The Pittsburgh Steelers got some good news by the end of the work week when starting inside linebacker Ryan Shazier was able to go as a full participant for the final practice session on Friday, although the Friday practice session is typically more of a light walkthrough for the most part.
While he is officially listed as questionable to play today, the expectation is that he will, and perhaps under the old system that the league arbitrary altered starting for this season, he may have been listed as probable instead. I half expect that the change was driven to add more suspense to the injury reports about who will play, but I digress.
Shazier was set to play every snap of the season opener in Washington until he seemingly jammed his knee working laterally in coverage early in the fourth quarter. He took himself out of the game, but generally seemed to be optimistic about the injury even as he was talking to teammates, and then to reporters, in the locker room after the game.
While he is anticipated to play today, I might wonder if the Steelers will look to monitor his snaps just a bit against the Bengals, especially considering that the team is coming off a short week, having opened the season with a primetime game on Monday night.
There is also to be considered his already fairly extensive injury history through two-plus seasons, and we have already seen this season how trying to get back from an injury too soon can result in a setback, which is a situation that the team is currently dealing with at the outside linebacker position.
The Steelers may even take advantage of in-game situations to give him some snaps off here and there, such as going to the dime defense at strategic times and removing Shazier from the field—as was their prerogative at the start of last season—rather than Lawrence Timmons, who did see a handful of snaps in the dime against Washington.
The Steelers also used both Vince Williams and L.J. Fort at different times in substitution of Shazier during the fourth quarter. It is conceivable that they may have it in the cards to give one of the backups a series or two throughout the game, particularly if the defense is on the field for a large number of snaps.
If the Steelers are playing from behind, then Williams would be the likely player to go in as the better run defender, but if they are playing with a lead, they may favor Fort’s coverage abilities, which is a facet of his game that the coaching staff has appreciated.
Of course, it is also very possible that the Steelers see 75 snaps on defense and that Shazier is on the field for every one of them. Should that be the case, however, I simply hope that there are no repercussions from whatever sort of tweak in his knee that he experienced last week.