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Spence pick signals need for speed & tackling in ‘pass-happy’ NFL

Let’s be real clear here right up front. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ third round draft pick Sean Spence is not going to jump into the inside linebacker spot recently vacated by the great James Farrior. Perhaps someday this will happen, but I firmly believe Spence was drafted for immediate need on special teams and perhaps in nickel and dime packages.

The National Football League game is changing and if you didn’t notice then I would like to welcome you back to Earth. This is a passing league now where defenses must no longer have two good cover cornerbacks, but three and possibly even four. Offenses continue to put faster and quicker guys in the slots and making sure you can cover them is a huge priority and this is why the Steelers drafted Spence.

At 5’ 11” 230lbs. the Miami of Florida product doesn’t exactly intimidate anyone with his size, but his game speed and tackling ability are on par with anyone and this is exactly why he was drafted. With that said, I fully expect the Steelers to see how much weight they can add to him without slowing him down while he learns the Steelers’ system.

Last season, the Steelers spent more than half of their time on defense in the nickel or dime package and that hurt guys like James Farrior. While Farrior no doubt knew where to be and who to cover, the fact was he just couldn’t hang with the athletic tight ends and running backs anymore which clearly led to release.

While I don’t expect Spence to see a whole lot of time on defense this season, it’s possible that load could gradually increase as the season progresses. I definitely expect to see him on nearly every special teams’ package so it’s not like he’s going to be collecting dust on the Heinz Field sideline. I don’t buy any of the speculation that the Steelers will ultimately move him to safety. This kid is a linebacker in every way possible and he fits exactly what the Steelers are looking for as they adjust to the ‘new’ NFL.

Where the Inside Linebackers Sit as of Today

When the Steelers open at Denver to begin the 2012 season, it’s expected Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons will be the two starters at the inside linebacker positions. This could be a make or break year for Stevenson Sylvester who will be the primary back-up. Linebackers coach Keith Butler claims Sylvester is close, but not quite ready to start. There has been some speculation that reserve outside linebacker Jason Worilds could be moved inside, but that has not been mentioned by Mike Tomlin or anyone else within the organization. Guys like Chris Carter, Marshall McFadden and James Hicks are also on the roster but are currently buried on the depth chart.

Spence has a tremendous opportunity in front of him and as a third round draft pick he’ll be afforded several chances to prove his worth to the Steelers. Make no mistake about it though, the selection of Spence was not motivated just by need but of desire to adjust to what offenses are throwing at the Steelers. If Spence can prove in the long run that he can make the proper adjustments and calls as well as stop the run, he could be in position for a nice career in Pittsburgh.

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