Today is Sunday, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are not playing. They are not playing tomorrow, either, nor did they already play on Thursday. The 6-4 franchise is entering its long awaited and much needed bye week after 10 straight games.
With not much else going on, it would figure to be a good time to reflect on what we have seen over the past three months. Specifically, I would like to explore a few topics this week that the team might want to use this time to reconsider.
There is one topic that the Steelers had already seemed to be considering heading into the bye week, and that is how they intended to split reps at the inside linebacker position, specifically at the mack, where Ryan Shazier has been the starter when healthy.
A 2014 first-round draft pick and a plug-and-play starter, Shazier has been in and out of the lineup due to injuries. He sustained two separate injuries during his rookie year, the second forcing him out of the starting lineup and requiring him to fight for playing time.
This year, the second-year starter suffered a shoulder injury in a standout performance in the second game that caused him to miss four games. While he has been back since then, he has not performed at the same level as promised by his performance in the first two games.
Since his return, the Steelers continued to give Sean Spence a few snaps here and there during games. Spence was of course the primary player at Shazier’s position during his absence, with Vince Williams rotating in.
In the Steelers’ last game before the break, however, Spence saw an uptick in playing time, logging a dozen snaps, including 10 in the first quarter, and another two in the red zone later in the game. Williams also replaced Shazier for seven snaps, with the former first rounder seeing the sideline for 19 of 70 snaps.
Was this an aberration, or a sign of things to come? Should Shazier expect to continue to lose snaps to his teammates after the bye week as the coaching staff looks to match up the best personnel for whatever situation, or simply to rotate players in?
It is obvious, and has been obvious from the beginning, that the Steelers want Shazier to become not just an every down player, but an every snap player, as Lawrence Timmons is. He was plugged into the starting lineup with the first practice rep he ever took with the team.
But while he has certainly flashed at times in big ways, notching a couple of sacks and a number of tackles for loss, to go along with a couple of forced fumbles, he has also struggled at certainly times in certain aspects, particularly in coverage and in getting off blocks on stretch plays.
Shazier is still the clear favorite of the three players when it comes to the starting lineup, but the last game hinted at the idea that the team is not entirely sold on the efficacy of playing him every snap, which makes me all the more interested in monitoring the playing time at his spot going forward.