Steelers Ryan Shazier too injury prone for stardom?


The Steelers have a star in Ryan Shazier. He’s smart, he’s fast, he’s athletic, he’s strong. The guy is an athletic freak. On top of that, he’s not just an athlete, he’s a football player. The young man has a nose for the ball and darts between blockers until he finds it. When he’s on the field he’s proving to be a unique talent and future star. But there’s one problem, he’s not always on the field.

Ryan Shazier has been in the league less than a season and a half. In that time he’s sustained 3 injuries that kept him out for multiple games. In total, Shazier has missed 10 of 21 games he could have potentially played in.

Even when he played in the latter part of his rookie year he was limited by his injuries and where he was once poised to be the first rookie ILB star since Kendrell Bell he was now splitting time with Sean Spence and Vince Williams.

Fast forward to this season and Shazier was seeing significant playing time in the preseason. Shazier looked very good. He started and played well into when the backups were in. This made sense since he needed reps to get comfortable and also to prove himself, physically, mentally, and in terms of durability.

Shazier got off to a strong start with 7 tackles in the Patriots game. But he really exploded in the second game against the 49ers. Shazier had 15 tackles. a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in his second game. It was the best game of his career. Even better when you consider the fact that he didn’t even play the whole game!

Oh ya, that’s right, he didn’t play the whole game. Shazier left the game having injured a nerve in his right shoulder. The Steelers were up by a lot and Shazier looked fine walking off the field. He didn’t have a sling and didn’t ride a cart. A lot of us thought it was just precautionary.

Then we were surprised to find out he was out for the Rams game. That seemed precautionary as well. Then the Ravens game. Ok, short week, surely he’ll be back in 12 days against the Chargers. That’s plenty of rest. Nope. Then we hear reports of “full participation” so we all assumed that the Cards would be the game.

Prior to Monday Shazier said, according to PennLive’s Jason Klinger, he was, “Ready to go.”

So it seemed based on that and the “full participation” business that Shazier was due back this week. Then we see this tweet:

Shazier is out, again, for the 4th game.

The question must be asked. Is Shazier too injury prone to really be a star? Can he be the anchor of the Steelers defensive future if he’s only there half the time? Is he the next Lawrence Timmons or the next Kendrell Bell?

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Why is Shazier so often injured?

It could be the nature of how the Steelers prepare. Tomlin runs a tough camp. It is especially hard for rookies who have not had much experience at this level. They already have a tough time adjusting and all the backs on backers and full contact Tomlin prefers might not be the best approach, particularly for rookies.

This is supported by the fact that several first round draft picks in the Tomlin era have had injury troubles, including Maurkice Pouncey and Jarvis Jones. David DeCastro and Rashard Mendenhall also lost some serious time to injuries. This is just the first round picks. Just this year Jesse James and Senquez Golson have dealt with injuries that have held them back.

On the other hand, maybe its Shazier as well. For a linebacker, Shazier looks small. He officially measures in at 6’2″ and 229 lbs. Timmons isn’t significantly thicker than Shazier. He packs 5 more pounds onto a frame 1 inch shorter. So he does have some more to him in terms of heft. But it looks worse than it measures.

Perhaps its his speed, or the way he tackles by grabbing and swinging. I don’t know. This is just my anecdotal naked eye observation but Shazier looks small out there. It’s strange to see. He’s slightly bigger than a strong safety but he’s smaller looking than a linebacker. He kind of looks like a running back playing defense.

Maybe Shazier is a Ferrari. A Ferrari is a tremendous machine. Fast, efficient, moves well. It is as good a car as you could hope to drive … on the road. But you’re not going to take that thing off road. You’re not going to be hauling with it or climbing rocks or kicking up mud. Some athletes, despite talent, just don’t have a football players brain. I’ve already said I believe Shazier does. But does he have a football players body?

Maybe Shazier needs to pack some weight on. Its certainly helped Jarvis Jones stay on the field this year. Let’s not write off Shazier just yet. He can put on weight, add strength, adjust to the game, learn how to take care of himself better.

Despite my panic inducing headline I would urge caution to Steeler nation on Shazier. Tomlin could be exercising caution, an extreme amount, but perhaps that is warranted. If Tomlin really wants to evolve into a cover 2, he’s going to need an athletic linebacker to cover that wide open space in the middle of the field. Shazier was drafted to be that guy.

Its totally possible and reasonable that this is the regular early career adjustment injuries. Its totally possible and reasonable that Tomlin is being cautious.

There has been a little bit of mystery however surrounding the shoulder that has made me nervous personally. We never seem to know until gameday that Shazier is out. How long can this go? Pouncey has a projection, Ben had some projections, Shazier seems to just be some big mystery.

Its a little perplexing. Could be the nature of the injury. But lets keep our fingers crossed Shazier can find a way to play a full season because he is one talented football player.

Next: Steelers week 6: what to watch

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