about what type of role he’ll have. He even has an opportunity, conceivably, to compete for a starting spot.

The Steelers talked about entering this offseason not expecting anything out of Spence, and anything they get out of him is just the cherry on top. That outlook helped lead them to Shazier in the first round, and now we get the cherry as well.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • Labrat0116

    Can you imagine Troy, Shazier, Spence and Thomas on the field at the SAME time ??

  • whisn

    …only if JJ doesn’t perform, they put shazier outside and have spence inside,..otherwise that fantasy will remain just that;-)

  • joed32

    Situational packages? Shazeer can’t play outside on possible running plays.

  • blue

    Steelers special teams shows major improvement in 2014 with Spence leading the way

  • ApexSteel

    Shazier would do as well outside as Timmons did…

  • Steel PAul

    I believe LeBeau is already working on new packages to get some of these guys all on the field at the same time. How about this:

    Two down lineman (Cam and Mac) with JJ and Worilds outside of them creating 4 lineman. Then, LT in the middle with Shaz and Spence outside of him, having 5 LB’s on the field at one time.

  • Steel PAul

    ABsolutely! Should be fun to watch if Spence can truly make it back.

  • Nolrog

    Speed gives them options.

  • falconsaftey43

    It does give them some options if jj doesnt perform or if he or worilds get hurt. Could give some 4-3 looks with Mac and thomas or tuitt at DT then heyward and one of the olbs at DE. Then have timmons spence shazier and williams to play at the 3 lb spots.

  • Would be incredible!! If worilds gets injuried. Timmons (can play any LB) or Shazir can play OLB!! Both of them are better at pass rush than spence!
    Dream scenario for me would be Jarvis/Shazir OLB Timmons/Spence MLB — we would have the best Starting LBs in the NFL.
    Many of your are high on Worilds. I am not sold on him. He has above average season last year but I always thought it was a product of the players around him. Hardly ever got doubled..
    Can’t wait for Shamarko to unleash

  • dgh57

    Timmons was given a chance at OLB his rookie year and since then he’s been playing Mack ILB so that should tell you how that experiment went. Timmons will be given his chance at the Buck ILB position since the drafting of Shazier and it’s yet to be proven he can handle the job. Personally, I think he can but it’s not written in stone as of yet. I’m pretty sure Shazier played ILB at the College level and he doesn’t have the frame to play outside. It’s easier said then done when it comes to moving players around.

  • joed32

    That’s what I mean, Timmons was pretty bad.

  • Big White

    Spence is important for two reasons. 1) He could be a real asset, because a 53 man roster forces teams to have depth. 2) I think it’s important for other players to see that the Steelers will stand behind someone going through some serious diversity.

  • ApexSteel

    1. It would absolutely not be incredible.
    2. Timmons can not play any linebacker position. He was the OLB at the beginning of the 2012 season and he played awful. He is strictly Mack or Buck

    3. Shazier along with Timmons is too small to play OLB
    4. You’re putting too much stock into Spence. He’s looked good in OTAs that’s it. The fact that you’re seemingly sold on Spence, but not Worilds is ridiculous. Worilds has produced and we have seen Spence play in 3 and a half preseason games 2 years ago.

    5. You may not be sold on Worilds, but he is by far the best OLB we have on our roster. There’s a reason why last year we had Jarvis go into coverage on 3rd downs and Woirlds was the pass rusher. To add to that his sack numbers have increased every season he’s been in the league from 2 to 3 to 5 then to 8 last season.

    6. He wasn’t a product of the players around him. He got to the QB consistently on 4 man rushes on Ziggy Hood’s side.

  • Steeler Fanatic

    The guy nobody is talking about is S. Thomas… I think he is going to play a hybrid-safety slot CB. I wouldnt be surprised if he is their nickel over Gay. they are one young corner from finishing the youth movement on defense.

  • Steeler Fanatic

    I am with you… Worilds has always been productive when he has been healthy. I think what jones getting shortchanged on is that is going up against the opposition’s top tackle. He is a playmaker, he just has to get comfortable this year… The sacks will come.

  • Ahmad

    So you’re talking about a 2-5 defense or a hybrid 4-3. Sounds pretty cool to me!

  • Steel PAul

    Exactly! I see the OLBs standing. So 2-5.

    It’s fun to think about with all the talent they have in this unit.

  • Ike Evans

    Im calling it right now. Note it. Spence, wheaton and shark are all going beast mode for this team going forward. Those are the three i have 0 doubts about. Im praying to god jarvis does too but im not as certain as i am about these guys…spence is going to force his way on the field even if they start shaz “i know how to play in pads” that just got me so hype. Work that hard to come bak and stll have that much confidence? I give it to that kid im not betting against him

  • Ike Evans

    Not true….dime packages….shaz or spence can play dime linebacker like troy last year and the other one will still be in..both would be on the field

  • Ike Evans

    Agree with u about worilds

  • Ike Evans

    They need to talk about shark

  • My stock in spence is from what I watched when he was at Miami. If he’s fully healthy he’s fast and always around the ball.
    As for Worilds, he has time to really prove me wrong. Which I hope he does! But he doesn’t give me that Porter,Harrison,Woodley presence out there. I am looking forward to see him play an entire season (hopefully) and see him ball out.