Steelers Ryan Shazier Is on a Mission This Preseason


As the title suggests, Ryan Shazier is on a mission. He’s easily been the best defensive player of the preseason, playing all over the field. After a rough start to his career it looks like Shazier is motivated to be the dominant and versatile inside linebacker the Steelers expected him to be when they drafted him.

Last year, the Steelers drafted Shazier in the first round, 15th overall, out of Steelers draft day favorite Ohio State. Shazier’s performance on the field during college was good enough to get him 1st team all-american. So it says a lot about what kind of athlete you are when I mention that all the pre-draft coverage was over Shazier’s combine numbers. The man is an extremely unique athlete for the position.

Shazier is big like a linebacker. But he’s darting around the field so fast he looks like a safety, if not a pinball. It’s odd to watch him on the field; he almost looks like a running back playing defense. He ran a 4.38 40 yard dash. For a player who weighs in at 230 (then) this is incredible. So if the Steelers were looking to improve their linebacker corps and add some speed to an aging defense and Shazier was a no-brainer.

Now with the benefit of hindsight, in light of the current integration of the Cover 2, Shazier’s purpose becomes even clearer. In the Cover 2, the safeties often drop back deep and the corners handle the outside of the field. So there’s often a big hole in the middle that the linebacker sits in and plays zone.

Given that, it’s clear that Shazier is the perfect linebacker for that system. Rather than bowling over blockers he often utilizes his awareness and quickness to dart through or around them. His speed is unquestioned. Awareness, speed, quickness, these are all skills necessary for a Cover 2 ILB. Shazier is a good cover linebacker. He flashed a bit of it with an interception during his first preseason.

Unfortunately, the Steelers rookie linebacker succumbed to the injury bug, as Steelers often do. He missed much of his rookie year and when he was able to return split snaps with both Sean Spence and Vince Williams. He finished with 36 tackles. Not much of a difference maker. But the potential was clear.

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The part of his game that was not evident was his ability to tackle and, if necessary, bowl over blockers. Shazier came into camp nearly 8 pounds heavier. He’s also been tackling like a menace. He was the team’s leading tackler in both preseason games, including some critical stops and behind the line of scrimmage as well.

Back in June, Shazier told Chris Bradford of the Beaver County Times, “I definitely have something to prove to my teammates. I’m just trying to help us get to the next level and get a seventh Super Bowl. I have to prove myself to my teammates, and that’s all that matters.”

Well he’s come out swinging. Shazier is getting a lot of reps this preseason. Part of that is because he needs it. He didn’t get a ton of experience last year, not a season’s worth anyway. So it’s good to get him on the field.

Another reason could be Tomlin taking a similar approach with Shazier as he took with Martavis Bryant. By that I mean, you take a player with a ton of potential and tell him we’re not going to play you until you are at that potential. Bryant was famously told he needed to dominate the practice squad before he saw the field. Not do well, not do great, but dominate. Worked with Bryant, and Shazier is looking nice.

Shazier looks good. He’s bigger, he’s fast, he’s healthy, and he’s motivated. He looks ready to emerge from the 3 man rotation opposite Lawrence Timmons and be a full-time starter this year. In the future, he looks to be turning into a leader on the Steelers new-look speedy defense.

The Steelers prospects on defense, and therefore toward the Super Bowl, would greatly improve if Ryan Shazier has a break out year. If preseason is any indication, the defense could be in good hands this season and beyond.

Next: Sammie Coates Finding Success Despite Early Criticism

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