PITTSBURGH (AP) – This is not the way Arthur Moats or anyone else wanted the veteran linebacker to return to the regular rotation for the Pittsburgh Steelers Defense.
While his partner Ryan Shazier was resting in a hospital on Thursday recovering from surgery to stabilize his injured spine, his long-term prognosis is still uncertain, Moats became familiar with Shazier's position in the internal linebacker in preparation for the night of Sunday game against Baltimore.
It's a position that Moats hardly considers "his" for the rest of the season.
"That's the last thing that worries me," Moats said.
Not when there is still so much unknown about Shazier.
The 25-year-old left the Paul Brown Stadium in an ambulance Monday night after injuring his spine while hitting Cincinnati wide receiver Josh Malone in the first quarter of Pittsburgh's 23-20 victory.
Shazier spent about 3 6 hours at a hospital in Cincinnati before being transported to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Team doctors and neurosurgeons Drs. David Okwonkow and Joseph Maroon performed surgery to stabilize Shazier's spine on Wednesday night.
"If they say it's in their best interest, we're in favor," Moats said. "It's true that he's our brother, you're always nervous to see him fall on Monday and at the end of the day we're just praying for him."
The Steelers signed linebacker Sean Spence, who spent three seasons with the team after being selected in the third round of the 2012 draft – on Wednesday to provide depth.
Spence, however, has not played since he was released by Indianapolis in October. And with backup Tyler Matakevich dealing with a shoulder injury, Moats will line up with Vince Williams when the Steelers (10-2) seek to secure the AFC North against the Ravens (7-5).
Moats moved frequently between inside and outside linebacker after the Buffalo Bills took him in the sixth round of the 2010 draft, but he has worked exclusively abroad since he signed with Pittsburgh in 2014. That changed this week, when the coaches called him on Tuesday and told him to get ready. "If you're a linebacker on this team, you should know that everyone on the field makes every defense," defensive coordinator Keith Butler said.
"Reason (Moats) has stayed the same As long as it has done so it is because it does know it, knowing it and doing it are two different things, we hope it can help us."
Something Moats has done this regularly when requested. He trailed 11½ sacks of 2014-16 before taking on a minor role this season behind Bud Dupree and rookie T.J. Watt.
Although lacking Shazier's elite speed, Moats joked that he runs a 4.3 40 yards as Shazier but is "assisted by the wind" – with 246 pounds he has the size to be effective against the race and institutional knowledge to be forced into alignment so quickly should not be a problem.
"From my situation in Buffalo, where I changed positions sometimes in the middle of the year, from the inside out, either 4-3 or 3-4, I've always been aware of what's happening in the position and I helps understand defenses in general. "
Although Butler allowed Spence not to be "in football" at all after being out of work for two months, Spence's mere presence is a testament to Pittsburgh's confidence in him and Spence's perseverance.
Spence was a rookie near the end of an impressive training camp in 2012 when he stepped awkwardly in the preseason final against Carolina and broke two ligaments in his left knee, leading to a long and painful reha b) that He stole his first two seasons and threatened his career.
He returned in 2014 and played in a reserve role in two seasons before signing as a free agent with Tennessee, a move facilitated in part by the appearance of Shazier.  Back in Pittsburgh, Spence is very familiar with the possibility that your life will be severely disrupted by what seems like a routine play. He was able to recover. Shazier's forecast remains much darker.
In his limited contact with Shazier, his teammates say he has done nothing but encourage them to move forward. Spence is ready to shake off the rust and put his hand in a familiar pile even after more than two seasons away.
"People say they want to be around, ask for all the boys here," Spence said. "He wants us to go out and play for him, come out and win for him."
NOTES: Matakevich and CB Joe Haden (fractured leg) did not train on Thursday. … WR Antonio Brown (toe) also did not practice while Watt was limited (knee). … S Mike Mitchell (ankle) and TE Vance McDonald (ankle) were full participants.
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