Ryan Shazier Selection In Line With Sub-Package Philosophy

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has spent a good deal of his talking time this offseason to emphasize the importance of sub-package football in today’s league. Yet when he had a top cornerback available to him at the 15th overall pick, which nobody would have considered a reach, he instead took a linebacker.

If the idea is the maximize your ability to play with a plethora of defensive backs on the field, then it would have been a good decision to take the defensive back in the first round, particularly a cornerback with Darqueze Dennard’s skill set and tackling ability when it comes to playing against the run.

Ryan Shazier is not just a common linebacker, however, and in fact I believe he helps gear the Steelers toward sub-package football, or a derivation of it.

Shazier has rare speed for his position (Kevin Colbert said that the team clocked him at an even 4.4 time in the 40-yard dash). He’s faster than Dennard and many other defensive backs and wide receivers that are slated to be drafted this year.

Pair him with the quick and highly athletic Lawrence Timmons at the inside linebacker position, and that opens the Steelers defense to playing a plethora of looks without taking their linebackers off the field.

Though his athleticism grants him the ability to carry out a variety of assignments, I don’t think it would be accurate necessarily to describe him as a hybrid player. Still, his abilities grant the Steelers the opportunity to explore more exotic disguises on defense.

Imagine having two inside linebackers that you would feel comfortable covering wide receivers down the field on occasion. Add in Shamarko Thomas and Sean Spence into the mix, and we start to see where Tomlin’s thought process is on the defensive side of the ball: highly athletic and versatile players that none the less can lay the big hit and play above the neck.

Contrast that to last season, when the Steelers began the season with the ironically slow-footed Larry Foote, whom you generally wouldn’t want to trust in coverage more than you have to.

After his injury, he gave way to Vince Williams, a lumbering rookie thumper who already came into the league with a reputation as a two-down linebacker.

The Steelers tried to limit his playing time despite asking him to start, and by year’s end they were trying to replace him on passing downs with Terence Garvin, a rookie undrafted free agent. More often than not, however, offenses took advantage of the mismatch and ran the ball against him.

For most of the season, however, it was strong safety Troy Polamalu occupying a quasi-middle linebacker role in place of Williams for large stretches of games. While this led to occasional successes (such as Polamalu’s career-high five forced fumbles), it wasn’t generally a favorable alternative.

Shazier should help not only keep the linebackers on the field while simultaneously not hurting the passing defense, but also keep Polamalu back at safety, where at this stage of his career he’s better suited to running forward than backward.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • dgh57

    I was shocked at first I didn’t get my CB in the 1st round but I guess a LB with CB/S speed is the next best thing. Almost as fast as Justine Gilbert who some had us taking. I think we could play him outside vs. a WR if you wanted him to and if it turns out to be a running play then you still have a LB in there to take care of it. It’s going to be interesting how Spence, Garvin, and V. Williams fit in now.

  • shawn

    I take it that you are saying that Shazier offers the best of both worlds … the flexibility and talent of being a sub package guy and the ability and skill of being an every down player as well ???

    On paper that sounds pretty good … i realise that sub package is necessary in today’s game, but I’m not a big fan of changing too many players every down … with the exception of adding a DB or 2 on heavy passing downs … i think it just ruins the continuity and cohesion of the players and defense ( I dont think it hurts as much by adding a DB ) so this would make a lot of sense if it works out!

    I like the players (especially playmakers) to stay on the field as much as possible (with a breather every now and then) to let them get into a rhythm and be able to see what the offense is doing that way they are better able to make splash plays !!

  • Paddy

    If this guy is faster and more athletic than Dennard then there’s your answer.

  • shawn

    at least we groomed Williams to be a decent backup … solid depth is vital …. if somehow we can get something from Spence that would be a bonus !

    We need to start signing/extending our promising talent much earlier … Worilds and Keenan have got to be a lesson to the FO and not the norm …
    Cortez and Heyward need to be locked up asap !

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I believe you hit this on the nose Matt!


    Compared to the competition already on the Steelers, is he ready to start day one?

  • Jason Brant

    This will be a great way to disguise blitzes.

  • HardPunkKore

    Colbert and Tomlin talked about this kids high football IQ. His dad was a coach too. I can see this kid pushing Williams and Spence day 1 kind of like how Jones pushed Worilds last year, and could be starting by years end. Factor in a more experienced Jones along with Timmons and Worilds, this LB corps could be near the top of the league coming into next year.

  • steeltown

    I think it comes down to V.Williams struggling in coverage, Garvin struggling against the run and Spence still being an unknown. Shazier has the potential to be that 3down LB

  • wdhammer

    it was obvious the D was slow .the steelers needed speed and they got it . now is the time to add more speed on D . draft DDDDDD.

  • wdhammer

    If Spence can come back and moats now in the mix the LB corps can be solid with this kid . Now a corner in the 2 rd. a Wide -OUT in 3 then DDDD

  • Chad H

    Could they have drafted the best SS in the draft? The heir apparent to Troy?

