Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier shines against 49ers
Sep. 21, 2015
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Bud Dupree was exaggerating, but only a little.
Considering the way fellow Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier threw himself all over Heinz Field during Sunday's 43-18 win over San Francisco, Dupree could be forgiven for a little hyperbole.
"You see Shay had about 30 tackles," Dupree said. "He was in on every play."
Well, maybe not everyone. Spending a large portion of the afternoon tracking 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Shazier finished with a career-high 15 tackles with a sack and a forced fumble, his No. 50 jersey often a white blur as it raced sideline to sideline.
"He's going to have an impact in whatever stadium he's in," coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's that kind of player. He's sharp and has gained experience. We expect his arrow to be pointed up week in and week out."
Provided Shazier can stay on the field. For all his physical talents — including electric speed better suited for free safety than inside linebacker — Shazier's slight (by NFL standards) 6-foot-1, 237-pound frame struggled to stay healthy during his rookie season in 2014. He missed four games with a knee injury and three more with a high ankle sprain.
Even the best afternoon of his brief professional life came with a couple of nicks. He briefly limped off the field in the first half and departed again in the second with a stinger in his left shoulder, something he chalked up to an occupational hazard.
"That's a linebacker injury," Shazier said with a laugh.
Shazier doesn't expect that to be an issue when Pittsburgh (1-1) travels to St. Louis (1-1) on Sunday. He understands there were concerns outside of the organization last fall that he was too fragile.
Those people seemed to forget he was plenty durable during three years at Ohio State, where he didn't miss a game while becoming one of the best open-field tacklers in the country.
Looking back, his injury problems in 2014 were mostly just a matter of circumstance. Teammate Lawrence Timmons rolled into him at the end of a play in Week 3 against Carolina, and he sprained his right ankle when he again found himself caught up in a pile at the end of a play in Week 9 against Baltimore.
They were freak accidents more than anything. He spent the offseason dedicating himself to learning defensive coordinator Keith Butler's remixed defense. All that studying paid off against the 49ers.
Tasked with keeping Kaepernick and good friend Carlos Hyde (a former Ohio State teammate) under control, Shazier delivered a dazzling performance. He helped limit Hyde to 43 yards on 14 carriers, bringing Hyde to the turf himself on six occasions. He was just as effective against Kaepernick, sacking him once for a 17-yard loss that set Pittsburgh's offense up with a short field and generally making Kaepernick ineffective until the game was out of hand.
"The way (Kaepernick) runs the ball changes the way we have to play," Shazier said. "I knew I was going to be involved. When you have a team that runs the ball a lot you know you're going to get your opportunities."
Shazier wasn't the only young linebacker to make an impact as Pittsburgh bounced back from an ugly opening loss to New England by throttling the 49ers. Dupree got a sack for the second straight week, the first rookie to have sacks in consecutive weeks since LaMarr Woodley eight years ago.
"It's just getting comfortable and trying to go play," Dupree said. "I've been trying to get better every week and pay attention to the little things."
NOTES: RB Le'Veon Bell will return to practice this week after finishing his two-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. "Surprisingly, it went by pretty quickly," Bell said. "I thought it was going to be a long two weeks. It was definitely hard watching them compete the last two weeks."
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