The Pittsburgh Steelers have lately been looking for a player on their defense who can deliver them their much-needed splash plays. They look to have found one in third-year inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. And there are elements of the way that he is used at times that hint at the fact that the coaching staff realizes this.
The Steelers obviously had high hopes for him right from the start when they immediately plugged him into the starting lineup in his first practice with the team. They didn’t get discourages through his rocky first season because they saw the potential in his game between the injury stints.
And he showed it last season in 2015 despite further injuries. He got his hands on five passes, one of which he intercepted, and popped a couple of balls loose during the regular season before adding another pair of fumbles to his plate during the postseason.
He also showed much-needed improvement on the pass-rushing front. He recorded three and a half sacks in 2015 after failing to notch even one during his rookie year. He matched his 2015 output during this past season while upping the turnover meter to another level.
This time around he recorded a trio of forced fumbles during the regular season. He also intercepted three passes while deflecting nine others. Those final two interceptions came in the final two games of the regular season. He then proceeded to pick off a pass in each of his first two postseason games.
Shazier played in 16 games including the playoffs this past year. He recorded five interceptions and forced three fumbles in those 16 games. He recorded an interception and four forced fumbles in 14 games the year prior.
He is showing the sort of talent and knack for the ball that suggests that he can be a player who can create a turnover-worthy play on average about once every other game. That is exactly the sort of player that the Steelers need right now. In fact, they could actually use another player like that.
But they know what they have in Shazier. That is why they have started to use him more as a shadow of the quarterback. They allow him to read the quarterback’s eyes while neither rushing nor clearly dropping into a zone, trusting that he will find the ball or disrupt the throwing lane and passing angles. This has led to at least a couple of his pass deflections.
There is a reason that Shazier is down south right now participating in the Pro Bowl. He was not on the A-List for the even this year. But that certainly looks like it has a very good chance of changing starting this year.