If the Steelers' selection of University of Miami linebacker Sean Spence in the third round had you scratching your head a bit, you weren't the only one. Though he played OLB at "The U" he will be an inside backer in Pittsburgh. Despite a need at that position with the release of James Farrior (and the heir apparent to him being the long-toothed 10-year vet Larry Foote) there were (and still are) a number of good NT prospects on the board, perhaps a position of higher need given its importance in the 34 scheme the Steelers run and the advanced career age of the great Casey Hampton.
Nonetheless, reports on Spence are very positive, if for one caveat: he's undersized and possibly understrong. He's only 5'11 and 230 pounds and he only hit twelve reps of 225 on the bench press of the combine. That is ... not good if you intend to successfully shed NFL-blockers, but he attributed that to a bum shoulder at the time. He is said to have an excellent football IQ.
Interestingly, in the rich-albeit-often-checkered history of Miami football, he is the first Miami Hurricane to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers since Leon Searcy in 1992. (as best the crack research team of myself and my boss Jerry Micco can tell)
Excerpts of what the experts say about Spence:
NFL.com: "Mayock's take: "One of my favorite football players on tape. He's one of the more instinctive linebackers in this draft. In the 3-4 scheme in Pittsburgh, he's going to have to play outside or that Will linebacker inside. Either way, I don't care, because I really like the way he plays.""
CBS/NFLDraftScout: Spence does everything he can to overcome lack of natural size and strength. He is already a coach on the field -- something teams may note for the future -- and shows amazing recognition skills that result from intense film analysis. Athletically, he reads and reacts quickly without wasted steps. Spence is not fooled often by play-action, and shows above average skills as a pass defender.
Pete Prisco of CBS gave Pittsburgh a B- for the Spence pick: "You watch how good he is on special teams and maybe eventually works his way onto the field. He's small, but fast."
Mocking the Draft: "Strengths: Spence has excellent athleticism, speed, and lateral quickness that he uses well to make plays on the football. He is very good at diagnosing plays then reacts quickly with his aggressive attacking style. He is rarely out of position even against play-action passes. He gives great effort and hustles to make the wrap up tackles, though not great, but is good enough to get the ball carrier to the ground. ... Weaknesses: He is a bit undersized and can get engulfed by offensive lineman against the run. He can be too aggressive at times attacking the hole and allowing the running back cutback lanes. He does not have many pass rush moves blitzing from the outsides and can be stood up at the line of scrimmage. Needs to get stronger and bigger without losing his speed and burst."
National Football Post (which scouts Spence at OLB): "Impression: A gifted sideline-to-sideline athlete who can play in space and make plays off his frame. Size is a concern, but looks like a starter in a cover two scheme who can play three downs in the NFL."
Spence's Miami bio.
For whatever its worth, Spence's Miami high school has churned out a ton of NFL talent.
Pro Football Weekly draft capsule:
A nice feature piece from UM about a day in the life of Sean Spence: