Nice alliteration in that title, right? 3rd Round Draft pick, Sean Spence, was drafted by the Steelers with the intent of having him eventually fill the void at inside linebacker with the departure of James Farrior. Deemed a bit undersized and inexperienced at this position, many have given the Steelers a lower grade for picking a guy like Spence. However, I feel that there could be some sort of ‘super project’ taking place on the South Side being conducted by Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau involving newly drafted Sean Spence.
It’s no secret that offensive schemes in the NFL have changed from the grind’em out on the ground run game to a speed kills pass happy one. Seemed like just about anytime you looked at the Steelers defense you saw them in some sort of nickel or dime package to cover 3-4 wideouts. Throw an athletic tight end into the mix and that spells trouble for any defense that relies heavily on their linebackers for coverage over the middle of the field. Farrior, Foote and Timmons were all guilty of getting burned numerous times in the open field. The Steelers were desperate to find a guy who had the speed and pursuit to cover the middle. I say ‘were’ because the Steelers found that type of player in Spence. But I think the Steelers are at a crossroads already with Spence as to what kind of player they want him to be.
This is where the ‘super project’ comes in. The Steelers have a choice – and it will come out early in camp – whether to have Spence try and bulk up (without slowing him down too much) to play the inside linebacker position OR they will have Spence slim down by just a few pounds, gain more muscle mass, and move him into the safety position. Hold on now before you start cursing my name out. I’m not saying that Spence is going to replace Polamalu. What I am saying is that Spence may very well replace Polamalu in the next few years. Still think I’m insane… hear me out.
Polamalu is slated to stay with the Steelers through 2014. That will make him 34 when his next contract comes up, and will probably put him into retirement. He may even end earlier depending on how his noggin’ holds up over the next few seasons. Anyone familiar with Dick LeBeau knows that it takes a couple of seasons to truly learn and master his defensive schemes. Seems like that will be just enough time for Spence to move into that position. Ok, so the ‘timeline’ would work out. But, can Spence actually play strong safety?
Well let’s look at the type of player Polamalu is:
5’10” 207 lbs.
Ran a 4.5 in his early years, and is still pretty speedy now.
Is amazing at pursuing the ball carrier – either in run defense or passing defense
Great instinct at the line of scrimmage when blitzing – can read blocking coverages and find the gap quickly
Now let’s look at Spence:
5’11” 230 lbs.
Ran a 4.6 in the combine. One of the fastest linebackers in the class.
Known for his great speed and pursuit of the ball carrier
From NFL.com: He can quickly diagnose a play and use his explosive hips to meet running backs and deliver the blow. He has fluid hips in coverage and uses his arm strength to shed blockers when he gets engulfed by bigger players. He is an experienced starter at a high level, and this should allow him to play fast and instinctually from early on at the next level. He has natural athletic ability to fit in a 4-3 scheme where he is playing freely and flowing to the ball. He is an active player and almost always involved on run plays.
I don’t know about you, but if you read Spence’s profile, he sure as hell sounds like Troy Polamalu. Whether or not all of that can translate into being a beast in the backfield like Polamalu can only be found if and when Spence is playing in that position. I certainly like the idea of it, and feel that this is far from a ‘reach.’ If Sylvester, Foote, Timmons, and Worilds all have strong camps and starts to the season, where does that leave Spence? Sure, he will be on special teams for most of the season, but what if he started to take over the back up role over Will Allen and Cromartie-Smith for Polamalu? He could become some sort of super-hybrid defensive player – Strong Safety/Linebacker…. a Strong Lafety… a Strong Safebacker…..
There’s a large part of me that senses that the coaching staff know this as well and might even be willing to entertain that idea. Guess we’ll only find out once camp starts and the season rolls along.
What do the rest of you think? Am I outta my gourd?