Not just a preseason game for Spence

LATROBE, Pa. -- Sean Spence checks another box off on his to-do list Saturday night and this one will be a biggie.

The Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker will play in his first game since sustaining a career-threatening knee injury almost two years ago in a preseason game. Spence's progress since shredding his left knee while chasing a quarterback has been as consistent as it has been remarkable.

And he takes a big step toward coming all the way back from several torn knee ligaments, a dislocated knee cap and nerve damage tonight when the 2012 third-round pick takes the field at MetLife Stadium.

Spence won't only play against the New York Giants, he is likely to start in the 7:30 p.m. ET game with Ryan Shazier unlikely to suit up because of a knee injury.

Spence has looked really good in training camp and his reconstructed left knee has become such a non-issue that the only time it comes up is when it is time for Spence to pass another marker on his long road back.

"I've been pretty consistent [when] I said I wouldn't be surprised if he has a full recovery," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "I just know the type of young man that he is, the type of worker that he is and those things usually work out for those guys."

Spence has been practicing with the first-team defense at weakside inside linebacker with Shazier sidelined, and his return to action only bolsters a position where the Steelers are pretty deep.

ESPN.com NFL analyst Matt Williamson had an interesting take on Spence.

Williamson didn't think Spence was a good fit for the Steelers when they drafted him because the 5-11, 231-pounder was a little undersized for an inside linebacker. Williamson has since done a 180 in his thinking because of how much the NFL game has changed.

"It wasn't obvious [in 2012] how much the passing game was valued, and that's really, really changed over the past couple of years. I give the Steelers credit for seeing the future," Williamson said on ESPN 970 AM in Pittsburgh. "He's not Levon Kirkland and never will be. But if [healthy] he's going to be one of those every-down guys that can run with today's tight ends and running backs. If Spence can be that guy that's tremendous. You've got to root for him."