“Mistake Speed” Helps Put Ryan Shazier On The Fast Track To Starting

As Ryan Shazier looks to become the first rookie to start a season with the Pittsburgh Steelers on defense since Kendrell Bell, he does have one notable advantage that many other past rookies have not, which is a big part of why he was drafted: speed.

More specifically, mistake speed.

You know, I’ve heard this term, “mistake speed”, in reference to defensive backs before. I can’t remember if it was Keith Butler or Dick LeBeau who said that Ryan Shazier has mistake speed. What they meant was he can make a mistake, diagnose the fact that he’s made a mistake, and run like heck and get to where he was supposed to be in the first place in time to still make the play. That’s one of the things that separates this guy.

That was Mike Prisuta recently, commenting on the conclusion of the first set of OTAs this past week as we got our first glimpses of the latest crop of rookies.

Many linebackers are fast, of course. But not many of them are 4.4 fast: fast enough that you could talk about them in defensive back terms.

As silly as it might sound, Shazier’s sheer speed should help him transition from the college game to the professional level, simply because he will be able, on occasion, to correct a mistake by running to the play once he realizes his mistake, a fact of which he is self-aware:

I knew I was a pretty fast player. People always told me the speed of the game is fast, and wherever I went I was pretty much as fast as everybody or faster, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. But now, everybody’s fast on this level, so one little mistake on this level can make a big difference. So it really makes a difference [to be fast].

Maybe that’s why the aforementioned LeBeau was so enthusiastic about the prospects of landing Shazier in the first round of the draft, with a mind toward getting him on the field early and often in his first season.

According to Bob Labriola, LeBeau joked that “by the time the 15 minutes [on the draft clock] went up, he might have come up with a couple of new blitzes in his head involving Ryan Shazier”.

The Steelers had just lost veteran Larry Foote, and the potential candidates to replace him were, quite frankly, full of question marks at the time. The prospect of landing a linebacker that could start as a rookie was clearly tempting.

Given that it was either Butler or LeBeau himself who brought up the topic of mistake speed in reference to Shazier, it was obviously a consideration when drafting him. They saw last season what happened when Vince Williams or Jarvis Jones would make a mistake as a rookie and they didn’t have the speed to compensate.

Even if he doesn’t end up starting the season opener, he still figures to have a prominent role early in the season, so expect the mistake speed theory to be put to the test sooner rather than later.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • ApexSteel

    That’s essentially what I’ve been saying here for weeks. In college you can see that mentally he played the game at a turtle’s pace and a lot of time’s what saved him was that 4.3 speed. Now once he learns the game he’s gonna be a headache, but I thought it would take him a little while to do so

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I think the question will end up being how many rookies start. I wouldn’t even be that surprised if our top 4 guys are basically starting. Bryant isn’t that far behind Wheaton, and with his size and speed I could see them start him early if they think he is going to end up as the starter. Archer would probably start if it was up to me because his impact on the defense is just so much more significant than any of the guys that would play instead of him.

    I think I would give up tradition and just call the sub package guys the starters. I would actually start Archer in the backfield with Bell and Tuitt on a two man line with Cam.

    On an unrelated note…Poly is going to have a career year if he can stay healthy. With Mitchell to provide solid safety protection and Shazier, Shamarko and Spence able to play safety or CB he’s going to be free to play to his strengths with almost no worries or need to cover for anyone else or play out of position.

  • Milliken Steeler

    Agreed except for Bryant. He isnt the route runner that Wheaton is. If his fingers do not give him trouble, I don’t see Bryant surpassing Wheaton although I can see him getting some red zone activity as the year goes on.

  • Steelers@2010

    Troy is done; he was a great player in his prime, but lets face reality here, he’s not going to have a great year. I think he will be just as good as he was last year which was average. It’s time for a changing of the guard, and I think we will see that this year. Just as they phased Hines Ward out of the lineup, I think this year and next, we will see a new starting safety tandem at periods of time in the games.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Interesting assessments. I think it’s very revealing that our COACHES have gone on record as saying (paraphrasing) “In the past we’ve been able to bring our rookies along slowly, but we don’t have that luxury this year.”

    In other words they are PLANNING on giving the rookies significant snaps. They hinted that Tuitt is a first round talent. They hinted that Bryant would’ve been a 2nd round talent in most years.

    I think LeBeau is finally shifting his traditional 3-4 philosophy (about 6 years too late) to a more “stop the pass first” scheme. When you see the way Brady/Manning/Brees/Rogers attacks our defense it is obvious we need more coverage ability out of our ILB’s and Safeties.

    I expect a lot more dime/hybrid looks with Shazier playing a Polamalu type rover. It would be hugely beneficial to generate a pass rush with just Worilds – Tuitt – Heyward – Jones. That would allow Timmons, Shazier, Polamalu, Thomas, Mitchell, to ALL be on the field together, wreaking havoc.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    This is a tricky one. To me it depends on what types of routes you’re asking Bryant to run.

