The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t quite look high and low last season to find an adequate replacement for the role that Ryan Shazier played on defense before he suffered a career-threatening spinal injury in late 2017. Or at least, they didn’t buy high. They only signed Jon Bostic in free agency, and once they failed to trade up in the first round for an inside linebacker, they let the position slide altogether.
It was very evident in the unit’s performance last season, so much so that the front office nearly overcompensated to address it this year, signing Mark Barron in free agency and then making a big move up in the first round to get Devin Bush.
Shazier is of course still a part of the team, under contract and on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform List. While he continues to rehab and make progress in his own quest, however, he’s also around the other players helping them out, including Bush, and he talked about that during an NFL Network appearance yesterday.
“A lot of times he might ask me some questions”, he said. “Sometimes we might watch film together. I had some great leaders when I played, and I’m just truly thankful for the player I am because of the insight they gave me, so sometimes I give some insight, and I don’t know if he’s listening to it or not, but I just kind of give him all the insight that I wish somebody gave me”.
Shazier was actually drafted right after they lost their leaders. James Farrior had retired a year earlier, and the Steelers let go of Larry Foote after he suffered a season-ending injury in the opener in 2013. Vince Williams, a sixth-round pick, was just coming off his rookie season. The veteran of the group was Lawrence Timmons, but he was never that demonstrative leader type.
But the first-round pick proved to be a plug-and-play starter. The only thing he couldn’t prove right away was an ability to stay healthy. It’s somewhat ironic that it wasn’t until his fourth season, before suffering that devastating injury, that he looked as though he was finally over the nagging minor injuries that had been holding him back from reaching his full potential.
He did make the Pro Bowl in each of his final two seasons. Can Bush make the same sort of impact that Shazier eventually grew into? That would include recording forced fumbles and interceptions, which Bush did not do at the college level. He just had one turnover.
If he does turn into that sort of impact player, then perhaps Shazier will have played a role in that, sitting in on film sessions with him and showing him what he sees as a defender. Whether or not he ever plays a down again, the Steelers are still very fortunate to have him around.