It hasn’t taken long over the course of the past couple of days for many of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ faithful fans to warm up to their likely new starting mack inside linebacker, Jon Bostic, who signed a two-year contract worth up to $4 million with the team officially yesterday as the team finally dipped its toes into the free agent pool.
While he has been something of a journeyman already in his five-year career and marked by injuries, he is a smart and athletic player who put together a solid body of work in 14 games last year when it seemed as though things had finally all been put together.
The signing—or any signing of the sort—became a necessity after their starting mack, Ryan Shazier, suffered what can generously be described as a career-threatening spinal injury that temporarily left him paralyzed in the lower extremities.
For as much remarkable progress that he has made—recently showing to the world that he has even made it back into the gym, putting his body though some pull-ups—the fact remains that the Steelers cannot count on him being on the field, at least in 2018, even if he will remain a crucial presence to the team off the field.
And bringing in Bostic doesn’t replace Shazier, a fact that he knows quite well. While Bostic may be a bit more of an athlete than his reputation might imply, there is simply no parallel to what Shazier has represented at the position in terms of his sideline-to-sideline and playmaking capabilities, ascending to a Pro Bowl level the past two seasons.
Speaking to Pittsburgh reporters for the first time yesterday, he was asked about replacing Shazier, and immediately countered by saying that he wouldn’t use that particular word. “He’s a special player, and I’m sure he’s definitely going to be back at some point”, he said of his new teammate.
He focused rather on what he plans to bring to the table, regardless of how long that might be. He might not even end up starting this season depending on what happens in the draft, or he might become a long-term starter.
“All I’m supposed to do is come in here and work hard and whatever they asked me to do, I’m going to do it”, he told reporters. “Whatever position it is. Like I said, I’m a guy that’s got a lot of versatility, can do a lot of different things. So whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability”.
While it will be unavoidable at a certain level, I’m sure, Bostic needs to be given the benefit of the doubt and not viewed in terms of the position he is expected to play and who previously played that position. Shazier is not just a great athlete, but a great player as well. Those players are never, or at least extremely rarely, actually replaced.