Â BUTLER FEELS GOOD ABOUT DEPTH INSIDE
By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — If Pittsburgh Steelers fans were looking for a big, run-stopping inside linebacker who also could drop into pass coverage like James Farrior in his prime, that pick never came during the opening two days in the NFL Draft.
But after taking offensive linemen in the first round Thursday and second round Friday, the Steelers selected linebacker Sean Spence from Miami, Fla. in the third round late Friday night. According to linebackers coach Keith Butler, Spence likely will back up starter Lawrence Timmons at the Mack spot.
At nearly 6-feet tall and 231 pounds, Spence is a little light to play the Buck spot where veteran Larry Foote is expected to start and Farrior manned for so long. Third-year pro Stevenson Sylvester is the backup there right now.
“He can play outside, but we see him as an inside linebacker,” Butler said. “Sean is a very instinctive, fast, quick kid that is very smart. He’s probably best served if we can cover him up. James Farrior played the last four or five years at 230 pounds or maybe 225 by the end of the year.”
Spence started 40 of the 47 games he played at Miami and tallied 318 career tackles for the Hurricanes. As a weak-side linebacker at Miami, Spence displayed the quickness and intelligence to play the run as well as the pass, and Butler believed he would make an immediate impact on special teams.
“When you lose a guy like James Farrior … it’s impossible to replace him right now,” Butler said. “But we feel good about who we have inside right now. We’ll have to grow and learn as we go, so we’ll see. (But Spence) is going to help us out on special teams. He’s not going to start ahead of Lawrence Timmons.”
Butler believed that the absence of OTAs hampered Sylvester’s development, along with rookie Chris Carter and second-year player Jason Worilds. Now that they are a year older, more will be expected of them. Spence reportedly is sharp enough and athletic enough to pick things up early with OTAs.
“It’s great to be with a team that’s always competing for a championship, so having a chance to play with them is a tremendous feeling,” Spence said. “So, I’m going to work hard every day and work hard and come into give it all for my team. I want to contribute in any way that I can.
“So, I’m just happy to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, and I’m glad that they saw something in me to pick me. … When I met with Coach Butler at the Combine, he told me I could come in and learn the defense and help out on special teams at first. So, I’m all for it. Whatever I can do to help the team.”
Spence also played scholastically in Miami and powerhouse Northwestern High School, and he was an impact player there as well as with the Hurricanes.
The 2012 NFL Draft concludes Saturday with Rounds 4-7 beginning at noon.