The decision to release veteran Larry Foote does not mean the Steelers think Sean Spence has recovered from his devastating knee injury and is ready to return to full-time action.
But it does point out that they think the young players they have at inside linebacker – Spence, Vince Williams and Terence Garvin – are ready and more than capable of replacing Foote.
In an ideal world, that player is Spence, a third-round draft choice in 2012 whose rookie season -- and possibly career – was halted by a preseason injury in which he sustained multiple ligament tears, fractured his kneecap and damaged the peroneal nerve.
The latter is the most serious because it causes a lack of movement and sensation in the foot and leg. The peroneal nerve has regenerated and Spence is significantly ahead of where the Steelers thought he would be at this point. But, because of the unstable nature of the nerve, it is still too early to determine if he is healthy enough to play in 2014.
So what happens?
Well, one of two things:
The Steelers could go into free agency and find an inside linebacker with some experience who could be a starter in 2014.
Or, it brings into play the possibility of drafting an inside linebacker, maybe Alabama’s C.J. Mosley, with the 15th overall pick. The Steelers believe the draft has more quality outside linebackers than inside backers, so, if they want one, they might have to do it early.
The Steelers top defensive priority is improving their run defense in 2014, and they will look for players in the front seven to do that. The loss of Foote only exacerbates the situation.