I wouldn’t exactly dub it a ‘calling out’, because that would not really be Keith Butler’s style. Rather, the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator most often simply says whatever it is that he happens to think, displaying refreshing honesty and forthrightness in an era of the game in which answers are routinely veiled for (within the context of football) political reasons.
But still, what Butler had to say yesterday about inside linebacker Ryan Shazier I found to be at least mildly surprising—but also quite on the nose. He knows that the former first-round draft pick is arguably the best player that he has, and the heart (or a big chunk of it) on defense. But he also has a bit of Troy Polamalu in him.
The third-year defensive coordinator praised Shazier in terms of how far he has come in learning the defense and how that has enabled him to make game-changing plays within it. But he also pointed to the fact that he has learned enough to allow him to, let’s say freelance. And when you go out on your own and don’t make the play, bad things happen. As Polamalu was known for.
“He trusts the defense a little bit more, he understands the defense a little bit more and where his help is”, Teresa Varley quoted Butler as saying. “As the years go by he has learned more and more. He studies the game. He anticipates stuff. That can be a double-edge sword”.
“Double-edged sword” is no doubt a phrase that has been brought up in reference to Polamalu in the past. He of course was able to make a Hall of Fame career (or soon to be, one would assume) out of his ability to use his tape study and instincts to be a step ahead of the offense, but it didn’t always work.
And it is, I think, something that is a bit easier and less risky to do at times at the safety position than it is at inside linebacker, with so many responsibilities in terms of gap maintenance, and in coverage as well.
“When you start guessing it can hurt you. He has to stop guessing and anticipate”, Butler said of his signal caller. “If his keys meet his anticipation, he will continue to make plays. My biggest thing with him right now is don’t be guessing. Read what you see and react to that. I think he will become a better football player if he does that”.
It would not surprise me at all if Butler’s remarks regarding Shazier were not triggered by Sunday’s performance, because I observed a number of instances in which he got himself out of position on what looked like one of those ‘guesses’ that his defensive coordinator reference. Some of those instances helped contribute to big plays.