04/30/2012 - A closer look at the Steelers' picks: Round 3/86 -- Sean Spence, ILB, 6-0, 231, Miami...Miami captain where he started 39 games at outside linebacker in their 4-3. The Steelers will put him inside in their 3-4 defense, where he will play behind "mack" linebacker Lawrence Timmons. - The Sports Xchange
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.
At the Combine, he said "I think I am a three-down linebacker -- very fast, I can go sideline to sideline, I'm a smart, very instinctive player. ... I lead by example, and most of all I make plays."
Indeed, Spence has been consistent throughout his athletic career, collecting more than 100 tackles as a senior on Miami Northwestern High School's 2007 National Championship team (chosen by USA Today). In 2008 he earned ACC Rookie of the Year honors at Miami and his career totals include 317 tackles (169 solo and 46 for a loss) and 10.5 sacks.
However, he may be tagged as an overachiever based on his workout at the Combine, which included only 12 reps with 225 pounds on the bench press and a mediocre 4.71 seconds in 40 yards. He said afterward he had a bad shoulder and usually benches at least 19.
Read & React: Probably his best asset. Excellent diagnosing skills. Is rarely out of position even against quality play-action, though he can be too aggressive in attacking the hole, leaving cutback lanes for talented backs. Shoots gaps, escaping blocks of the behemoth offensive lineman to rack up tackles at (or often behind) the line of scrimmage. Sniffs out screens and draws quickly. High-effort player who hustles to the ball in pursuit. Is seemingly always around the action.
Run defense: Makes a lot of plays against the run due to his instincts and athleticism. Shows surprising explosiveness in his upper body, which combined with his natural leverage advantage, makes him a tougher block for offensive linemen than he appears. Would rather elude blockers, however, and does so well, zipping through holes to often trip up ball carriers before they've built their momentum. Very good chase linebacker. Possesses good timed speed and good balance to keep his feet while wading through the trash. Takes good angles in pursuit.
Pass defense: Gains good depth on his drops and trusts his eyes. Reads the quarterback and often gets a head start towards the receiver due to his instincts. Good agility and straight-line speed. Would like to see him be more physical in re-routing tight ends as they come off the line; instead he relies on his athleticism to mirror backs and tight ends. Lack of size hurts him in this area. Does not appear to have the loose hips to consider a move to a traditional safety role.
Tackling: A bit inconsistent in this area despite his hype. Good lateral agility and balance to break down. Reads the action so quickly and relies so heavily on his burst to make plays before blockers can get to him that he has a tendency to lunge, resulting in some ugly missed tackles. Generates impressive momentum and can explode into ball carriers. Generally does a nice job of wrapping his arms around the legs of ball carriers, but his relatively short limbs and weak upper body lead to some ball carriers running through his arm tackles. Very good effort in pursuit. Spends too much time on the ground, but isn't there for long.
Pass Rush/Blitz: An underrated element of his game. Does a nice job of anticipating the snap count and times his blitzes well. Great speed through gaps and has a legitimate burst to close on the quarterback. Doesn't rely strictly on his athleticism, as he has an effective swim move and good agility to elude blocks.
Intangibles: Signed with Miami as a 195-pound linebacker. Honored by his teammates as Miami's Most Valuable Player following 2010 season and Defensive Outstanding Player in 2011. Projects best as a weak-side linebacker for the NFL, but played on the strong side for Miami.