PITTSBURGH -- A former Steelers executive once said, when asked if the team would bring back a certain player, that they weren't the Salvation Army.
I recalled this comment Wednesday while talking with Sean Spence, the second-year player who spent the entire 2012 season on injured reserve after suffering a severe knee injury during the final preseason game.
It's not like Spence was a returning All-Pro player or even a first-round pick like fellow 2012 rookie David DeCastro, who benefitted from a new rule last year that allowed him to be placed on the active roster after being on injured reserve for an extended period with a knee injury. DeCastro was activated in late November and played in the final four games with three starts. Previously, players on injured reserve could not return during the season.
Spence, who suffered his knee injury one week after DeCastro, was not close to returning at any point last season and isn't likely to be ready any time soon. However, it's difficult not to believe Spence, who said Wednesday that he would return at some point this season.
It's easy to root for him as well.
How could you not get behind a guy like Spence? He worked hard to attain a goal, getting drafted by an NFL team, only to see it all taken away in just a few seconds. The Steelers have given that opportunity back to him, but he'll have to earn the right to retain it. To this point, Spence has put in the time, and the Steelers have noticed. They are clearly rooting for him, too.
By all accounts, Spence is a good guy. He has to be, or the Steelers wouldn't be hanging with him. Whether he's correct or linebackers coach Keith Butler is right, that Spence will be "carried by the team this season,'' he'll be given every opportunity to get healthy and play football.
I wouldn't bet against Spence. Looking into his eyes Wednesday, one could see his determination and hear the conviction in his words. Spence also noted he had faith that things would work out for the best for him. That certainly couldn't hurt his chances, either. Mostly, though, he's put in the physical work necessary to succeed. The odds certainly aren't in his favor, but Spence already has beaten the odds to this point, as he also stated.
With all the negativity surrounding sports today, it was refreshing to talk to a guy like Spence, a straight-shooter who talked candidly about his injury and his chances to return. Like I've said before, I wouldn't bet against him. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if he played this season a lot earlier than most believe possible. That certainly is not out of the question.
At 5-foot-11 and 231 pounds, Spence is lean and built for speed. Since his workouts have been with the training staff and not open to the media, it's difficult to know if he's able to cut loose while running or if the speed and agility he possessed prior to being drafted will return.
It's going to be interesting to monitor Spence's progress this season and await his return. What an amazing day that will be.