Judging by the lack of candidacy available on the free agency market, but not excluding the possibility of bolstering the position in the draft, the Steelers appear content to head into their offseason workout program with second-year linebacker Vince Williams penciled in as the starter. His chief competition for that spot? Sean Spence, the people's champion.
Spence suffered a major knee injury at the end of the 2012 preseason, and has not made it back for any organized activity short of a handful of practices toward the end of the 2013 season. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert told Post-Gazette reporter Gerry Dulac Wednesday at the league meetings in Orlando Spence will participate in the offseason workout program, but made it clear they are not counting on him returning immediately, if at all.
"Because it was such a severe injury, you have to monitor where he is on a day-to-day basis and back-to-back days practicing because we didn’t get to see that," Colbert said, quoted by Dulac. "The glimpse that we saw was great, but it was a small sample, and you didn’t get to see if there was going to be side effects from extra work."
Bringing him along slowly is a good idea, clearly. But so is having a back-up plan. It's fully possible, albeit unpleasant to consider, Spence isn't able to regain the form of a player they had hopes for when they selected him in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Outside of Williams, the Steelers have little else, making it something of a need position to address in the draft, but probably free agency as well.
The team signed Arthur Moats, a reserve linebacker both outside and inside, to a one-year contract. He could be considered a depth add, and perhaps the lack of length on the deal and a reported concentration on the outside suggests the Steelers have faith in Williams.
But the lack of a back-up plan hurt them significantly in 2013 when Larry Foote was lost for the season in Week 1, forcing them to play a rookie at a key defensive position.
Spence is really just a plus-rookie as he enters his third year in the NFL with no game experience. He knows what to expect, but the Steelers don't have that luxury. As Colbert said, the team will evaluate Spence as well as his injury. It's a situation they really need to work in their favor, considering the run defense has hit a brutal slide over its last 16 games.