When referring to what he likes to see out of his linebackers, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is known to say that he would rather have to say ‘whoa’ than to say ‘sic ‘em’”, which means that he likes his linebackers to have a controlled recklessness about them that he would rather have to reel in than to instill.
The Steelers have been telling third-year linebacker Ryan Shazier to ‘sic ‘em’ since the day he became a member of the team, but not because he lacked aggressiveness. He was installed into the first-team defense next to Lawrence Timmons during his first practice with the full defensive unit.
The only time that that had ever been relinquished was in his third injury during his rookie season, during which he missed a string of games during the regular season for the second time. It was at that point that the coaching staff had to say ‘whoa’ and sit Shazier, understanding that he had missed too much practice time with so little experience to be counted on not to make a mistake.
There hasn’t been much cause the reel in Shazier since then, who between his first and second seasons was installed as the defense’s signal caller, in part in order to free up Timmons, who was never entirely comfortable with the role, and also because, of course, they believed that he could not only handle the task, but perform well while doing so.
Early returns were good when he had an excellent second game, though he also got injured at the same time and went on to miss the next four games. But the game is also another interesting example of how the Steelers have been calling on the young linebacker to be aggressive in the manner in which they have deployed him.
Shazier played roughly 60-70 snaps in that game. Among those snaps were about a dozen instances in which the defense lined him up on the outside about a dozen times, split between both the left and right sides. Of course, he was not necessarily playing the “outside linebacker” position, so to speak, although he did do that on occasions—with minimal success.
But the point is that the coaching staff already has a great deal of trust in the young linebacker to deploy him quite liberally all around the defensive alignment, in a variety of roles, all while commanding the defense. He has lined up as an edge rusher as well as in the slot at times.
It is one thing, of course, to trust a player to do a variety of things for you, and it is another for that player to be comfortable in each of those roles, and with the full combination of roles. It is yet another still for a player to be efficient in all assignments, and that is the area in which Shazier is continuing to grow—with a note that his edge rushing in particular needs improvement if the team intends to continuing using him in that fashion.