I wish I could say this is from this year's OTA's, but alas this photo is from last seasons training camp. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Should Steelers Sean Spence Sit Out Even If 'Ready'?

Steelers young linebacker, Sean Spence, suffered a severe knee injury during his last pre-season game against the Carolina Panthers last year.  The three ligament tears, dislocated knee, and nerve damage was so severe, that many began to speculate that Spence’s career ended before it could even really begin.  The wonderment of modern medical science and advanced training programs have given Spence a fighting chance to return to the football field.  There are whispers that he could return just a year after suffering the injury, while others feel that he won’t be ready for quite some time.  But, even if Spence is ‘ready’ sometime in 2013, how soon is too soon?

Currently, the coaches can’t even seem to agree on when Spence will be ready for some full speed contact.  Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin, spoke about Spence’s readiness prior to the draft and said that the linebacker was progressing as planned.  Yet, if you ask linebacker coach Keith Butler, he’ll tell you there’s no way Spence is seen between the sidelines in 2013.  Spence says that he is ready, and that it’s only a matter of time before he plays in a game.

The goal is for me to play this season.  That’s the way I’m preparing…. I know a lot of people have not been able to come back after damage like that, but I’m going to see if I can be one of the only ones.  Actually, I know that I’m going to beat the odds. I’m not really worried about that….. You do want to play it safe, in a situation like this, but at the same time if I’m good enough to go, I’m gonna go.  I probably will take things slow, but I have trust myself in doing what I know I can do. And if I think I can go, I’ll go.

Sounds wonderful and inspirational from Spence, but I’m pretty sure it will be up to team doctors, specialists, and coaches to determine when he hits the field.  I guess, really, we have Adrian Peterson to blame for all of this ‘come back quickly from a knee injury and have an near record breaking MVP season the following year.’  That certainly is the trend lately with injuries of at any level of severity.  Advancements in surgical procedures and the chem labs finding that ‘legal comeback cocktail’ (ahem Ray Lewis in 2012), are making what appear to be career ending injuries just another blip on the radar.  I know that just about everyone in Steeler Nation is hoping for the same kind of comeback from team MVP Heath Miller.

I don’t think Spence is taking anything like deer antler extract to quicken his recovery.  At this point, since he feels he’s just about ready, his juncture of recovery is more about getting that knee to handle the explosiveness from taking off into a dead sprint or taking a hit in the leg.  The first half is easy to train for, the second is the scary one and might be where Butler’s caution is rooted.  I admire the organization for sticking with this kid for so long.  They truly are invested in him and still believe he can do great things on this defense despite the knee.  But, with the coaching staff being split on when they think Spence will be ready, should they just go and sit him a little longer just to be sure?

I think this falls along the same lines as the old practice of sitting starters near the ends of games that become either blowouts or have no affect on playoff seeding near the end of the season – see Rob Gronkowski.  If a guy is healthy enough to play football, then he should play football, right?  Or is preservation in order to ensure they are around for the ‘important’ games?  I have mixed feelings about this kind of thinking (an injury can happen at ANY time, so what’s the point?) just as much as I have mixed feelings for sitting out Spence a little longer.  If he’s ready within the first few weeks of the season, play him.  Not every down, of course, but in situations where he would do well – like passing downs.  That’s how he was supposed to start on this defense anyways.  Leave him off special teams so that there’s less risk to that knee, but play him when you can and when he wants to.  Harness his drive to want to succeed and overcome this injury.

Let him think he can become the next AP.


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