Even though he is essentially already in the starting lineup, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier seemed to leap into it this past week during the final block of voluntary organized practices.
From reports, he used about every ounce of real estate afforded by his 42-inch vertical leaping ability to intercept a pass that reserve quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was convinced would find its way home to Martavis Bryant.
Shazier had other ideas. “It was a little high but I felt I could get up there”, he said about the athletic play following practice.
“We were in a certain coverage; I had a zone-drop. I read the quarterback’s eyes. I knew he thought he was going to be able to get it over me. I just jumped up and did what I can”.
Gradkowski is now among those who understand what this rookie can do as well, after seeing it for himself. The veteran wouldn’t have thrown that ball if he thought that Shazier could make a play on it.
“No, I didn’t, I definitely didn’t [think he could get it]. I thought, ‘OK, let me just lay this over him’. I saw Martavis coming in the window. [Shazier] jumped and I still have this snapshot in my head. I’m like, ‘this dude was 90 feet off the ground’”.
As much as Gradkowski regretted seeing his own pass intercepted, however, he later reflected, realizing that he hopes to see this play many times to come from Shazier against opposing quarterbacks.
“A veteran like myself, you never want to see that happen. At the same time I hope we see a lot of that from him this year…In a sense I’m kinda mad it happened. In another, it’s good to see young guys making plays”.
And from the sounds of it, the Steelers may envision Shazier making plays all over the field.
“You never know with Coach [Dick] LeBeau”, he told Jim Wexell. “He can call anything. Maybe one play I might be on Antonio Brown; next play I might be on Le’Veon [Bell]; next play I might be on Heath [Miller]. Whatever he wants me and the defense to do, I’ll give it 100 percent”.
As Mike Prisuta writes, “the Steelers’ anticipation of what he’ll do when the shoulder pads finally come on is heightened, seemingly on a daily basis”.
The rookie’s potential for playmaking success is just too much to pass up in favor of a pair of only moderately more experienced players who know the defense better.
As much as Sean Spence has come a long way from where he was last season to being a full participant—and a high level participant—in every OTA session, it doesn’t seem as though Shazier has any interest in opening himself up to competition.