2016 South Side Questions: Should Ryan Shazier Play Sunday?

The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.

Question: Would it be smart for Ryan Shazier to play at much less than 100 percent on Sunday?

Much of the Steelers fan community over the course of the past several days has been gripped by doom and gloom, and a large segment of that community has even formulated the belief that the team should simply concede Sunday’s game due to the seemingly significantly low probability of a victory, instead throwing their arms up against the Patriots and skating into the bye week with a 4-3 record.

This question is not formulated with any regard to that suggestion—in fact, it is, if anything, geared toward the opposite. Because if Ryan Shazier is able to play Sunday, then he will have to play an instrumental role in defending what has proven once again to be the most potent element of New England’s offense, which is a dual tight end threat with Rob Gronkowski and now Martellus Bennett.

We have seen Shazier do a very nice job in defending against the tight end position this season, most notably in the season opener, which was highlighted with an interception and a key pass defensed in the end zone that prevented a touchdown, so logistically it would obviously make a great deal of sense to get him back in the mix against this particular opponent.

But the particular issue that we are currently dealing with is the fact that we are dealing with an injured player who not only has a long injury history in a short amount of time, but also a history of coming back too soon from injuries, only to worsen the situation. That is why Shazier has been out for the past three games, because he did not properly bounce back from a knee injury in the second game.

Now we’re still talking about that knee in the seventh game because it wasn’t taken care of the right way. He’s been out for a few weeks now, and yesterday returned to practice on a limited basis. But this is the first week he has even been practicing, and I’m just not sure he can get to a point by Sunday in which it would present minimal risk of reinjury.

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