Steelers Step Out Of Character As Shazier Steps Into Starting Lineup

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.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Aric Brown

    I like this… I think they are saying this is our guy, and we are gonna get him as many first team reps as we can… why beat around the bush

  • treeher

    People seem to assume Worilds is wrapped up, but I think that is far from certain. If our young guys prove to be game-worthy, then it might be that the team will not want to fork up the cash necessary to retain Worilds. In that case, it is clearly in Steelers’ best interest to push development of the youngsters.

  • Craig Ressler

    About time! I hope all goes well and he starts day one and makes a immediate impact and upgrade to our defense. Would be refreshing to have a rookie do that for our defense in their first season. I realize things could change but I’m optimistic and hopeful.

  • srdan

    I don’t doubt that he will be the starter week 1.
    I guess there are two schools of thougth: one-you know this is happening, get him as many snaps as you can, two-dont hand the player anything, get him acclimated to adversity in the NFL

    I’m split on this. I want to see an infusion of young players on our team. But I also don’t like when anything is just handed out, especially starting positions. To hand him one when you have someone that performed admirably the previous year I dont agree with. If it were a FA signing I get it, but a rookie to a new defense I would make him earn it.

    On the contrary I agree with the people that say, to gethim all the reps he can get since we know who will be our mack come week one.

  • 2443scott

    i like this waiting around till guys in 3rd year then 4th years here and they have to scratch their heads do we keep him or sign him when he dont have playing experience…now they will see what he has a lot sooner then later….i am guessing they gone this way because he is smart enough to get the system…not all players are football smart till they are taught…

  • Steel PAul

    Nothing is set in stone. If he keeps this spot it will still be because he is playing the best of the group.

    The move by Timmons is a big part of this.

  • Menace_501

    Any chance Williams can play OLB?

  • shawn

    Just saw a pic of him on the Steelers website … and unlike JJ … it appears Shazier has gotten a lot bigger compared to his playing days at OSU … on the other hand Zumwalt looks like a rail … i think we definitely need to temper expectations with him … STs guy at best i would think !

  • patrick Mayfield

    Makes sense to me. You know Vince Williams isn’t going to be much faster this year so this is the way up. This is more about Williams than Shazier IMO. Last year Dwyer or Redman could have gotten stronger, better at reading blocks or knowing the playbook. Williams isn’t going to get fast.

    Consider also that unless you move Timmons over on the 1’s, you’re going to have Spence either out of position as the buck on the 2’s or the Mack on the 3’s where you’re going to have a harder time seeing what he has. This way you have Macks: Shazier-Spence -Garvin and Bucks Timmons-Williams-Zumwalt. Seems like everybody is slotted nicely. Buck traditionally calls the defense and you have Timmons and Williams over there probably the best suited to do that.

  • patrick Mayfield

    interesting question. Basically the same size as the outside guys. After the starters you have Moats, Carter and HoJo. Carter has maybe had one good game in plenty of chances, would be good to send him on his way.


    I don’t think they have done a 180 up there…especially on DEF…I think Shazier is likely to be a sub pkg player this season to start.

  • srdan

    I guess I use the “starter week one” term loosely. Mclendon is a starter but gets less snaps than our third corner. I don’t think teams have 11 starters anymore, especially on defense. It’s like 15-17.


    Exactly…that’s why NT has slipped so much…yes, the 3-4 still relies on a big gap guy, but unless you’re a super athlete…you’re a 1st down & short yardage sub pkg guy now.

    I can imagine that Lebeau has been coveting this hybrid type player every since Spence was drafted…and this guy has more upside than Spence…I’m interested to see how they are going to use him.

  • Jacque Strappe

    I like this idea.

  • Matt Manzo

    I’ve been thinking the same things! Measurables add up but I’m not sure how his technique is for outside!

  • Madi

    Yeah but Shazier was playing at like 215 or 220 or something. He had no choice but to add a ton of weight, unless he wanted to be a safety. And he had already put on that weight before the combine. Jones was already at an NFL weight… although it was not his best weight, since he could stand to add muscle and shed some fat.

  • Madi

    I just realized that Timmons is going to be our slowest, least athletic inside linebacker. lol.

  • MC

    I just think it comes down to them thinking that Shazier is the most athletic playmaker they’ve taken in the draft in some time and thus feel that he’s ready to be starting from day one.
    He’s got far less flaws on him compared to Jones and Williams when they came out of college which is why he is getting different treatment in my opinion. If they think he’s ready then put him in there!

  • SfSteeler

    if SHaZ really start game #1, when will Tuitt become a starter?

    if/when he does, this year our front 7 will consist of 3 #1s and 3 #2s…

    like our OL, i see great things coming from these picks!

  • PoKey21

    If they can play and produce let them play. That goes for anyone in any sport. Maybe the buccos can learn this lesson too.

  • PoKey21

    It all starts up front and in the middle on both sides of the ball. Good catch

  • shawn

    do you have confirmation he was playing at 220 ??? I though it was closer to 230 …. Because not so sure what you are looking at but supposedly Zumwalt is 230 and Shazier looks a heck of a lot bigger than him on the steelers website … check it out if you get a chance

  • Eric MacLaurin

    He won’t be given the job unless he earns it and the fact that they run him with the first team is an indication they expect him to earn it. Not that he gets it no matter what.

    As far as earning a spot over someone who did well I think you are dead wrong and think you are fooling yourself into thinking we have as much info as the coaches. You basically have a man and a boy. The fact that the boy was the best you had last year doesn’t mean you think the boy might be better than the man you just drafted. I hate the idea of players coasting on past play. Especially, when they coast on poor play at the expense of someone better just because of loyalty or seniority.

    I don’t think you guarantee anything to anyone but assuming your 1st rounder is better than your 6th rounder should be safe. Making him play seniority games isn’t the game we are or should be playing.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    Don’t bet on that one.

    I don’t think you get how big the talent difference is.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    A slow ilb moved outside? I doubt it.


    Probably not, never seen Shazier play, but I do recognize the draft positions for both players…it wouldn’t shock me if he’s the day one starter…just not Lebeau’s MO.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I think the draft was proof that the team made a decision to draft guys that can start right away. I know Rooney said they wanted to do that but they focused on ready players at positions with immediate need. I think we’re in an active churn period where they are going to aggressively move good players they want starting long term.

    The cost of late development with the CBA and current roster is too high.


    Agree…that was very evident with the 3rd rd pick…Seemingly a change in MO, which I welcome…have to endure the young player mistakes as all teams do, but getting younger and faster I like.

  • Madi

    I’ve read it like 500 times. Everywhere I researched during the draft said he was playing around 220, then bulked up to 237 before the combine, and still ran that 4.38.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    That’s for sure!

    It was hard to live through the mistakes last year when we were so close but when you consider how many guys were playing when they wouldn’t have seen the field in years past it’s actually pretty impressive.

  • shawn

    well then that makes a lot of sense how he looks so much bigger … I wonder if he picked up a few more pounds after the combine … He looked so skinny at OSU it had me a little concerned … thanks