In a recent non-contact practice the Pittsburgh Steelers began to show off what their first round pick can do. Ryan Shazier spent the practice lining up all over the defense, using his speed to impress nearly everybody watching. Shazier, mostly playing inside linebacker, lined up against whomever Dick Lebeau decided he should. One play he was against Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown, the next play he was assigned to Le’Veon Bell, and after that he spent time covering Heath Miller. Shazier also made an impressive interception against Bruce Gradkowski that few inside linebackers could make. Here is Alan Robinson’s perspective of the pick.
Even some of the offensive players are beginning to recognize the impact that Shazier’s athleticism will have. Ben Roethlisberger sounded like he was talking about Troy Polamalu, when he said, “Shazier is going to be fun to watch.” That quote along with the description of the practice given by Robinson has begun to make people think that the old, slow, yet reliable Steelers defense is quickly becoming younger and faster before our eyes.
If Shazier continues to learn Lebeau’s defense at a solid rate, it would be shocking to not see him in the starting lineup come September. He has already proclaimed his knowledge of the Steelers playbook at a “five or six” on a scale of 1-10. The more comfortable he gets with the playbook and the more comfortable Dick LeBeau gets with him in the starting lineup, we could begin to see Polamalu-esque plays from the rookie linebacker. A game changer on the defensive side of the ball is something that the Steelers definitely need. Last year the Steelers forced 20 turnovers, only four teams had less than that in 2013. If Shazier lives up to some of this hype and gets to play with a healthy Polamalu, it’s not hard to believe that the Steelers will have more than 20 turnovers this season. Plus you would have to assume that being on the Steelers is the perfect situation for a player with the attributes Shazier appears to have. Learning from a player like Polamalu and coach like Dick LeBeau can only help his chances of becoming a great player.
It appears Shazier will certainly help defending the pass, the question that remains is will Shazier be able to help the run defense that finished with a ranking of 21 last year? At only 6’1″ and 237 pounds, Shazier is not a monster physically. All the Steelers can hope for is that he continues to learn the LeBeau defense and that he can keep giving the Steelers memorable athletic plays, even if they are just practice plays for now.