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I’m surprised this is a controversial pick.

    The guy is a perfect Steeler and you don’t take a pretty good CB and pass on an elite lb. This felt a lot like Tomlin’s first draft and the only reason shazier was even a question was the unknown of Spence. This has been a high need position for years. I half expect the same choice of a second round olb duplicating Tomlin’s first draft of timmons and woodley with shazier and Murphy.

    I do wish that got ogletree last year. That was a mistake.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    The point with shazxier is not having to change a lot of players for sub packages because the players are versatile. He allows the sub package to be a simple db for DT instead of changing all over the field.

  • cp72

    Lebeau use to line Timmons up outside of Harrison and he was scary coming of the edge. Imagine doing that with a guy like Shazier. I couldn’t agree more having two great athletes like Timmons and Shazier can give limitless options to put pressure on the quarterback.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    That last part……… Yup!

  • shawn

    ya thats what it sounds like … Im all for that !

  • Pitfan0513

    CJ goin to the ratbirds and Dennard goin to the Bangles will hunt us for years! Just watch!!

  • Ike Evans

    Here’s my question tho….what if Sean Spence comes back beast mode? The odds aren’t necessarily in favor of that…but ppl act like its not possible…what if he does? Then what?

  • CW

    Spence and Shazier both played hybrid ILB/OLB/Safety roles in their college defenses. Both have shown the same speed and situational reflexes that Polamalu had earlier in his career. If Spence comes back as a beast he could easily play that hybrid role Polamalu has played in recent years up near the line of scrimmage with Shazier holding down the linebacker role.

    The team is moving to a hybrid defense with multiple players able to fill multiple roles. If Spence is back at full capacity then it only helps build that new hybrid 3-4 faster. If Jones and Garvin can also improve in that role better still. You want the opposing team unsure of who might be rushing the passer on every down these days and the scheme and play versatility of your Jones’es, Shazier’s, Spence’s and Garvin’s give you that in the linebacker corps.

  • Ike Evans

    “If Spence comes back as a beast he could easily play that hybrid role Polamalu has played in recent years up near the line of scrimmage with Shazier holding down the linebacker role.”


  • CW

    If Tuitt is there he’d be the better pick to be honest. A monster 3-4 DE to push the offensive line back and create holes for the linebackers to exploit would be great.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I appreciate the honesty. 🙂

    I honestly wouldn’t go that way. I think Murphy is the better player.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I don’t know. I keep hearing Colbert say “You can never have too many good players at any one position.” Which I think is completely false and ridiculous.

    Colbert drafted Hood and Heyward and neither could get on the field. Meanwhile we had glaring needs at OL and our franchise QB was getting killed.

    We currently have Timmons and Shazier starting at ILB with Williams and Spence backing them up and possibly Garvin and Moats behind them. That’s 3 deep at ILB. Meanwhile who’s our starting DE? Who’s our starting #2 WR? Not to mention our EXTREME lack of depth at both CB and OLB?

    Maybe LeBeau invents a sub package with 1 DL and 5 LB’s and 3 Safeties? Because that’s what we have right now.

  • Rosco

    Tinmons= Timmons, Shazier= Farrior, Williams = Foote?

  • Mike Frantz

    I keep hearing this, and I don’t get it. You are unhappy with the pick of a superb talent because we have mediocre to bad players already there (Williams, Moats, Garvin) and a completely unproven, 3rd round pick coming back from a catastrophic knee injury that has almost zero precedent for recovery. Really? Obviously we have holes other places too (DE, WR, CB), but to say that ILB was any less of a hole is kinda absurd. I’m not saying Colbert is mistake-free and he shares a fair amount of the blame for our current roster that is full of holes. But this clearly plugged one of our biggest holes.

  • Matthew Marczi

    If they envision him as a mack, which they basically said that they do, then I would say yes. Whether or not he does is another question. I could see Vince Williams beginning as the starter with Shazier rotated in on passing downs or alternating series.

  • CW

    Murphy could very well be the better player. The reason I’d go defensive end is need. If Tuitt is not there then Murphy could be the pick to make.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Just to be clear… Which position was the hole you’re talking about? The Farrior/Foote position right? That’s Buck ILB.

    If we drafted a Buck ILB I would absolutely 100% agree with you. But that’s not who we drafted. Shazier is a Mack ILB. Timmons is a Mack ILB. Spence is a Mack ILB. Garvin is a Mack ILB.

    We’re moving Timmons out of his best position to make room for Shazier. Why not draft a superb 1st round talent at center? Then we can move Pouncey to guard and pay another great back up center in Wallace? You can never have enough good guys at the center position right?

    Don’t worry about the fact we have no starting DE or no depth at CB. Let’s accumulate talent at center.

    It’s not personal (toward you). I just don’t understand Colbert’s logic.

  • steelster

    shift shazier to OLB and let worilds walk.