The Pittsburgh Steelers, seemingly, broke with apparent convention yesterday by inserting rookie inside linebacker Ryan Shazier into the first-team lineup from his very first full team practice during OTAs.
In that bare sense, it is somewhat surprising. After all, the Steelers do have Vince Williams, who started most of the season at linebacker last year, as well as Sean Spence, who has a two-year head start in terms of learning the defense.
Even last season, the team forced Le’Veon Bell to work his way up the depth chart at running back even though he was destined to be the starter all along. If I recall correctly, he even began behind rookie undrafted free agent Curtis McNeal, who wasn’t long after released.
And were Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer really so much more respected commodities than are Williams and Spence? The latter was released before the season started, while the former was cut during the season.
Especially on defense, however, it’s rare for rookies to even get reps with the first team early on during the offseason. Jarvis Jones took reps with the ones on occasion, but not as the declared starter himself. He merely rotated in for a series or two.
When you consider the circumstances, however, it’s clear that the Steelers haven’t faced such uncertainty at linebacker in some time, which drastically reduces the surprising nature of a rookie playing with the starters, even if that rookie was the 15th overall draft choice in his class.
Over the past decade or so, the Steelers have had the good fortune of having the likes of James Farrior, Larry Foote, and Lawrence Timmons man the key inside linebacker spots. In fact, very rarely over that period of time were there ever any ‘holes’ in the defense, which perennially finished in the top five in the league.
Now, Shazier enters a competition with two players nearly his equal in playing experience, yet he is certainly their superior athletically. The future at the position is clear.
That future also necessitates moving Timmons from the mack to the buck in order to accommodate Shazier’s strengths, so it’s better to make that adjustment now rather than waiting.
After all, if by some chance Spence should win the job, he, too, would in all likelihood play the mack position.
Of course, it’s always essential to keep in mind, and to remind readers, that what you see one day during the summer isn’t always what you’ll get the next day, let alone once September rolls along.
Some wondered why Mike Adams wasn’t being given a shot at left tackle last season, for example, until one day the coaches flipped the two tackles and never looked back—until they had to, of course. The Steelers are hoping they won’t have to look back on Shazier from this day forward until the day he retires. The future is now.