End-of-season player exit meetings are not something that we are often privy to as outsiders of the football world. Generally, we only get a glimpse into that world when a player is asked by a reporter how the meeting went, if the player is willing to discuss it.
Still, it’s not generally a hard concept to grasp, and we have a pretty good feel by now of how Mike Tomlin and his staff likes to operate, and we see all the game film, so it’s not an overly difficult project to simulate. If we were to administer the end-of-season player exit meetings, it might go something like this.
Player: Sean Spence
Position: Inside Linebacker
Experience: 3 Years
Sean Spence may have technically been in the league for three seasons now, but as we all know, he only has accrued one season of experience due to the fact that injuries kept him from taking the field until the 2014 season.
Spence, however, got his share of playing time this past year due in large part due to the inability of rookie Ryan Shazier to stay healthy. The first-round draft pick at Spence’s position was immediately installed into the starting lineup from the first practice, but he ultimately lost that starting job, and a wealth of playing time, because of those injuries.
The third-year former third-rounder seized upon that opportunity, playing in every game and starting nine of them, though he, like Vince Williams a year ago, was routinely part of a rotation that saw him on the field only about half the time, give or take, based on what that particular game called for.
As the season progressed, the defensive coaching staff determined that their best strategy, without Shazier, was to utilize Spence and his intelligence and speed in the base package, but to use the bigger, run-stuffing Williams when they go to their nickel defense, with the logic being that Williams would prevent teams from trying to run on their smaller unit.
In all, Spence registered 53 tackles and finished the season with his first career sack. He added another sack—the team’s only one—in the Steelers’ playoff loss the following week, on which he also forced a fumble.
It’s somewhat difficult to give a proper evaluation of Spence’s season due to the fact that he is, in many ways, a rookie, though with the added bonus of two additional years of accrued knowledge of the game.
But there are things that can’t be learned without the physical contact, and one wonders how much of a learning experience the season was, and how that will translate into the future. Spence is naturally a smaller-bodied linebacker at under six feet tall, and he struggled to get off blocks. Can he use his experiences from a year ago to improve that part of his game?
Spence’s performance in coverage was also wanting, which was somewhat of a disappointment. But he showed with certainly that he is able to play at this level of competition, and is a valuable depth player for the team, who is still on an upward trajectory. It will be interesting to see what type of role is left for him in 2015, in his contract year, with Shazier presumably installed as the starter.