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2017 Steelers Player Evaluation – ILB Sean Spence

One in a series over the offseason

2017 Player Stats:

Combined Total Assisted Sacks Forced Fumbles Ints
2017 Regular Season 19 11 8 1.0 0 0
2017 Postseason 5 3 2 0.0 0 0

Player Overview:

On December 5, 2017, inside linebacker Sean Spence rejoined the team that drafted him in perhaps the most difficult of circumstances that a player could face. All-Pro linebacker Ryan Shazier sustained a potentially career-ending spinal injury against the Cincinnati Bengals on December 4th, as well as the shoulder injury to backup linebacker Tyler Matakevich in the same game. Many knew that Shazier possessed the type of abilities that could not be replicated by Spence. Knowing full well the time needed for Spence to acclimate to the speed of the game, his only real objective was to play to the best of his abilities, and ensure that alongside fellow linebacker Vince Williams, that his Pittsburgh Steelers could get their first round bye and make a deep run in the playoffs . Despite his best efforts, the Steelers defense proved to be vulnerable in the middle with the absence of Shazier; an area teams often exploited in their subsequent games leading to their AFC Divisional playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. A recent Pro Football Focus ranking rated Spence at 26.3, the lowest among all 88 linebackers rated.

Pros and Cons:

In his first game against the Baltimore Ravens on December 12th, Spence registered no solo tackles. Allowing that it would take time to return to football form, this type of performance was expected. One of the aspects that one can appreciate from someone like Spence is his work ethic and his willingness to improve. His best performance came on December 25th against the Houston Texans where he registered 8 total tackles and a sack. Spence for the most part did the best he could with the time he had, but unfortunately when reviewing his performances, he proved to be more of a liability and one that opposing teams noticed and exploited.

One of the main reasons why Spence was a liability on defense was due to his inability to take on blocks. This can perhaps be attributed to his smaller stature (5’11, 231 lbs), yet it became a glaring issue as time went on. In this particular sequence against the Texans, replacement quarterback TJ Yates hands the ball off to running back Lamar Miller. Spence, seen in the middle, should ideally fill the gap in between the nose tackle and the other defensive lineman on the right to make the stop. In all likelihood in this type of play, Spence will encounter an offensive lineman coming in to prevent him from making such a play. As the play unfolds, Texans center Greg Mancz will come off the line and seal Spence outside, resulting in additional yards for Miller on this play. Note that Mancz did not use much force to seal him, simply Spence was unwilling to take on this block.

His performance in the Steelers 45-42 AFC Divisional playoff loss was perhaps his worst of the season, yet in his defense, it was the worst for the entire defensive unit. One of the notable aspects that made Shazier special was his football IQ and his ability to read plays and adjust if needed. Spence, seen in the middle on the right side, was caught peeking into the backfield and was unable to adjust. Jaguars fullback Tommy Bohanon sold the fake handoff perfectly and before Spence could adjust back, he was already in the end zone.

Future With The Steelers:

With a player like Sean Spence, what you see is what you get. Spence is a player that has the right mentality to be an impact player, but unfortunately he does not have the skillset to be one. Based on the small sample size this season, not only is he likely not to return, it is very possible that the Steelers will make finding an inside linebacker their main priority in the upcoming NFL Draft. Spence is the type of player that would make an adequate backup and one that can play in certain situations, yet he does not have the skill or acumen needed to be a starting linebacker.

Born and raised Ottawa, Ontario Canada, Kelly is a Steelers contributor to The Point of Pittsburgh. Formerly a contributor for SBNation's 'Behind the Steel Curtain'. Kelly can be reached via the Twitter handle @kanozie80

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