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Steelers' loss is Spence's gain during preseason opener

| Sunday, Aug. 10, 2014, 8:30 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers linebacker Sean Spence (51) takes down New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings in the first quarter Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers running back LeGarrette Blount gets hit by the Giants' Antrel Rolle in the first quarter Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J.

The Steelers haven't won an exhibition game since Aug. 30, 2012, a date Sean Spence remembers all too well.

Until Saturday night, it was the last time the linebacker and 2012 third-round pick wore a Steelers uniform, made a play, stopped a run, looked ahead to the next game and felt like he belonged.

Now, Spence is back, and everything he missed so badly for two years has returned, too. It's one reason this Steelers preseason has an entirely different, new-as-it-gets feel.

“The Steelers organization stayed with me, waited for me, and words can't explain it,” Spence said following a 20-16 loss to the New York Giants on Saturday night. “I feel great. I can't wait (to play again).”

Neither can Dri Archer, LeGarrette Blount, Stephon Tuitt, Jarvis Jones, Mike Mitchell, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Daniel McCullers and all the other new — or almost new — Steelers.

They can't wait until tomorrow to play for a team that seemingly cares nothing about the Steelers' recent, disappointing yesterdays.

“It's going to be exciting. It's going to be fun. I can't wait to be able to go in there and play, a lot more than I did,” Blount said after carrying three times in his first Steelers preseason game. “Behind that offensive line? It's going to be a fine year.”

Those veteran-heavy teams of the 8-8 records in 2012 and 2013 couldn't help it as they kept looking back — at the three Super Bowls many played in, all the close games they lost, all the look-alike breakdowns they couldn't overcome, all the opportunities missed.

These 2014 Steelers made plenty of mistakes, failed to convert at key times and — flash back to the recent past — gave up a big play on defense on Rashad Jennings' 73-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

“It's a start. You just want to see where you are,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “The season isn't here until the first week of September, and we have a long way to go. It's just like a test right now.”

Tuitt, the second-round pick, started his first NFL game of any kind, making a tackle and flashing the kind of speed Dick LeBeau said a defensive end rarely displays.

And the speedy Archer didn't disappoint the teammates who were eager to see him in a game, gaining 46 yards on a screen pass that was one of only two attempts by Ben Roethlisberger, who made an early exit.

Archer had the second-fastest 40-yard dash time (4.26) at the NFL Combine in eight years, and he flashed that speed in a hurry.

“Coach (Tomlin) always says, ‘Fast guys play fast,' ” Archer said. “It was the perfect play, my teammates blocked it well, and I just ran behind my blockers.”

What's different is the player running it might be the fastest in team history.

No wonder the Steelers are looking ahead. Blink, and they might miss something. Something new and different they haven't seen before.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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