Tomlin Expects It To Take Time To Figure Out Best Way To Replace Shazier

With Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier lost for the remainder of the season a week ago Monday due to a spine injury that he suffered, the team was forced to use three different players at his position during their Sunday night game against the Baltimore Ravens to replace him. If you watched that game against the Ravens, you know that those three players, Arthur Moats, Sean Spence and L.J. Fort, each struggled individually some at the inside linebacker position that Shazier normally plays.

On Tuesday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin admitted that it might take some time for the team to figure out the best way to attempt to replace some of the things Shazier is able to do on the defensive side of the football.

“We acknowledge as we continue to work to find our rhythm in the replacement of Ryan that it’s probably not a one-week thing,” Tomlin said during his Tuesday press conference. “It’s a multiple-week thing in terms of defining that balance in terms of the distribution of the many jobs that he does for us, or did for us, this year. And so, we’ll continue with that.”

So, how did Tomlin think Moats, Spence and Fort all played against the Ravens and does he think there’s room for growth?

“All three had their moments positively and negatively,” Tomlin said when asked that question. “We’re going to assess those moments and work to accentuate the positives individually and collectively, and minimize the negative. It might be a redistribution of snaps, it might be a redefining of roles within that division of labor and not only this week, but in the upcoming weeks.

“It’s just how it goes. We were going through a similar division of labor discussion at the beginning of the year when we were trying to find our rhythm between JuJu [Smith-Schuster] and Martavis [Bryant] and Eli [Rogers]. It happens from time to time and none of it happens probably as quickly as you would like. But the more you play, and particularly if your open to letting it reveal itself to you, it will.”

Tomlin was also asked Tuesday if he would prefer to see one of the three players ultimately step up and replace Shazier.

“Man, I’d love to see one guy, but identify that guy,” Tomlin responded. “You know, Shay [Shazier] is a special guy with a lot of talents. Not only physically, but mentally and from a leadership standpoint, communication. So, it’s just not a realistic discussion to talk about one guy replacing him. Just like it’s not a realistic discussion talking about one guy replacing any of our significant components. If we were playing without Le’Veon Bell, and we’ve played without Le’Veon Bell in the past, it’s multiple guys, for example.”

Tomlin was then asked if it’s a challenge to play three different players instead of one at a position.

“There really isn’t,” Tomlin said. “Not anything substantial other than one. All of these guys have been here, largely, and got a background with us and understand how we are built and how their roles fit in the big picture of things. So, I don’t know that there’s any significant difference in working with multiple guys. None of the guys are new, even Spence isn’t new to us.”

As you can probably imagine, the communication on defense Sunday night against the Ravens was lacking without Shazier being on the field and Tomlin was asked to discuss that topic on Tuesday.

“You know, not as smooth as you would like, but that’s probably a reasonable expectation. We were without our defensive quarterback,” Tomlin explained. “So, it’s also reasonable to expect them to smooth out as we continue.”

The Steelers will host the New England Patriots Sunday at Heinz Field and if their inside linebackers play in that game like they did Sunday night against the Ravens, it’s hard to imagine them beating the AFC stalwart. Being as Tomlin hinted Tuesday that we might see some snap redistribution in the coming weeks at Shazier’s position, perhaps Fort will be given a chance to play more. Against the Ravens, Spence played 34 snaps while Moats played 19. As for Fort, perhaps the most athletic and most capable of the three players, he played just 8 snaps against the Ravens.

Perhaps when he’s healthy again, fellow inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich will be part of the three-headed unit replacing Shazier so that Moats can go back to his normal outside linebacker position.

  • Chad Weiss

    Good luck ,there isn’t anyone that can replace that man . Not on this team,not in this league,not in the draft

  • Jones

    “if their inside linebackers play in that game like they did Sunday night against the Ravens, it’s hard to imagine them beating the AFC stalwart”
    I respectfully disagree. Our LB play will likely show slight improvement over the Baltimore game, but our D looks primed to get shredded for most of the night. That said, our O looks primed to dominate and embarrass the Pats D through the air and on the ground in a way that they’re not accustomed to seeing. I believe we’ll win a shoot out.

  • capehouse

    Can’t wait to rewatch the game to see how Fort played. Thought he looked good to close out the Bengals game. Not sure why they elected to go with Spence who’s been unemployed for 2 months, and statue Moats instead or Fort.

  • Steel City Slim

    Go with LJ.

  • Timothy Rea

    That’s if the ref is a fair one and doesn’t allow the patriots defenders to seahawk mug our guys. The ref in the Baltimore game was absolutely terrible with that. Lots of holding no calls, AB being mugged no calls, our guys doing the minimal of things and getting PI.

  • Craig L Brown

    Deebo outside and TJ inside is the obvious solution.

