Injured Steelers LB Spence expects to play in 2013AP , Associated Press
May. 29, 2013 4:19 PM ET
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sean Spence's coaches appear split over whether the linebacker's mangled left knee will be ready to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2013.
Spence, however, has no such concerns.
"The goal is for me to play this season," Spence said Wednesday during organized team activities. "That's the way I'm preparing."
Though he declined to mark a specific return date, Spence insists he can see the finish line for his recovery from a gruesome injury that cut short his rookie year before it even began. Spence was blitzing late in the third quarter of the team's final preseason game against Carolina when his knee gave out and bent awkwardly.
The third-round pick out of Miami (Fla.) needed to be taken off the field on a stretcher after tearing all three major ligaments and sustaining extensive nerve damage in the knee.
"I knew right away that something wasn't right," Spence said. "The knee went back. It didn't hurt as much as I thought it should have hurt, but I think I was in shock more than anything."
So were the Steelers, who were hoping Spence could become the eventual successor to James Farrior at inside linebacker. Instead he spent all of Pittsburgh's disappointing 8-8 season wearing a brace and wondering if his career was in jeopardy.
That doesn't appear to be an issue anymore. At least, not to Spence.
"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," he said. "Actually, I know that I'm going to beat the odds. I'm not really worried about that."
Spence's coaches can't seem to agree. Coach Mike Tomlin said before last month's draft that Spence was progressing as planned but linebackers coach Keith Butler appeared to be more cautious, indicating there would be little chance of Spence playing this season, if at all.
The Steelers re-signed veteran Larry Foote in the offseason and grabbed Florida State's Vince Williams in the sixth round of the draft. Williams is considered a project while Foote turns 33 next month. Spence remains very much a part of Pittsburgh's long-term plans. He would just prefer to be a part of the short-term one as well.
Though Spence says he can run and "do everything," he will not be on the field during OTAs or minicamp. His goal is to be ready when training camp opens in July but that seems a bit ambitious. Spence allows that might be too soon, but he doesn't see himself sitting out the year again.
"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," he said. "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."
Spence was a tackling machine for the Hurricanes, making 317 stops in four seasons, including 10.5 sacks. His speed makes him an asset in coverage and when he was drafted, the Steelers saw an opportunity to pair him with veteran Lawrence Timmons in the middle of Pittsburgh's 3-4 scheme.
It's too soon to tell if Spence's burst will return, but he is using the downtime to become a better student of the game. Adjusting from college to defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's complex system can be difficult for the most talented players. Spence hopes the studying he's done over the last year will help speed up the process whenever he puts the shoulder pads back on.
"I think I'm up to speed, and I know this defense pretty well," he said. "I'm still learning from guys like Larry Foote. I sit next to him in meetings, so he helps me out a lot. And I'm taking a lot of mental reps on the field, so I'm learning from them as well.
"They're almost as good as physical reps."
NOTES: Steelers S Ryan Clark returned to voluntary workouts on Wednesday after skipping Tuesday's session ... Veteran CB Ike Taylor and S Troy Polamalu were absent for the second straight day after attending all three sessions last week.