The best laid plans of mice and men. That’s the old saying, the implication that they rarely turn out the way as intended. In a sense, that can sum up Ryan Shazier’s season. Or even more specifically, his role as the team’s signal caller on defense this season.
In a one-on-one with Steelers.com’s Missi Matthews, Shazier explains that during camp, coaches gave him the sense he would be the one getting the playcall and setting the defense. Of course, he wound up missing four games with a shoulder injury and part of another after a concussion. Still, he was able to retain that role when healthy and active, one that he takes pride in.
“It’s just my calling. I kind of did it at Ohio State and the coaches felt like it was time for me to do it right now. I feel like I have a big mouth and a lot of guys that talk a lot play linebacker so I feel like it’s a great position. It’s just making me realize you really gotta focus in, you gotta really understand your game more. Understand everybody is counting on you. And honestly, I like that type of approach. I like everyone having my back because I’m going to have everybody’s back when I’m out there.”
When he returned from his four game absence, his ability to be available, to practice most days, get the reps in, helped him understand the game better and fully take over that role. It also helped remind Shazier of the importance of practice.
“At first, I’m not saying I was a big advocate of ‘I don’t need practice, I’m a Sunday player,’ but honestly the more I have been practicing and really focusing in and noticing that each play counts and every repetition really helps out a lot. It really made a big difference at the end of the year.”
He finished the 2015 regular season with 87 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and a pick. There were games where he was arguably the best player on the field – Week 2 against San Francisco and the Wild Card win in Cincinnati will immediately jump into fans’ minds.
Having those reps is crucial for his progress and something Mike Tomlin has alluded to almost every time he’s been asked to evaluate the soon-to-be third year linebacker. There’s no secret or surprise; his play correlates with the ability to practice. When he’s held out, his performance has suffered, and Shazier admitted he didn’t play up to his standard the few following weeks after returning from his shoulder injury.
Largely speaking, the fact coaches were itching to put him in that role and eventually did with positive results speaks to his football IQ and work ethic. The talent, the desire, has never been the question. Just the health and consistency.