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Steelers LB Sean Spence is for real

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This wasn't just a comeback, this was a coming out party for the third-year Steelers linebacker who provided ample evidence the team's first round pick is not the only inside linebacker to watch this season in Pittsburgh.

Jason Bridge-US PRESSWIRE

The irony is almost made for Hollywood.

Steelers linebacker Sean Spence goes down with a vicious knee injury in a throwaway Week 4 preseason game. He won't play again until 2014, where he gets a spot in the starting lineup - something he didn't do in 2012 - because the player the Steelers drafted to start, Ryan Shazier, has a knee injury.

It writes itself. The emotion, though, is added by the audience.

Spence's remarkable comeback has been well-documented, but the latest chapter is about how he's moving forward. He's beyond a comeback now, it's a legitimate feeling of optimism that Spence, who stayed up nights in the past wondering if he'd play again, could be splitting snaps with Shazier.

Back off the ledge for a second. Just one. Perhaps it's too early to make such claims, but he didn't just enter the game. He didn't even just start it. He was the best Steelers defensive player on the field. In a game that saw incumbent starter Lawrence Timmons missed three tackles, Spence made at least four tackles and had pressures on three separate blitzes in a quarter and a half of play.

This wasn't just a comeback game. This was a coming out game.

Spence's performance, along with Timmons' likelihood of bouncing back to a much more impressive level than he displayed in the Steelers' loss to the Giants, blended with the sheer potential of Shazier and the aggression of Vince Williams, the Steelers suddenly have the exact opposite of what they had last year.

Bountiful depth at inside linebacker.

Shazier has received rave reviews for his work in camp so far, and if nothing else, this creates a much better problem than the team had last year. When Larry Foote went down for the year in Week 1, the Steelers got to choose between Kion Wilson, who's been cut from the team multiple times since then, and Williams, the team's sixth round pick in 2013.

Williams looked well over his head early, neck craning back as big running play after big running play happened. The Steelers gave up a 73-yard run against the Giants - a nice audible by Giants QB Eli Manning who saw Spence move to the edge, leaving just Timmons (who got trapped) and Heyward (who got blocked). Williams was on the sideline.

Are the students outperforming the teacher? Let's not go there now, but it certainly should provide pause for tantalizing thought as the Steelers look to get back to full health on the defensive side of the ball.

The inclusion of Spence, once thought impossible, could be achieving two things previously not considered; making a significant impact this season, and robbing the first round pick Shazier of the spotlight.