The Pittsburgh Steelers had their 2012 season derailed by a multitude of injuries, and now it looks like they'll be carrying a few of those into 2013 and beyond.
General Manager Kevin Colbert took the podium at the NFL Combine to discuss a myriad of topics. Most of his commentary was positive and reassuring, however his injury report was downright depressing. According to Colbert, the team will begin the year without either Heath Miller and Sean Spence, and no one knows when they will be able to return or how they will be replaced.
Miller, who tore ligaments in his knee on Dec. 23, toward the end of his best season as a professional, will not be ready when the season opens. However, he is not expected to miss the entire year.
"In my mind, an ACL injury late in the year, I still don’t believe a player is 100 percent until a (calendar) year is up. They may play before that, but whether they’re 100 percent or not, I don’t know. In my mind if you get something from a player before one year, that’s a bonus. (Heath) will be back at some point, so if we look at a tight end (in the draft) … it will depend on which tight end is available more than Heath Miller’s status, because right now we believe Heath will be back at some point."
Spence on the other hand, does not evoke the same confidence from Colbert. Spence did significant damage to his knee in the team's final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers, immediately ending his rookie season before it ever really began. While the team has not been very forthcoming in the past with information on his recovery, Colbert officially addressed the issue as best as he could, considering the amount of unknowns involved with recovery from such a devastating injury.
"When you have an injury of that significance, it heals at a different pace for different people. He’s doing everything the doctors and trainers have asked him to do. We just hold out hope that Sean can have a successful recovery and be a Steeler because he had a successful preseason."
With absolutely no timetable or guarantee for Spence's return, the team will hold out hope but they cannot plan on him being there, now or later. This information explains why Larry Foote was one of the few free agents the team was willing to begin talking money with, after declaring in this same press conference all free-agency decisions would wait until after the combine, when the team had a complete record of all measurables and a better idea of how the draft may turn out.
While Colbert deflated any rumors the team would be drafting a tight end simply out of need, he made no such reservations for inside linebacker. If Foote does return to join Lawrence Timmons, the team still normally carries at least two more interior backers. Marshall McFadden (a former practice squad player) and Brian Rolle (FA from the Philadelphia Eagles) are already on the roster and will be competing for roster spots in camp; but the team isn't expected to simply be content with what they have considering Spence may never be able to return to the field. Expect the team to at least address the need in free-agency or possibly the draft if one falls to them as the Best-Player-Available.
The Steelers wanted to see what they had in Spence, but they already knew what they had in Miller. He has been the glue which kept the offense together and the most reliable target for franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger. His injury will have the most effect on the team, both in absence and eventual return.