Injured Steelers linebacker Spence still believes he can return
Don't talk odds with Sean Spence. He doesn't much care about them.
Don't bring up that few — if any — come back from a peroneal nerve injury, let alone an NFL linebacker. He's not interested in hearing about that.
And surely don't suggest sitting out another season. That's just not an option in his mind.
Spence, the Steelers third-round pick in 2012, is convinced that he is going to make his NFL debut this year after suffering a horrific right knee injury during the final preseason game of his rookie season. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament, posterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament, causing peroneal nerve damage.
“I know, I know,” Spence said when reminded that not many people return from an injury like his. “I know I am going to beat the odds. I am not going to worry about that. The progress that I have made, the doctor said that I already beat the odds.”
Spence continues to proceed with caution nine months after the injury that took him months to have the nerve to watch on tape. He has yet to take the field during any of the Steelers OTAs through the first two weeks and likely won't be participating in the final two weeks either.
“My plan is to make it back for the season,” Spence said. “I am still preparing and attacking this OTA as I am going to play this year. I am going to continue to get better and am looking forward to the season.”
A return this year just might be wishful thinking for the athletic linebacker who the Steelers figured would be pushing veteran Larry Foote for the starting inside linebacker spot.
Linebacker coach Keith Butler said last month that “it will be miraculous if he does come back (this year); it will be miraculous if he comes back next year.”
Butler wasn't being dramatic; he was speaking the truth.
Players recover from multiple torn ligaments all the time to go on to have successful pro football careers. But according Dr. David Geier, an orthopedic surgeon and director of Medical University of South Carolina sports medicine, few, if any, who have suffered peroneal nerve damage make it back.
“I probably do four of five knee dislocation surgeries a year, and the ones who have peroneal nerve injuries I have never seen one come back,” Geier said. “I can't think of any who have been documented to have a peroneal nerve injury and returned. For me, I would just be trying to have a normal life, but playing at an elite level after something like this is difficult.”
Peroneal nerve injuries occur when multiple ligaments are torn and the leg stretches the outside of the knee, compromising the nerve that controls the upward movement of the foot and toes.
Geier said that patients with peroneal damage end up requiring a nerve graft procedure that typically would be performed six months after the initially injury. Spence said he hasn't had that surgery.
“Nerve injuries are typically slow to heal anyways, so it is going to take a long time for those muscles to work again,” Geier said. “That's the problem with any nerve injury. But a stretch injury to that nerve just doesn't come back like other nerves.”
Spence said he has been running and can do “pretty much anything” right now but set no timetable for his return other than to say that he expects to return sometime during the season.
“You always want to play it safe, but if I am good enough to go, I am going to go,” Spence said. “If not, I would probably wait and take things slow. I can trust myself to do what I know I can do.”
The Steelers have the luxury to wait for Spence after re-signing Foote and Stevenson Sylvester while continuing to develop first-year player Marshall McFadden and rookie sixth-round pick Vince Williams.
“I really do (hope he comes back) because this kid is a great kid,” Butler said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Four downs: Steelers might still be Adams’ best bet
- Steelers find success vs. NFC
- Steelers notebook: Brown downplays possible matchup against Seahawks’ Sherman
- Steelers remain cautious of Seattle QB Wilson on ground, through air
- Unsung backups provide boost for Steelers defensive line
- Run game needed for balance vs. Seahawks
- Steelers notebook: Linebacker Timmons hoping for contract extension
- Steelers veteran linebacker Harrison focused on stretch run
- Steelers plan to use smart pass rush against Seattle QB Wilson
- Steelers kicker Boswell puts best foot forward
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin not grooming successor to RB Williams