Not everybody in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform gets to tread the path on the defensive side of the ball the way that third-year inside linebacker Ryan Shazier has. As a first-round draft pick, even, by tradition, nothing is guaranteed for a rookie with the Steelers, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
But when he lined up for his first practice with the full team on the field during his rookie season in the spring, he did so lining up with the starters. And by midseason in his second year, he was wearing the green dot on his helmet, meaning he was the communication hub between the defense and the sideline, getting the play calls and setting the defense.
That didn’t all happen by coincidence, or because the Steelers forced him into that position. He earned it. They drafted him because of his football intelligence and his ability to diagnose plays. They knew that he was somebody who understood the value of the film room. And that is why you will frequently find him watching tape at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex in the early hours of the day.
Shazier talked about his film study routine with Teresa Varley recently for the team’s website, saying that he head straight to the film room when he arrives at the team’s facility to go over tape with the Steelers’ scouts, even before attending his meetings.
Shazier said that he started doing it between meetings, and would watch tape with Mike Mitchell, who came in the same year he did as a free agent signing. “Then I started going in earlier, by myself”, he said. “I wanted to get in there as early as possible and watch as much film as I can”.
You can see how important film study is to his performance on the field, which is not all just about his unparalleled speed for the inside linebacker position. While his quickness certainly helps in blowing up plays by cheating in the gaps, he has to know where he is going and why before he does it.
Thinking quickly and reacting quickly is just as big an element in Shazier’s game as his physical quickness. “It’s important”, he said about his work in the film room. “It helps step up my game, gets me better prepared for what is going to happen in games. I can’t thank [the scouts] enough for allowing me to be in there. It’s helped my game”.
There is a reason that he has been able to pick off a pass in each of the past three games, and four in total on the season, leading the team, which is pretty rare for his position. Only one player listed as a linebacker had more than four interceptions this season.
Of course, he also chipped in three forced fumbles and three and a half sacks. And even in that, you can see how his film study has improved. He has gotten better as a blitzer every year, and has improved his stripping technique in separating player from football.