It seems as though there are some people who are more upset over the loss of James Harrison than that of Ryan Shazier. The absence of the latter, and especially the manner in which that lost came about, is a far more significant development than a fourth-string outside linebacker who played a full career—hell, a couple of full careers—being released.
But the men in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room have certainly not overlooked what they’ve lost without Shazier in the meeting rooms and on the field. While he has been able to pop in a couple of times, wheelchair-bound for now, the Pro Bowler has a long road to recovery ahead of him still.
Yet in his absence, his teammates find motivation and inspiration. Safety Mike Mitchell talked about how the team began the season wanting to be sure to raise a Lombardi Trophy in honor of the passing of the great Dan Rooney. Following Shazier’s injury—“one of my best friends”, he said—, “it’s just a little bit extra”.
Mitchell said that it was hard, presumably both emotionally and physically, being out there on the field without their mack linebacker. “I’m sure it’s hard for everybody because everybody’s so close” to Shazier, whom he described as “just that type of guy”.
But he maintained that the show must go on. “One thing that I’ve been trying to do is keep my energy up”, he said of how it has directly affected him. I would imagine that that has been difficult while playing through injuries throughout the season. “It’s just one more reason why I’m playing”.
Sean Davis, the second-year man who starts alongside Mitchell, called Shazier the “quarterback of the defense” and said simply that they are “coping” in the aftermath of the loss of “such a key contributor, a key part of this defense”.
The Steelers’ primary plan to replace Shazier has been to bring back Sean Spence, who spent four years in the team’s system and two years making spot starts filling in for him while he was dealing with far less serious injuries. While he has gotten better as he has played more, many issues remain.
“We’re learning how to work around him not being there but we still feel his presence”, Davis went on. “We still miss him out there but I feel like we’re doing a good enough job without him. As the weeks go on we’ll continue to mesh, get good chemistry and continue to work well together. But losing ‘Shea,’ man, it’s still big for us”.
The Steelers only have one more game left in the regular season in their attempt to troubleshoot their post-Shazier defense and what they feel works best. Is the solution to continue to use three defensive linemen with five defensive backs on the field? More dime? Ride with Spence? Use a rotation? What? Perhaps it will vary with the opponent.