Now that we have completed our look at the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 90-man roster heading into training camp a bit under a month from now, it’s time to take a look back at the team’s 53-man roster from last year’s regular season, for the purpose of revisiting the contributions of the players that are no longer with the team, and whether or not those contributions have been adequately replaced.
Roster turnover is just a natural fact of today’s NFL, which have only become more prominent since the advent of free agency more than two decades ago. It’s very rare for a team to return all 11 starters on one side of the ball from one year to the next, let alone to do so for both the offense and defense.
The Steelers are certainly no exception to that rule, and they figure to have a number of lineup changes from 2015 to 2016, which seems to be increasingly common for them in recent years.
Though he was not a starter for the Steelers last year or in any other year by design, it would be fair to say that inside linebacker Sean Spence had been an important player for them, particularly, of course, over the span of the last two seasons—he had been sidelined for the first two years of his career.
The team obviously had high hopes for Spence when they drafted him, selecting him in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, seeing an explosive, instinctual, powerful hitter whose draft stock had only fallen due to the fact that he was undersized for the professional level.
A devastating knee injury quickly derailed all plans, however, as he not only thoroughly tore his ACL, he more crucially suffered damage to the peroneal nerve behind his knee and experienced drop foot, a condition that is hard to ever fully come back from, and it’s a bit of a wonder that he was ever able to return to professional football.
He did finally do that, however, in his third season, and due to the number of injuries that rookie first-rounder Ryan Shazier dealt with, he ended up starting for about half of that season and logging several hundred snaps. He started another four games and another couple hundred snaps on defense for the Steelers last year in addition to being a fixture on the special teams units.
In truth, however, he never really played up to the level expected of him when he was drafted, and there should be no doubt that that had at least something to do with his injury, which no doubt robbed him at the very least of a bit of his speed. He looked particularly out of sorts in coverage and struggled to get off blocks.
His free agency departure places Vince Williams as the Steelers’ top backup at inside linebacker, a fourth-year veteran who had starting experience even in his rookie year. He is a big, strong thumper who can work through traffic, and most generally feel comfortable in him serving that role, and perhaps even starting in the near future.