Spence's career over before it begins?

A year ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers used a third-round pick on Sean Spence, a speedy and athletic prospect who had a future as a starting inside linebacker. Now, it sounds unlikely that Spence will ever play again.

Spence severely injured his left knee last preseason, tearing his ACL and LCL, dislocating the knee, and suffering a damaged nerve behind the knee. In February, general manager Kevin Colbert said the team was keeping "fingers crossed" that Spence would eventually return. The prospects of that happening appear grim, based on comments made during the draft.

"It will be miraculous if he does come back," linebackers coach Keith Butler told reporters last weekend. "We are going to take a chance on him and see if he can come back. To me, he is worth every bit of that."

Spence, who had been an outside linebacker at Miami, was projected to start inside and perhaps take over for aging Larry Foote in 2013. With Spence expected to go on injured reserve, the top backups at inside linebacker this year are Stevenson Sylvester and rookie sixth-round pick Vince Williams.

The Steelers, though, refuse to completely give up on Spence.

"This kid is a great kid," Butler said. "He's not only a very intelligent football player but he is going to provide some intangibles in our locker room that we desperately need. We're going to ride with him for another year. Hopefully, his knee will respond and he can play again."