The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Ryan Shazier
Position: Inside Linebacker
Experience: 2 Years
At times, Ryan Shazier still looked like a rookie struggling to find his way around the field and where to line up or how to shed a block. At other times, however, he looked like the best player on the field for either side, and a budding Pro Bowl talent.
Facing another season unfortunately marred by injury—the second-year linebacker suffered a shoulder injury in Week Two that caused him to miss four games, and much of another due to concussion—Shazier did make major strides both physically and mentally in year two.
The biggest development, no doubt, is the fact that this year he took over the play-calling responsibilities from the mack position after the coaching staff deemed him ready for it, and feeling that Lawrence Timmons would be able to play better and more freely when relieved of the play-calling burden. The merits of Timmons’ 2015 campaign notwithstanding, the added responsibility presented an added challenge for Shazier to meet.
It seemed that the former first-round pick was about to break out in a major, national headline sort of way in that second game, which unfortunately coincided with him missing the subsequent month of play. In that game, he dominated, recording 15 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery, in addition to keeping Colin Kaepernick under control.
He struggled for much of the middle stretch of the season to get back into a groove—he suffered a concussion in Seattle, which didn’t help things—but he came back to finish off the final month of the season strong, with notable strides being made in his work in pass coverage, which had been an area in need of improvement.
He recorded 33 tackles over the course of the final four games, including 13 in one game, and was excellent in coverage against the Broncos, recording three pass deflections as well as his first career interception, showing nice read-and-react in doing so, flashing back to his preseason debut where he cut in front of the tight end down the field.
His best game of the season may have been the Wildcard game against the Bengals, recording another 13 tackles, a couple of pass deflections, and two forced fumbles, including the crucial fumble toward the end of the game that led to the Steelers’ game-winning drive. He was not as present in the Divisional round, but he clearly remains on an upward trajectory, and should build on a strong finish to the year.