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Despite Rough Start, Tomlin Feels Arrow Is Pointing Up For Shazier

After selecting Ohio State linebacker/playmaker extraordinaire Ryan Shazier with the 15th overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, many draft experts and fans alike were wondering the same thing – where does the team play him? After all, Pittsburgh was still struggling to get to the quarterback, and in his final junior season as a Buckeye, Shazier tallied 22.5 tackles-for-loss and 6 sacks, showing his explosive ability to get after the passer. It didn’t hurt he ran a 4.38 40-yard dash time either. Considering his frame, fans often clamor as to why the team doesn’t make a switch and change him to a safety? After all, his speed would’ve made him the second-fastest safety at this year’s combine, behind only Mississippi State’s Justin Cox’s 4.36, despite a weight differential of 46 pounds, as Cox is 191 and Shazier is 237. Couple that with the abundance of depth at the inside linebacker position and one could make the argument to switch him there, or even outside linebacker and let him explode off the edges. The Steelers have no such plans however, the reason being they expect him to mature and fill out his frame, much like Lawrence Timmons did.

When he was drafted out of Florida State in 2007, he was only 234 pounds, but anyone can clearly see he is much bigger physcially than his listed weight.

“Lawrence’s body was very similar to Ryan’s when we drafted him,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “He was a 20-year-old third-year junior when we drafted him. Obviously Lawrence’s body looks very different now as he pushes into his late 20s and we expect similar growth and development from all of our young people. When I pull out some 2007 and 2008 tape all of those young guys generally laugh at how small Lawrence looks.”

Much like Shazier’s rookie year, Timmons didn’t garner much playing time either, stuck behind veteran inside linebacker stalwarts Larry Foote and James Farrior. He didn’t actually become a full-time starter until his third season in the league, so it’s very premature to balk at Shazier’s pedestrian 36 tackles his rookie season. At this point, to write off Shazier succeeding at inside linebacker, period, is outrageous, as his freakish athletic talents should have Keith Butler salivating. His pro comparison is often All-Pro LaVonte David of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who’s “listed” at 233 pounds and he’s considered one of the best in the game.

Perhaps expectations were too high after the second preseason game in 2014, when Shazier put on a spectacle for all to see. He posted 9 tackles and snared an impressive leaping interception, flashing his immense potential. However, knee and ankle injuries caused him to miss seven games of the regular season, throwing a wrench into his promising campaign. But it didn’t let Tomlin or anyone else in the front office feel as if the season was a wash for him.

“He’s a third-year junior when we drafted him,” Tomlin said. “We’ve had a great deal of success with acquiring those third-year type players.”

All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey was a rare exception to that rule, as he was an instant star, but Timmons and Le’Veon Bell are two other examples. They skipped their senior seasons, thus the growing pains during their rookie NFL years, aside from Pouncey.

Along with fellow-rookie and second round defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt last year, Shazier is poised to make the leap his sophomore season.

“There are plenty of examples of some of our most premier players being third-year guys when we drafted them so we expect him to grow in all areas and have the type of significance some of those others have achieved,” Tomlin said.

With the recent photos of linebackers Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Jarvis Jones and Shazier working out with weight room warrior James Harrison in Arizona, Shazier will almost certainly add some muscle mass and bulk to his physique.

“To be honest with you, Vince is really getting a lot stronger,” Harrison said of Williams. “He’s really escalating in his weights and Jarvis and Shazier and Spence are doing well too.”

Odds are once Shazier hits the field this year, he’ll let his athleticism and play do the talking, putting the questions about a position switch to bed once and for all.

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