Linebacker Sean Spence will see his first football action in over a year when he returns to the practice field on Wednesday. Spence suffered a severe season-ending knee injury against the Carolina Panthers in the 2012 preseason; an injury many thought could have ended his career.
But after a long road filled with ups and downs, Spence is ready to start working his way back.
"We are going to look at Sean participating in some form or fashion this week, probably in a limited capacity, individual drills and so forth," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "We've got a window to evaluate Sean, but more than anything it's about getting him on the field first and just watching him in a limited capacity to see where he is before we make any plans about his participation or how we move forward. We'll see how he performs in practice and let that be our guide in terms in how we progress. Initially he will be working in limited capacity in look teams more than not."
Spence opened the season on the reserve/physically unable to perform list, and Wednesday would be the first day he is eligible to return to practice according to NFL rules regarding the PUP list. He is permitted to practice for three weeks before the team must make a decision to activate him, put him on injured reserve or waive him.
"I know a lot of people have not been able to come back after damage like that, but I'm going to see if I can be one of the only ones," said Spence this past spring, during the team's offseason program. "Actually, I know that I'm going to beat the odds. I'm not really worried about that."
Injuries continue to force changes to the Steelers roster and on Tuesday the latest moves became official when tight end David Johnson was placed on injured reserve with a wrist injury and the team added tight end Richard Gordon. In addition, tackle Levi Brown was placed on IR with a triceps injury and the team signed cornerback Isaiah Green from the practice squad.
Gordon, in his third NFL season, was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the sixth round in 2011 out of the University of Miami. He played in 27 games for the Raiders with two starts. He has three career receptions for 11 yards and one touchdown, adding 17 tackles on special teams and a fumble recovery.
Tomlin said the decision to add a tight end and corner and not an offensive lineman was a reflection of what is needed now, not about just adding numbers at a certain position.
"We just decided to strengthen ourselves in the best way possible," said Tomlin. "Richard is a tight end that has similar attributes as David in that he is a strong run performer. He is healthy and ready to go.
"Isaiah is a useful corner/special teams' player we are familiar with. Maybe he can help us this weekend. The emphasis was about helping us this weekend and not numbers. Numbers are important, but we are not married to numbers. When we have an opportunity to add a body that is what we are doing, adding someone who can help our efforts from a global standpoint, not necessarily from a position standpoint."
Don't expect to see any acrobatic celebrations on the field from the Steelers any more. Tomlin has let his players know it's a no-go.
Receiver Emmanuel Sanders flipped across the goal line on a touchdown against the Jets, coming down on his back, and running back Le'Veon Bell did a flip after his first NFL touchdown against the Vikings.
Tomlin said he told the players to put an end to it because, "The potential for injury. It's silly."
In other injury news defensive end Brett Keisel (muscle injury) and linebacker LaMarr Woodley (knee inflammation) will be limited in practice in the early portion of the week. Receiver Markus Wheaton (finger) has been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Ravens at Heinz Field.