At this same time last year, then-rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier appeared to be well on his way to playing 1,000 snaps for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2014 season. Injuries suffered in the Week 3 game against the Carolina Panthers, however, forced the Ohio State product to miss seven of the team’s next nine games.
Once Shazier was given the green flag to return in Week 14, he spent the remaining four regular-season games as a situational player who rotated snaps with fellow inside linebackers Sean Spence and Vince Williams.
Now that Shazier’s back fully healthy again, inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky has effectively put to rest any notions that the Steelers former first-round draft pick would be splitting time this upcoming season when he talked to the media last week.
“We picked him in the first round, and we expect a lot of our first-round picks,” Olsavsky said of Shazier, according to Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I expect lot of all my players, but when you get picked that high it’s for a reason, and we expect him to fulfill his potential.”
While Shazier only played a total of 260 regular-season snaps as a rookie, Olsavsky saw enough to be encouraged about his player’s future. He also saw a few things that the young linebacker needs to work on headed into his second season.
“He played at a pretty fast pace (last year),” Olsavsky said. “How he played from whistle to whistle was pretty good. He just has to clean some things up so he can get a little faster on the top end and a little cleaner in the pile. But he missed a lot of time and came back and made some great plays.”
Judging by the comments made last week by new Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler, the Steelers might have their defensive linemen one-gap more this season than they have in previous years. If that winds up being the case, the inside linebackers could wind up being uncovered more than usual and thus they’ll have to fight through second-level blockers more often on running plays. That might be a challenge for Shazier and something to watch closely for when the 2015 season gets underway.
Shazier’s speed and agility should help him in that area of his game in addition to the fact that’s worked hard at improving his strength during the offseason that included him traveling to Arizona to workout with veteran James Harrison and several of the other young linebackers.
Shazier was officially credited with 36 total regular-season tackles last season and eight of those were recognized as being stops by Pro Football Focus. It would be great if he could triple those numbers in his second season and assuming he stays healthy, he figures to get enough playing time to do just that.
“I feel I’m going to be very important to this defense,” Shazier said last week according to steelers.com.” Last year we weren’t a Pittsburgh Steelers defense. We didn’t play Pittsburgh Steelers defense. This year I feel like if I perform the way I’m supposed to perform and everybody else performs the way they’re supposed to perform were going to have a great team.”