Third-year inside linebacker Sean Spence put on the pads yesterday for the first time in nearly two years. He hardly slept, and his emotions were running rampant in anticipation for the next milestone in getting his career off the ground.
His head coach felt no such anxiety, at least that he would cop to.
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after practice he didn’t really think about Spence’s first practice in pads much at all, because “we’ve had a great deal of comfort in where Sean is for some time”.
I probably went to those feelings of emotion when he came out in the spring and really showed his capabilities in terms of movement and control of his body and redirecting. I really didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about it or looking at him today. I know he was glad to be back out there and had a smile on his face.
After the day’s proceedings, Spence should have those same feelings of comfort after confirming that his knee will hold up under live fire.
Reports have been positive about Spence all spring, talking about how he’s been quick on the field and always around the ball, and he ended minicamp with an interception that he transported into the end zone.
But that was all without the pads, during “football in shorts”. Yesterday was football, and not just “football-like”. And he passed the test.
He was active during the day according to reports. Jim Wexell Tweeted that he “looked as fast as he did in the spring”, and that he still looked “instinctive”, which was perhaps his greatest asset prior to his injury.
He managed to make a play or two during the day behind the line during 11-on-11 drills, and he took on the backs on backers drill with enthusiasm.
“Soon as I got the first hit, I was good to go,” he said. He said that he was glad to finally just be a football player again. For too long now, he has simply been a story, albeit a comeback story.
But it wasn’t his story. He wasn’t the one writing it. The story was about him, but it wasn’t his. Now he’s picked up the pen, and he’s ready to take authorship of the next chapter.
He may not have had that chance if the Steelers hadn’t kept the faith in him and hosted his rehabilitation for the past two years with no tangible returns on the field.
Spence knows that it’s time to start repaying that gratitude, which will probably take shape on special teams.