The Pittsburgh Steelers have parted ways with a number of aging talents that epitomized success in the community during the height of their careers. While their on-field assets may have diminished over the years, however, one should not underestimate the ripple effect that their departures could have within the locker room.
While the concepts of camaraderie and leadership may be somewhat elusive when it comes to the team chemistry of a sports team, there is no doubt some truth to the idea that these qualities help build a winning team, especially when it comes to a game as interconnected with one another as is football.
The last several offseasons have seen some quality championship characters exit stage right, and their vacant lockers no doubt diminished the overall character of the room as a whole. Just recently, the team saw both Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu retire, even if their departures were already in the plans for this spring.
While the Steelers do maintain a select body of leaders within the locker room, which I have already explored, it’s equally important for them to foster a group of emerging players who can enter leadership roles of their own in time.
As we look to the defensive side of the ball, I think we start to move a lot more into projected territory, given the amount of recent change that is taking place, but I think if we have to pinpoint arguably the next player to break out, my guess would be the Steelers’ most recent top draft pick, Ryan Shazier.
Shazier was drafted at a time when the inside linebacker position certainly felt much different than it does now; it could have been reasonably argued that it was the team’s top need, with Larry Foote moving on and the team knowing very little about their young players, either due to injury or lack of playing time.
With his electric speed, however, the Ohio State linebacker was figured to be the antidote for one of the defense’s bigger problems in recent years, which had been its sideline-to-sideline defense, with too many big runs trickling out to the edges.
The fact that the team plugged in Shazier immediately into the starting lineup from his first practice says a lot about what they envision for him, as I can’t recall the last time they have done this with anybody. Certainly the first under this current regime.
And he remained in the starting lineup despite missing time in the preseason. Even after missing time in the regular season, he was plugged back into the lineup. It wasn’t until he missed a second stretch of four weeks of practice time due to yet another injury that Shazier was finally rotated out of the starting lineup.
I think the Steelers know as well as anybody that they need Shazier to become a cornerstone of this defense, including Shazier himself. He faced similar pressure to be the leader for his teammates around him in college, and he rose to the challenge then. While his rookie year was a disappointing one, I believe once he settles down in his professional career, he will blossom into one of the players that teammates turn to.