    He averaged 22 YPC last year in college. (Think about that for a minute.) He is a deep threat. You’re not going to bring him in and ask him to run a bunch of quick cuts within 5 yards of the LOS.

    You send him deep to force safety help over the top. And he can do that from day one.

    To me Wheaton has proved very little. He may know the playbook better. But he hasn’t shown he can execute. And hasn’t shown reliable hands. So what advantage does he really have?

  • charles

    The ‘coverage ability’ does come from pressure with four. Pleasant to hear some stark realities from other Steelers fans. We saw last year LeBeau showing some flex and indicating more ‘edge’ rushing from the ends as opposed to the hold your ground idea. The speed from the backers presents a great opportunity for different ideas for defensive schemes. It all HAS to begin w pressure from the front four though, and that is something we haven’t really had since Aaron Smith. Tuitt and McCullers present hopeful opportunities as well as Arnfeldt and Williams.

  • joed32

    Nothing wrong with Wheaton’s hands last year but a couple of times he turned one way and Ben threw to the other side. Ben shook his head and was clearly displeased. They have time now to get on the same page. He can catch and he’s pretty fast. I hope Bryant gets some playing time too but Wheaton will start.

  • cencalsteeler

    Troy being done is a strong statement. Yes, he is getting up there in age, but I’m going to come to his defense on this one. He did make the pro bowl last year. He wasn’t able to play his natural position most of the time, as he was up playing a hybrid lb role. Now, he has Mitchell, he has another year of a seasoned Cortez. The infusion of Shazier (this alone will help Troy tremendously, IMO). Gay continuing to contribute. All this said, I think now Troy can get back to being Troy!

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I do agree that he has a very valuable year of experience in the system but since he played so little I don’t think it is enough to ignore the possibility that Bryant starts.

    I’m not calling it but if they are close and Bryant has significantly more potential I think they’ll go with bryant. I think Ben would rather have the tall guy and I think that even though he might have fewer route options I think he creates other options with his height.

  • dgh57

    There’s a reason why our pass rush has been lacking the past few years and it’s because our OLBs don’t have the supporting cast as they used to have with players like Aaron Smith and Casy Hampton. It works the same way for Troy if you look at the supporting cast Troy had to play with last year! 2 rookie LBs in front of him, a over the hill Ike Taylor, a slowed down version of Ryan Clark, and a Shark Tomas learning the ropes. So in the end the supporting cast has a lot to say about any one player. Wouldn’t surprise me if Troy were to play out his extension he just received on his contract.

  • dgh57

    I agree! They didn’t make the moves they’ve made so far this off season just to help out the CB position.

  • Jason White

    Just wait until he plays without mistakes. That speed is gonna really show up when he is popping Johnny Duckball or Mike Tyson oops I mean Ray Rice 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

  • Nolrog

    It really does frustrate me with the whole, our defense is too complicated for rookies to start, but then other teams have rookies starting all over. I think they need to stop with that crap, stick the kids in there and then spend the week talking to them about what they did wrong and what they should have done. They will learn quicker and be better faster that way.

  • Nolrog

    Oh man. I can’t wait until he b-slaps Ray Rice and then says, that’s from your wife.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    As long as you aren’t one of the guys complaining about rookie mistakes costing us games. Vet’s in place of Williams and Jones probably has us in the playoffs last year. It’s a choice with benefits and costs not some dogma based on nothing.

    Unless you want a simpler defense but that’s pretty significant.

  • Steve

    Steelers have 3 backs with very different atributes between them. Bell will start, Blount will be the power for the needed 2-3 yards and Archer can come in for around end, quickee up the middle or Bubble screen.

  • Steve

    Troy was out of his realm last year, playing the saefty/LB position. Troy is far from done and he will come back with a vengence that we missed last year. If you say Troy was average, why did he made the Pro Bowl? Don’t know what you watched but Troy is an awsome player.

  • dgh57


  • Steelers@2010

    The Pro Bowl selection is a Joke! Lets be real; players are selected based on popularityand what they have achieved in the past. He didn’t deserve to be in th Pro Bowl last year just like Pouncey in years past. I’m a Die Hard Steeler Fan, but I’m also impartial, I call it like I see it, unlike most Fans. I will agree with you on one thing though, he was playing out of position in 2013. But even if he wasn’t, he is sitill old and he has lost a step or two. Troy was an awesome player in his prime, and I think he will be above average in 2014 as well.

  • Steelers@2010

    No dude, I’m not as ignorant as Warren Sapp; I just call it lie I see it. I’m a die hard Steeler Fan, has been fo over 30yrs now. But just because I’m a Fan, Ican still be impartial.

  • Steelers@2010

    Ok, I agree; Troy isn’t done, I still believe he will be effective in 2014. But I have to stand by most of my comment, I don’t think he will have an awesome year in 2014. Of course I hope he does because if he can play like he has in years past, I think the defense will be scary.

  • Johnny Loose

    Impartial absolutely, but “Troy is DONE?” lol come on!!!