End-of-season player exit meetings are not something that we are often privy to as outsiders of the football world. Generally, we only get a glimpse into that world when a player is asked by a reporter how the meeting went, if the player is willing to discuss it.
Still, it’s not generally a hard concept to grasp, and we have a pretty good feel by now of how Mike Tomlin and his staff likes to operate, and we see all the game film, so it’s not an overly difficult project to simulate. If we were to administer the end-of-season player exit meetings, it might go something like this.
Player: Ryan Shazier
Position: Inside Linebacker
Experience: 1 Year
Was Ryan Shazier given too much, too soon, or should the primary culprit of the rookie’s rough first season simply be the barrage of injuries that he had to endure? And does it even matter when it comes to his second season?
The Steelers didn’t hesitate in selecting Shazier with the 15th overall pick in the most recent draft, and they took the uncharacteristic step of immediately plugging him into the starting lineup from his very first practice with the team.
That held true all through the offseason, but injuries slowly chipped away at his practice time. His preseason debut was delayed because of that, but he impressed in his first game, making a number of tackles and being seemingly all over the field, while also recording an athletic interception. The rest of his preseason—the rest of his year, in fact—didn’t go nearly as smoothly.
In the season opener, he struggled against the run. The week after, it was his work in coverage that was giving him problems. A knee injury in the third game knocked him out for the next four weeks. Upon returning, he played a more limited number of snaps, despite continuing to start, but also showed improvement. Another injury in the following game kept him out another several games.
When he returned this time, he was no longer a starter, and his playing time was mostly limited to the ends of each half. He became a role player, perhaps the role that he should have been given from the beginning of the season, but the Steelers weren’t sure what other options they had.
At the time, their other two options at linebacker were Vince Williams, who started last season, but was spelled so often that he logged sub-package player snap counts, and Sean Spence, who had yet to show that he could be relied upon after spending his first two years in the league rehabbing a severe knee injury.
Shazier was the de facto starter, as a result, with the Steelers hoping he would seamlessly merge into the role, but injuries so him fall so far behind that he didn’t have time to catch up.
2015 will have to be much different in order for the defense as a whole to take it to the next level. Shazier needs to take ownership of the mack linebacker spot and play well, being the sideline-to-sideline player the unit is lacking.