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Steelers vs. Giants: Shazier can wait, Sean Spence should start this game

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Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier will have plenty of moments. Sean Spence should run with the 1s tonight vs. the Giants.

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Ask any Steelers fan on May 16 who they wanted to see the most in the team's first preseason game, 99.4 percent of them would have said, in a heartbeat, linebacker Ryan Shazier.

Asking the same question to different people each month would likely have produced the same results. The ultra-athletic Shazier has turned heads at camp, and shows flashes of being a legitimate starter now, and a superstar in the future.

That build-up is so perfect. It's because Shazier probably won't start Saturday when the Steelers take on the Giants (a lingering knee issue may keep him out entirely) the .6 percent of responders to the hypothetical poll get their wish.

It won't be Shazier, the highly touted rookie. It'll be Sean Spence, the third-year player who's never seen a down in the regular season, but has an advanced degree in pain.

It seems more right that way. Sure, it's a preseason game, but in that sense, for Spence, it'll be like Buckner walking back into Shea Stadium for Game 7. Spence suffered a devastating knee injury in the Steelers' last preseason game of the 2012 season, and he hasn't played in a live game since. His taking that first snap would only be made better if the game was in Pittsburgh, in front of the fans who have cheered so vigorously for him the last three years, and on the same field where his career took a drastic turn.

Shazier will start in bigger games. Spence will back him up, certainly this year, maybe in a few years beyond. Spence, who's first snap in the regular season will be marked as something of a sports miracle - the kind of redemption we read about but only rarely get to see live. Getting through that first preseason game holds significance as well, even if it's at the ironic unavailability of Shazier due to a knee injury.

Cheer Sean Spence on. Celebrate his accomplishment. Shazier can wait a few days to make his first start, Spence deserves this one.

As fans we'll hope we never have to see the kind of injury he suffered again, but we'll remember the coach's kid from Miami who became the extremely rare Steelers player who endeared us to him without having played a down.

Hopefully, his legacy moves past the injury or even his redemptive first game back, and moves into "Spence is an example of the rejuvenation the Steelers organization got from their recent drafts" territory.

Shazier is likely to earn that kind of a legacy, but let's let him sit and watch Spence with the rest of us, as he hopefully leads the team on the field before the game, leads the team in his time during the game and continues to display leadership for the team all season.