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Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier Best Bet To Start As Steelers Rookie Since 2001

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Ryan Shazier of the Ohio State Buckeyes poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after he was picked #15 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on May 8, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Ryan Shazier of the Ohio State Buckeyes poses with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after he was picked #15 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on May 8, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

By Christina Rivers

CBS Local Sports presents 32 Players in 32 Days, a daily feature focusing on one impact player from each NFL team.

Ryan Shazier – Linebacker – #50
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 237
Age: 21
Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, FL
College: Ohio State
Experience: Rookie

When the Pittsburgh Steelers pulled the trigger with their first round selection (15th overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft, they caught a lot of insiders and draft experts off-guard. Shazier, an outside linebacker at Ohio State who turned down scholarships to Alabama, Florida and Louisiana State University and spent time in high school at defensive end as well, impressed scouts and coaches enough that he earned All-Big Ten honors, despite draft grades that listed him as no higher than a second-round pick. The Steelers saw something they wanted in Shazier, a team-first player with leadership skills that could infuse youth into their defense with near-instant acceleration off the line, excellent snap-timing skills and explosive closing speed.

As a Buckeye, Shazier posted back-to-back seasons (sophomore and junior) with 115-plus tackles. His 101 tackles his senior season (2013) were good enough to rank him third all-time on the Ohio State University record book behind only Tom Cousineau (142) and Chris Spielman (105). As the Big Ten’s leading tackler, Shazier appeared to be the perfect fit for a Steelers team that was thin in their linebacker corps due to age and free agency.

Head Coach Mike Tomlin summed up Pittsburgh’s excitement at drafting the young man after the pick was made by saying, “(Shazier) is a guy who will be on his feet, making sideline-to-sideline tackles associated with today’s football. What we needed was a defensive playmaker.”

Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau, since returning to the Steelers in 2004, has never been so quick to determine that one of his rookies would be starting immediately, opening day, in an NFL regular season as he has been since seeing outstanding performances by Shazier at rookie minicamp, offseason organized training activities and the Steelers’ 49th annual training camp at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

“He’s going to start. Yeah, he’s ging to start,” LeBeau said on August 3. “He’s shown us a lot of athleticism for a big guy, and he’s in great shape. He can run all day.”

NFL defenses have had to morph their identities in recent years as offenses put up more and more yards, but LeBeau understands the trend. “The game is in a constant state of change, and it’s evolving into a wide-open, run-and-shoot, option type of thing,” said LeBeau. “(Offenses) are going to use different personnel packages, and you have to match up.”

Shazier’s forte is his speed and ability to make moves on blockers to run an offensive lineman over, but also the ability to pass-rush and get laterally down the line to make stops in the offensive backfield. Those are skills many veteran players never fully develop. Shazier isn’t letting the hype about his past get in the way of improving.

“I (am) going to put pressure on myself to go out there and show the coaches what I can do, show everybody what I can do,” Shazier said at the beginning of training camp. “If the coaches have trust in me for me to start, then I’m going to start…I’m just going to continue to do what I can, go out there and grind and do what I have to do to help this team.”

Shazier’s mentality has impressed as much as his athleticism. That level of maturity is a welcome sight in Pittsburgh, especially for a team that is looking to regenerate former defensive dominance in a league that is moving towards more explosive offenses.

Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on
Examiner.com.

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