Pittsburgh Steelers third-year linebacker Sean Spence made his second start on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Unlike the week before, however, he played every snap of this game, although the defense played less in total.
Spence had never played a regular season game before this year after missing his first two seasons due to injury, so I wasn’t surprised to see that Steelers substituted for him on one drive the week before.
Although it was somewhat surprising that they substituted him with Vince Williams, which prompted Lawrence Timmons to shift over from the buck to the mack linebacker spot for the seven or so snaps he was in the game.
Nevertheless, Spence has shown that he can play a full game in the NFL now, and hold his own while doing it.
And just as that comes, rookie starter Ryan Shazier is set to resume practicing today. And from the sounds of the comments, it seems as though he will automatically resume his spot in the starting lineup when he returns.
I’m not sure that Spence can really do anything to change the coaching staff’s minds if he wanted to stay in the starting lineup.
But Shazier is a rookie, and the Steelers were already subbing for him with Spence for a drive for two during the first two games of the season.
I expect that that will continue throughout most of the season, especially in light of this little detour that has caused him to miss two valuable weeks of practice time already, with perhaps more time missed on the horizon.
Moreover, Spence has already proven that he is an asset on defense. And allowing an intelligent, knowledgeable player such as him take a few series here and there in place of Shazier should only help the rookie learn.
Relying on rookie starters proved to be an issue last year when the Steelers had to rely on a pair of them for most of the season among their linebacking unit.
The ability to balance that out with a comparative veteran can help neutralize some of the hazards that come along with playing a rookie. The veteran player can point out tendencies that he noticed while in the game, for example.
The bottom line is that, even if Shazier does manage to return this week, and is inserted right back into the starting lineup, I certainly don’t believe that we have seen the last of Spence until the next injury. It seems that he will likely be a part of a rare inside linebacker rotation for the Steelers for the foreseeable future.