  • Axel

    Move Watt inside and have Deebo on the outside

  • Jim Foles

    This for years…

  • Jim Foles

    Dupree is not doing well at olb.. send him to ilb leave watts where he is.. let 56 play.

  • Jaybird

    What ever the plan I see at ILB, just no more Moats. Nice guy , but too slow . And speaking of slow- Harrison looked as slow as molasses. I don’t get why everyone wants to move Watt inside and Deebo on the outside. I love the guy but Harrison is too slow.
    Ok all the Deebo fans- give it to me . Tell me how great Deebo is and that he’s the best option at OLB.

  • 2winz

    I agree with you, he did look slow but at least I could see him on the field. Dupree is invisible

  • 2winz

    I hope we get the same officiating crew the dolphins got. I love that crew, they dont rlly call bogus plays like the refs have the last 2 games against ravens and bengals. they let the players play for the most part and call the very obvious calls.

  • Ralph Wagner

    Colbert had better be checking other teams practice squads. There just might be a better linebacker than Spence available and in football shape.
    If the Steelers defensive players don’t play a better game, Tomlin should fire them at the end of the season. After all there are no rookies on this team this is week 15.

    Go Steelers!

  • stan

    I couldn’t believe how much Spence has lost in his time away from Pittsburgh. I thought he was a borderline-starter player when he left but now I see why he’s been released twice in the last year. Moats wasn’t much better. We might want to check out the free agent wire one more time because Matakevich, Spence, Fort and Moats have all been “below the line” so far.

  • Ken

    it certainly does seem like TJ could play inside better than the options we have… not having an inside guy that can read the play is a huge problem, to me more so than not having TJ on the outside.

  • John

    Moats will improve this week. That was first try playing ILB. More concerned about the other guys. They have fewer excuses. And the DL is a big problem. We have a five man rotation there and we still got gashed and beat up. No excuses. Secondary will get better instantly as soon as Haden returns but he needs a couple weeks to be in game shape. Not looking great on the defensive side of the ball.

  • John

    There is some reason they moved an OLB to ILB and then signed a guy cut by two teams just to avoid playing Fort. You would think they know more than us on what he can and cannot do.

  • Shawn S.

    I like Tomlin’s transparency since Tony Dungy told him a couple weeks ago to drop the coach-speak. This is some good insight you usually don’t get from him.

  • John

    No one has said it yet but we could really use Lawrence Timmons right now.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I was just thinking the exact same thing.

  • Darth Blount 47

    @disqus_fwhc5U3zIs:disqus Beat me to it ten minutes ago, but we sure could use a Lawrence Timmons right now.

    When I went back and watched, I thought Moats was playing well enough to keep playing. Not great, but he was slowly finding his rhythm. But they kept rotating one series for Spence and one for Moats. Then at the very end, they gave a series to Fort. Spence also played a few series in a row in the 4th. Honestly, Spence did NOT look good. Missed a few tackles and just looked slow to react. He has some overall speed, which was evident, but he was sloppy. First game back, so I can’t be too hard. Fort was only on the field for such a limited amount of time, that it was hard to see if he should have been the choice all along. Truthfully, in that game, because he has the punch and doesn’t take too many missed steps, I think Moats should have played the most.

    However, now with the Pats game, and us needing people to chase down the Smurf-Posse, I’m torn. This is the kind of game where the communication has to be at its best. Losing Shazier has the potential to be a trainwreck. But, I’m optimistic that the D-Line can cause some real havoc. Which, would make the lives of everyone much easier if they were able to do so. Haden, we need ya. And Tomlin/Butler, PLEASE pick the right guy to play the Mack. And I have no clue who that is. But I’m open to all possibilities, including Watt.

  • Darth Blount 47

    We replace Watt at OLB with Deebo. To me, that seems totally fine.

  • Darth Blount 47

    I think you’ll be a bit surprised with Moats when you re-watch. He is around a bunch of plays and knows how to tackle. Fort only plays the last series of the game, I think. Spence and Moats rotate for the first 3 quarters, one in and then the other. In the 4th, we get mostly Spence, Spence, Spence, and then Fort.

  • Jaybird

    You have to keep watching the play- Dupree will fly in 15 yards downfield and leap over the runner after Davis and Mitchell have brought the guy down. He is there – you just have to keep watching! Lol

  • Jaybird

    I had a wet dream last night that the Dolphins cut Law Dog! Lol

  • Jason Dock Dudley

    on SNR it was said that Forte is confused and often does not know where to line up. That means he doesn’t know his assignments and cannot be trusted. Explains why they kept demoting him to the PS.

  • Jason Dock Dudley

    I don’t see how a PS player would be better than Spence. At this point it is too late to attempt to bring in a marginal player and then expect to get them up to starting a caliber level.

