I really don’t pay much attention to what others write about the Pittsburgh Steelers, generally. I don’t read other blogs. I only pay passing interest to the local-area beat writers. There is a site that I subscribe to that I barely even gaze at anymore. National media articles rarely get a look. I do this generally only to stay informed as part of my job.
It’s rare that I actually ever come across anything substantial or poignant in them (which is, of course, why I largely ignore them), but a recent piece by Greg Bishop for Sports Illustrated was an exception. It was about Ryan Shazier and his impact on the team, with one line in particular standing out to me.
“Shazier’s injury divided Pittsburgh’s season into two parts”, he wrote: “what they did with him, and what they’ll do for him”.
It’s not exactly a revelation to point out that the inside linebacker had become the centerpiece of the Steelers’ defense. His unique talents allowed them to do things that they could not without him, and that other teams cannot. It’s why he made the Pro Bowl.
The former first-rounder’s continued on-field maturation into his fourth season, and his ability to have stayed healthy all year, was the primary catalyst for the defense taking its performance to another level. A healthy Cameron Heyward and the additions of Joe Haden and Mike Hilton didn’t hurt. But it was the signal-caller’s presence that sets everything else up.
Since his spinal injury, from which remains a long road to hopefully complete recovery, the defense has been searching in the dark for its glasses, so to speak, trying to figure out what to do in his absence, but as the postseason debut looms, they are hoping to see with clear sight.
Shazier has become an integral personality not just on the field, but off it as well, and there is a reason that his teammates appear to be so driven by his injury. Bishop quotes Mike Mitchell as saying that he believes even more following his injury that the Steelers will win the Super Bowl.
They already believed that they could do it with him, and largely because of him. They still believe that they will do it because of him; but now it’s not so much with him as for. He is, of course, still a regular presence, having even shown up at games and in the facility. He is still a physical and emotional presence. Just not on the field.
The drafting of Shazier in 2014 was something that veteran Cameron Heyward called “the start of a new nucleus”, advancing the onset of a new guard as the old faded away. Heyward had been there for the tail end of the old guard, yet had not experienced even a playoff victory until Shazier’s second season.
I think it would be fair to say that the Ohio State linebacker is the most significant draft pick that the Steelers have made since Antonio Brown in 2010 in terms of their overall impact on the team, on and off the field. And they are hoping to show just how much Shazier means to them by winning the Super Bowl for him.