Ryan Shazier hasn’t been on the field for the Pittsburgh Steelers in approaching two years now, but he’s still been everpresent, as much a part of the team as anybody else. He has technically been under contract during that time, spending the past two seasons on the Physically Unable to Perform List.
Yet he’s been doing just about everything else off the field that every other player on the roster has, and even more. He has his iron in many fires, even sitting in on meetings with coaches and spending time in the front office, trying to learn as many aspects of the game as he can off the field, while he tries to share his wisdom on it.
One can argue that his role has, in fact, been as vital as ever from a knowledge perspective, because he has been a key voice in the ear of young rookie Devin Bush, the Steelers’ first-round draft pick who has taken over Shazier’s mack linebacker position.
Bush leads all rookies with 45 tackles on the season, also leading the team, and has a sack, an interception, and three fumble recoveries to his name so far. And he looks better and better each week, making fewer and fewer mistakes and winning a higher percentage of his reps.
Bush has talked about Shazier’s influence, but he is with the veterans as well, Vince Williams and Mark Barron, even though they are older and more experienced in terms of years played. Keith Butler talked about the value he brings in the meeting room.
“It helps them because of the experience”, he told reporters last week, via a transcript provided by the team’s media department. “Most of us, him in particular, learn by our mistakes. He has been down the road and he can try to help them from making the same mistakes he did and as a consequence make them better”.
Most people in Shazier’s situation would have walked away from football by now. Not only does he continue to be around the game, he’s still trying to work his way back to the field. That has been a source of inspiration for everyone following his story, including his teammates. Like Alejandro Villanueva.
“Shazier embodies that every single day, because he’s out here with us, he loves, loves the game”, he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I’ve had many identities. I’m a father, I was in the Army, I got other things in my heart and my mind. Someone like Shazier, he was born to play football and now he can’t”.
Especially during a season like this, off to a 1-4 start and without a lot of optimism about improvement because of the quarterback situation, it’s important to remember that.