Rebuilding A Champion: Ryan Shazier Next In Line At The Mack

The Pittsburgh Steelers spent much of the time between their last playoff victory and now replenishing their roster in preparation for their next chance to make a push for a championship. Last season showed signs that the team was on its way out of that transitional phase after posting a division-winning 11-5 record following back to back .500 seasons.

Still, the Steelers failed to make it out of the divisional round, and have lost their last three postseason contests, dating back to Super Bowl XLV. They followed up that 2010 run with a 12-4 wildcard campaign that saw a first-round exit, and subsequently failed to return to the playoffs the following two years.

So how close might they be to righting the ship and returning to that place that they have been more than any other franchise—that is, holding up the Lombardi Trophy? One way to attempt to measure that would be to compare how this season’s lineup projects against past teams.

For these purposes, it might be helpful to cite both the 2008 and 2010 teams, which are, respectively, the teams that have claimed their most recent Super Bowl championship and their most recent Super Bowl appearance.

The mack linebacker position has undergone some change over the course of the past several seasons since the Steelers last hoisted the Lombardi. At that time, the position was manned by the cerebral Larry Foote, who was in fact growing discontent with his status on the team.

While he played very well during that 2008 season, with the Steelers fielding the best defense in the league that year, emerging behind him was Lawrence Timmons, then in his second season. Foote saw the writing on the wall and was granted a request for his release.

Timmons entered the starting lineup at the mack in 2009, and after a slow start, began his rapid ascent to a Pro Bowl-caliber starter, which was finally rewarded in 2014—ironically, after he had moved to the buck.

The truth is, however, that his best season was probably in 2010, the Steelers’ last appearance in the Super Bowl. It was perhaps his most consistent performance, posting 135 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions, nine passes defensed, and two forced fumbles.

Timmons, in fact, moved over to the buck linebacker spot in part to make room for his successor, Ryan Shazier, who was drafted in the first round in 2014 and was immediately plugged into the starting lineup—whereas Timmons had to wait two years before he got a chance to start.

Everybody knows by now that struggles that Shazier had as a rookie, of course, suffering a multitude of injuries both during and prior to the regular season that wiped out almost half of the year.

At the end of that injury road, he had lost his starting job, but he is back in the lineup for his second season and is poised to take a huge leap forward, provided that he can stay clean around the piles.

His game-changing speed has the potential to make a good deal of momentum-swinging plays that the defense has been lacking in recent years. But all of this right now rests in the realm of potentialities. It’s up to him to bring that potential into the real world. He has the talent.

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