  • T3xassteelers

    Right, at least Spence knows the D where a random dude on a PS still would need to learn our D

  • Sigh. Sadly, I suspect this means…if you read between the lines…we’d better steel our minds and emotions to watch Gronk destroy us. If our O can’t win a shoot-out, we’re D.O.A.

  • Reggie Cunningham

    Whoever’s the fastest between Dupree and Watt. Debo outside and Chick. Moats back up and. another olb as back up. Someone off the practice squad…… there you go. Simple

  • walter

    lol. Dupree is always there but always late.

  • walter

    Harrison is a guy that has to play to get up to speed. At least this is what James Farrior once said. After missing time years ago, James Farrier said Deebo looked like he was trying to run in mud.

  • I’d like this idea, Jim, if it wasn’t for the fact that Dupree looks like he’s wearing skates when blocked by OTs, TEs, and RBs. How could he possible handle interior linemen?

  • The only thing, Darth, is what the h%&l was Moats and Davis thinking of on that pathetic tackling ‘attempt’ along the sideline? It looks as if they were doing a replay of the Bengals comedy re Bell’s tightrope TB on MNF.

  • dany

    Beating the patriots was their way of saying “you can’t have him!”

  • walter

    I think TJ could have learned to play ILB but I think we need to leave him at OLB.. In your opinion, is there any chance Dupree can be an inside linebacker? …thinking that Shazier may not be back next year and Dupree may not be given a contract offer if he doesnt improve.

  • Wayne’O

    Did you actually see Spence Sunday night?

  • Wayne’O

    Agreed! You can’t side step in the interior. Basic ILB 101

  • Reggie Cunningham

    I was never crazy about Spence. There reason he’s been getting cut lately

  • Reggie Cunningham

    diamond In the rough. Never know but Spence isn’t that great

  • Reggie Cunningham

    do we have any on our on ps that might do better

  • FanInExile

    Shaz himself referred to Dupree as “a different species” when describing his physical traits and talents. If only that different species-ness came with brains and desire, too.

  • Dan

    Roquan Smith from Georgia. Dude’s a beast. That doesn’t help the Steelers this year though.

  • Mark

    You have to give Fort the opportunity because he has the speed to help with the stretch runs. You can’t substitute speed for knowledge (Moats and Spence). I’d rather Fort get there fast instead of the slow reactions we saw from Moats and Spence. Slow guards were getting to them up the field on run plays.

    We also need a better game from the DL (Cam, Tuitt, Hargrave, Walton, AluAlu) and they most dominate

  • Mark

    We would get killed over the middle by TE’s and crossing WRs. Deebo is strong but his speed is gone!

  • Mark

    We are drafting an ILB in 1st, OLB in 2nd, WR in 3rd, Safety in 4th, TE with compensatory, DL in 5th, OL in 6th..

  • John Pennington

    Kelsey needs to be out on the field.Moates cant do the job why keep fooling themselves.Time to call up some of the practice squad players who can help the team.Dangerfield is another player who should be called up.Time to make the moves time is running out.

  • Mark

    Dupree had 1 play where he rushed quickly to the inside and made Flacoo throw the ball quickly, which was almost intercepted by Tuitt. That was the only play I saw by him.

  • Rocksolid20

    I like the way you think , does that mean
    we don’t need a QB ? Just asking .

  • Rocksolid20

    Sadly , I think you are correct , we will
    need two LB’s in the draft . One inside and
    one outside .

  • mhurk

    I agree, Watt is the only player on the team with the physical capabilities to match up with Gronk, I’d put Him at ILB and lets see if He can stop Gronk, I dont see anybody else even close to matching up with the “Dirtiest Player in the League”.

  • mhurk

    Get Dupree off the field. Cant cover, cant set the edge, and useless a passrusher. His best position is on the bench.

  • mhurk

    QB would be a wasted pick. Ben is at the top of His game, best He has ever looked. I have to assume He will be back next year and at least play out His contract.

  • Ryan Alderman

    My concern is they already got the thumper style LB at the other inside spot. Whoever it is gotta be super instinctual and football savvy or quick, preferably both. Man, what a huge loss to this defense. Shazier was all of the above, only faster than probably anyone to ever play the position.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Just cause he’s athletic doesn’t mean he’s suited there.

  • Ryan Alderman

    Or get him right so he can come on during playoff time.

  • Ryan Alderman

    I don’t know, man, but I hope you’re right.

  • Ryan Alderman

    See, I think our LB play will improve, too. It was the first full week and game without Shazier. They need time to adjust. Haden returning should help as well.

  • Ryan Alderman

    D line gotta step up. They’re too good to get pushed around.

  • Generic Steelers Fan

    Very obvious solution! Fire Tomlin for not seeing it. I know tj is excelling at his position but we should change it up

  • Generic Steelers Fan

    Watt is doing really well outside so we should move him inside.

    Duh.