Plan Of Attack At Mack Still Being Sorted Out In Wake Of Shazier’s Injury

The human implications of the spinal injury suffered by Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier are quite daunting. Over the course of the past couple of days, I have tried to talk about it—how it is affecting the locker room, and even how it is affecting myself as an observer.

But there is also football to be played. Tonight, in fact. And there is a spot open in the defense where Shazier played. And where Tyler Matakevich played, who is missing this game after initially replacing the Pro Bowler due to an injury of his own.

While L.J. Fort was called upon to replace Matakevich for the remainder of that contest, he doesn’t appear to be an option tonight, where we may be seeing a number of methods of replacing an athlete who is literally irreplaceable with his unique speed, athleticism, and diagnostic acumen.

It is possible that the primary piece of the puzzle in replacing Shazier will be veteran Arthur Moats, who has spent his years in Pittsburgh lining up outside, but who has also practiced and logged time in a preseason game inside in emergency situations.

Moats joked that he has “wind-aided” 4.3 speed like Shazier, but I think even the most optimistic viewer is knowledgeable enough to anticipate a dropoff in performance from one to the other. Even if Moats starts, which as of this writing has not ben formally announced, however, the Steelers do have a backup plan—a literal one.

During the week, the front office went out and signed former Steelers inside linebacker Sean Spence, who has actually logged as many years in the team’s system as Shazier, having been drafted two years prior to him, though he missed those years due to injury.

Having spent those two years overcoming a career-threatening knee injury, however, Spence returned to the field successfully and played two more seasons with the team, during Shazier’s first two seasons. In fact, he started 13 games for Shazier, sometimes rotating with Vince Williams, and recorded 90 tackles with two sacks in the process.

After spending some time with the Titans and Colts in the past two seasons, tonight marks his first back in the black and gold since that 2015 season, though it remains to be seen in what capacity that will be. That goes not just for tonight, but beyond.

When Matakevich returns—assuming his injury is not overly serious—will he automatically resume his spot as the next man up? Given the long-term nature of Shazier’s injury, it would not be surprising if they alter their plans.

I wouldn’t think that Moats converting to inside linebacker is a full-time solution for the remainder of this season. Spence, however, could be. After all, he has literally started games filling in for Shazier in the past. I don’t know why he didn’t work out with the Colts this year—he did miss time with injuries—he was a player on my radar for a return back in the spring already.

About the Author

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

    Ok…..let’s go Spence!!

  • Uncle Rico.

    Between the 3rd and 4th quarter last week they fit Williams helmet for the radio receiver/green dot and he took the role of calling plays from the Buck position. Also stays on in dime while Gay helped him out with getting everyone lined up. This week it looks like they’ll see if Moats is up for the Mack on run downs. Likely see less nickel and more dime. Wholesale changes in dime this week, with Fort and Gay replacing Williams and Moats. If I had to guess, Gay (not Fort) gets the 2nd radio helmet and sets the D in dime. D gets two radio receivers, but only allowed one on the field. But since Williams and Gay won’t be on the field at the same time, it works out.

  • Michael Conrad

    Well maybe Spence could be the answer but if the old man has anything left. I wonder if a combo of Spence and Watt inside and JH outside would be a possibility. Then on third and long use Gay or another CB as a LB.

    I worry about RB’s out of the backfield and if we have enough LB’s with speed to cover them.

  • Steve

    Spence hadn’t played football in over 2 months. Will take time to get his football legs under him. There is no way Spence comes in tonight and plays every down. He may log some series and plays, but he will not play every down. Spence may be our best shot at inside linebacker to take Shazier’s spot into the playoffs. Spence has been here before and can pick right up in a system he knows.

  • Steve

    Spence is 27, no where near the age of Debo at 39. Guess the RB next week, with the Pats.

  • Xclewsive

    When LT is released by the Dolphins he should come back to the Steelers. With Shazier being a unknown, but the possibility still being he comes back gotta keep that seat warm just in case.

  • Jake Marion

    Something about having Sean Spence back in Black & Gold just seems right.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    They’re definitely going to have to draft an inside backer in the first two rounds for next season. Tyler M ain’t going to cut it, too small and slow to be a starter.