INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It was during a reunion with an old acquaintance that Sean Spence’s ears perked up, and he quickly found himself with his third team in three seasons.
Spence’s recent meeting with the Colts included a discussion with their head coach. It reminded him of his first encounter with Chuck Pagano, who in 2007 was the defensive coordinator at the University of North Carolina. Spence was an All-American linebacker at Northwestern High School in Miami, Fla.
Pagano was unable to lure Spence to Chapel Hill – he would ultimately start 40 games for Miami’s Hurricanes – but said the right things to make Spence the latest component of the Colts’ on-going retooling of a defense that a year ago ranked 31st in the NFL.
“We always had a great relationship since then,’’ Spence said Monday in a conference call. “I saw the opportunity to reunite with him and I took advantage (of that).’’
Pagano, he added, offered him “a great opportunity. Obviously a winning franchise . . . they give me the opportunity to come in and compete for a starting job and play on a winning team, and that is hard to say no to.’’
Spence signed a one-year contract worth approximately $2.5 million, and is the latest addition to a linebacker corps that has been the primary target of first-year general manager Chris Ballard during the NFL’s free-agent signing period. Prior signings: Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, Barkevious Mingo.
Spence undoubtedly is expected to push returnees Antonio Morrison and Edwin Jackson for a starting spot.
“Sean has the speed and athleticism to be a sideline-to-sideline player,’’ Ballard said in a team release. “He is coming off of a productive season and we are excited to see him continue with the Colts.’’
A third-round pick of Pittsburgh in 2012, Spence missed his first two seasons with the Steelers with injuries before appearing in 31 games, 13 as a starter, in 2014-15. He spent last season with the Tennessee Titans, starting six of 15 games and generating 50 tackles and a career-high 3 sacks.
Spence described himself as an “instinctive guy. I’m a smart guy. I am a guy who is going to communicate and play hard for the guys next to me. I’m great at lining guys up and making sure guys are on the same page.
“I think I am a starting-caliber player, but they told me I would have the opportunity to come in and compete for a job. I definitely think I am a tough player and I am hoping we can just change the atmosphere . . . We just have to change the culture and get back to the winning ways.’’
Introductions won’t be necessary between Spence and his new quarterback. He has faced Luck on three occasions: once as a member of the Steeler in Pittsburgh and twice last year as a Titan. For the record, Luck holds a 2-1 edge.
“I know Frank (Gore), T.Y. (Hilton) and I’ve competed against Luck for numerous years,’’ Spence said. “It’s always fun watching him the way he competed no matter the score, no matter how many times you hit him, no matter how many times you sacked him. You always want to play with a player like that.’’
Spence recalled the Steelers’ 51-34 drubbing of the Luck-led Colts in 2014. They sacked Luck twice and hit him on another eight occasions.
“He’s a competitor,’’ Spence said. “We were hitting Luck a lot and sacking him and knocking him down. When we turned on the film the next day, that Monday, he never flinched. He never backed out of a throw. He never curled up before he threw the ball.
“He stood strong in the pocket. I respected him. I respected him even much more.’’
Luck completed 26-of-45 passes for 400 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
“Playing him twice last year, I have even more respect for him,’’ Spence said.
Luck led the Colts to a sweep of the Titans in 2016. While Tennessee piled up four sacks and 11 QB hits in the two meetings, Luck passed for 615 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.
“I am just happy that I get to play alongside him,’’ Spence said.