Sean Spence rejoins the Steelers ‘blessed,’ but missing Ryan Shazier
Steelers inside linebackers Ryan Shazier (50) and Sean Spence (51) watch from the sideline during practice at 2015 training camp in Latrobe, Pa. Spence was re-signed to the team after parts of two seasons away from the team following Shazier’s spine injury in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
PITTSBURGH — Ryan Shazier’s helmet hung from two hooks to the right of his locker.
Inside stood 10 pairs of shoes – five pairs each – on two shelves.
One pair of flip-flops rested upright, heel-to-toe against the back right corner, just behind a pack of Essentia water. On top of the bottles’ plastic wrapping, as of Wednesday morning, lay the game check he earned for his last game.
Several lockers to the left, Sean Spence’s was all but barren. The former Steelers linebacker who was re-signed to the team following Shazier’s hospitalizing spine injury and a shoulder injury to Tyler Matakevich packed one bag before flying up to Pittsburgh from Miami on Tuesday morning.
Watching Monday Night Football, Spence dropped to his knees in prayer as soon as the stretcher came out for Shazier. They hadn’t been teammates for a year and a half, but as recently as last week Shazier was texting Spence in a group chat with him and Vince Williams.
They would check in on each other’s families, in addition to football. Spence hadn’t played any in two months, though he said he had worked out or met with the New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns since the Indianapolis Colts released him after Week 4.
Once Spence saw Tyler Matakevich go out of Monday’s game he said he began to think that Pittsburgh might need another inside linebacker.
Before he went to bed Monday night he said a prayer for Shazier. He did the same when awoke. The Steelers invited him back the next morning.
“Man, when I got the call I was ready to book my own flight,” Spence said.
A reunion of sorts ensued when he arrived Tuesday afternoon. Robert Golden teased Spence from across the locker room that he had gotten Spence re-signed by the team that drafted him, that Spence needed to cut his interviews short and get in the hot tub having been out of the game so long.
Around the corner from Shazier’s locker Harrison deadpanned, asking if Spence was sore from one day of practice.
“I’m happy man. A team that’s 10-2, a team that drafted me. I’m familiar with everyone here,” Spence said. “It felt like a big reunion when I got back, a big family reunion. And I couldn’t be more happy and more blessed.”
Yet Spence’s emotions and those of the team stayed with the man Spence was praying for Tuesday morning.
Steelers ILBs practice without Ryan Shazier
Williams wore Shazier’s jersey in practice. Across the locker room afterward Mike Mitchell grimly reflected on his Monday exchange with Shazier on the field.
“When we walked out there that was the one thing that really shook me up a little bit because Shay’s tough as nails and when I looked him up he had tears in his eyes and you could clearly see that he was scared,” Mitchell said. “And for him to say to me what he said it took all the strength out of my legs.”
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Spence hasn’t texted Shazier. So many people are reaching out to him, he said, and he doesn’t want to add to blowing up his phone.
Apart from a couple tweaks he recognizes the entire system the Steelers play in addition to the seven defensive starters who had already been his teammates. Spence spent Wednesday’s practice rotating in and out of the first-team defense with Arthur Moats, whose tossle cap he wore in the Steelers’ first practice of the week.
Spence packed his lone bag for Pittsburgh with an emphasis on underclothes on socks. “But clothes I’m running short on,” he said.
He’s heard from those that have spoken with Shazier that he’s doing better, wants to be at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex and continues to ask about players.
When Shazier returns to Pittsburgh, Spence said around 3:20 p.m. Wednesday, he plans on visiting him. At 5:10 p.m. the team announced Shazier had returned to the city at a UPMC facility.
In his spare locker a box of miniature chocolate chip cookies, one large gift box and a smaller plastic package were waiting for him.
Read the team statement: “He will continue tests and evaluations before his medical team provides any further updates on his condition.”
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