What do Limas Sweed, Willie Colon and Aaron Smith have in common, outside of a shared inability to catch a football? The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the most patient franchises in the NFL, but even they have their limits.
The Steelers' virtuosity finds itself on trial once again, in the case of 2012 third-round draft pick, inside linebacker Sean Spence.
"He is making small progress, and as long as he is making progress, we will be patient with him and hopefully get him back at full speed at some point."
Surely, the team would love to reattain the services of the young man who proudly represented James Farrior's No.51, during the 2012 preseason. He had garnered the interest of the team's fanbase and following media, and the admiration and respect of his coaches and teammates. The team knew they had a special player, one worth waiting for.
Sadly, after suffering catastrophic damage to multiple integral parts of his knee against the Carolina Panthers in the final preseason game of his rookie year, each passing day delivered equally devastating reports and incalculable recovery times. The Steelers would continue to be patient.
A year later, as answers are almost just as obscure as they began, the Steelers are trying to remain patient. They know what he is capable of, if he can return to form - even if a step slower. Unfortunately, as evidenced by the conflicting commentaries of linebackers coach Keith Butler and head coach Mike Tomlin, the uncertainty surrounding his return is wearing their patience a bit thin.
The team continues to keep the player's sake in mind when discussing his situation, as Colbert is quoted here from his conference call with season ticket holders; but the fact remains they can only wait so long. They are glad he is making progress, but they acknowledge it is slow progress. Truthfully, he still may be unable to continue his football career; but he is doing everything in his power to recover and the team is supporting him at every step.
It's bad enough when a player is injured during the season, it's even worse for a young player to be injured to the extent of Spence during OTAs and training camp. The Steelers may be willing to wait another year to gauge Spence's recovery, but in reality, there may not be a spot for him depending on the final roster come opening day.
Marshall McFadden seems to be much improved, and hungry. Pittsburgh grabbed Brian Rolle early in the off-season and drafted Vince Williams in the 6th round of April's NFL draft. Rolle was involved in a 4-3 defense with his former team, the Philadelphia Eagles, but has the build and skills to make the transition; although he may simply be this year's Brandon Johnson. Williams will bear the rookie burden while trying to stay afloat on the depth chart while learning the Steelers 3-4, but he has already exhibited leadership qualities during the team's rookie orientation. Last, but not least, Pittsburgh did re-sign their 2012 starter, veteran Larry Foote, to a three-year deal.
While Spence is forced to focus his full attention on rehabilitation, his teammates are allowed to practice. As he relies on himself for motivation, his teammates will be pushing each other to improve. His teammates will have another off-season working one-on-one with coaches, sharpening the edge they will each have over Spence, even if he is able to recover.