Reports are positive on the progress of Steelers linebacker Sean Spence in his efforts to return from a gruesome knee injury at the end of the 2012 preseason.
What kind of linebackers groups is he returning to? One considerably deeper than the one he vacated last year, judging by the performances of the inside 'backers in the Steelers' first preseason game.
Marshall McFadden was an on-again, off-again roster member last year, but didn't have the same level of explosion he showed in the loss to the Giants. Vince Williams was preparing for his senior season at Florida State.
Stevenson Sylvester was thought of as the possibly heir apparent to James Farrior's vacated buck linebacker position, and Larry Foote was just a stop-gap.
Sylvester is now likely on the fringe of this roster, and, if Spence happens to begin the season on the team (something that can't be considered likely right now), he's likely not on this team.
Foote and Lawrence Timmons are the unquestioned starters, and will likely play over 90 percent of the Steelers' defensive snaps this year. However, with the youth infusion provided by McFadden, it gives the Steelers a few more options in terms of sub packages.
And to make it even more fun, what if Spence is able to suit up at some point in 2013? Let's make another hypothetical condition that he's at or right around the athleticism he displayed coming out of Miami in last year's draft. A nickel package involving Timmons and Spence is tantalizing. Or a bang package with Foote, Timmons and McFadden in a short-yardage situation is exciting.
While Spence's most likely outcome this year is to start on Injured Reserve with designation to return - a move that wouldn't be done until the Steelers have cut the team down to 53 players - he's currently on the PUP list, meaning it's still possible he's able to contribute early in the season.
The fact they haven't put Spence on injured reserve yet means there's still a chance - even if it's a Lloyd Christmas "one in a million" chance - he's on the Steelers' initial 53-man roster.
Imagine the results of Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and head coach Mike Tomlin spending time in the lab coming up with packages for a group of inside linebackers as athletic as this group potentially could be.
Maybe that's been the plan all along.
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