Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Sean Spence appears to be on the verge of accomplishing something quite rare at this level of athletic competition: to make a roster after spending his first two seasons unable to participate due to injury.
We all know his story by now, and are brimming with excitement to be finally reaching that next chapter, but it’s worth revisiting now, at the turning of the page.
Spence was a third-round selection of the Steelers in the 2012 NFL Draft. That preseason, he played well, and flashed the potential on the field that many believed he possessed when he was drafted, despite his size.
Then, in the final preseason game, when he was chasing down a play, his foot planted awkwardly into the grass, bending his knee backward. The injury was so severe that the medical staff took the precaution of putting his leg in an air cast before attempting to remove him from the field.
Naturally, he decimated the wide variety of ligaments in his knee. However, he also suffered a kneecap dislocation, which resulted in damage to the peroneal nerve, located behind the kneecap, which helps control the leg’s mobility.
Over much of the past two years, there was great concern over whether Spence would ever be able to play again. Last year, there was a brief glimmer of hope when he was able to participate in a few practices while on the Physically Unable to Perform List, but because of a broken finger, the Steelers had to shut him down again.
Spence later described that finger injury as a blessing in disguise, as it allowed him to use the time in the interim to strengthen his knee, to regain full mobility and range of motion, and perhaps most importantly, to regain the confidence necessary to execute the athletic maneuvers that are a prerequisite of the game.
When linebackers coach Keith Butler was asked about whether or not Spence was expected to be able to play in 2013 during that year’s draft, he said it would be miraculous if he were even able to play the following year.
This year? He finally relinquished, and admitted that it was beginning to feel a bit miraculous, during the 2014 NFL Draft.
And the offseason process has done nothing to dissuade that miraculous feeling that has been building for some time. Bob Labriola noted in his observations that there were certain players who always seemed to be around the ball during the scrimmages at OTAs. Sean Spence was one of those players.
And just to drive the point home that he is on his way back, Spence picked off a Landry Jones pass during minicamp and returned it for a touchdown.
Now, we may be talking about practice here, but it’s worth keeping in mind the perspective that even these scrimmages were far beyond Spence’s capabilities not that long ago.
With every step forward that he takes, that’s one step closer to him returning to the field, and there’s no shortage of people who have been waiting for that moment for closing in on two years now. The next step on that road back begins today.