Spence: 'Tunnel Was Dark For A Long Time'

Steelers linebacker Sean Spence will complete a 'miraculous' recovery by starting Sunday against Tampa Bay. These are his thoughts four days before the game:

In 2012, Sean Spence was the Steelers' third-round draft pick out of The U -- the University of Miami -- because he could not only run, he could tackle.

Spence was such an instinctive linebacker that he left college as the NCAA's No. 2 all-time leader in tackles-for-loss. But things haven't gone so well for Spence since he reached the NFL. Here's the chronology:

* August 30, 2012 -- Spence suffered a torn ACL and LCL and dislocated his kneecap during the final preseason game. More devastating was the damage to his peroneal nerve.

* February, 2013 -- Nerve doctors informed the Steelers that Spence will never be the same.

* April 25, 2013 -- Linebackers coach Keith Butler, just after drafting inside linebacker Vince Williams, told reporters, "It will be miraculous if (Spence) does come back. It will be miraculous if he comes back next year."

* August 7, 2013 -- I told a re-habbing Spence that one of these days he's going to make me a great story. "I know," he said.

* October 16, 2013 -- Spence practiced for the first time since the injury, and one of his trainers called his showing "phenomenal." But Spence broke a finger and his recovery was halted.

* September 28, 2014 -- Spence will start at the mack inside linebacker position against Tampa Bay in place of injured rookie Ryan Shazier.

The latter news has been lost in not only the wave of injuries that occurred in the previous game, but in the decisions -- such as re-signing James Harrison -- which have been made because of those injuries. But Spence will complete his miraculous comeback on Sunday. Following is our conversation from Monday's open locker room:

Q: Are you comfortable that you know the defense well enough?

SS: "Yeah I do. I had a chance to sit behind Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons and learn from those guys and it helped me tremendously."

Q: Is the knee an issue at all?

SS: "No. I just go out there and play. (I am) not really thinking about it."

Q: Do you treat it? Do you ice it?

SS: "I always take care of it -- treatment, ice -- just to stay ahead."

Q: Could you have imagined this day while you were rehabbing?

SS: "Not at all, man. It was hard. The tunnel was dark for a long time. Just to be out there playing period is a blessing."

Q: You told me once that you would make it back. That was your public stance, but privately you thought all was dark?

SS: "Yeah, because I wasn't seeing it. I always believed, but you know humans, we have doubt. For me in my situation, when I did get the chance to come back, I broke my finger and that put me back on IR. There was just so much clutter at the time, but I knew I was going to be able to get back to this point."

Q: When you broke your finger, were you thinking that maybe God wasn't going to allow a comeback?

SS: "Well, you could look at it that I wasn't ready and He wanted to rest me more so I could truly heal up. I chose to look at it that way."

Q: So often when you have to overcome obstacles, character develops and you become a better person. Do you feel that?

SS: "I do, man. I look at the game so much differently. I look at everything differently. I cherish everything, all the practices, all the meetings. I cherish all of it because I wasn't a part of it for two years. I was just sitting in meetings and the coaches aren't really even talking to you because you're not playing. To be in meetings and feel like you're a part of something, I cherish all of that."

Q: Now you're going to be the focal point. Coaches are going to be yelling at you instead of encouraging you.

SS: "Right. And I love it."

Q: Do you feel in your heart that this coming game is what it's all been pointing to? Or do you not want to get carried away?

SS: "I just want to take one day at a time, not get ahead of myself, just go back to the drawing boards and get better."

Q: You're proving that you belong here, aren't you?

SS: "I think we all have to do that each and every day we're out here. This is a week-to-week business and we have to earn that keep every week."

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