F. Dale Lolley's Sports Column
Great debut for this Steelers rookie
Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier intercepts a pass intended for Bills tight end Scott Chandler in the first quarter Saturday. For more on the game, visit www.observer-reporter.com.
PITTSBURGH – Fifteen years from now, when Ryan Shazier goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, people will look back on his first preseason game Saturday night against the Buffalo Bills and talk about where they were for his coming out party.
Okay. Perhaps we’re being premature with the Hall of Fame talk.
Shazier has a long way to go before he can even think about getting fitted for a gold jacket in Canton.
There are games to be won, tackles to be made, Pro Bowl trips to be earned.
But if there has been a more impressive debut this season by a rookie in the NFL – albeit the preseason – it would be hard to believe.
Shazier was all over the football field against the Bills, so much so that you figured he must have been cloned.
“I thought he did an awesome job filling in for his first game back from an injury,” said fellow inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. “He made a few big plays for us. He’s the guy I’ve been seeing.”
Thing is, this kind of all-over-the-field play hadn’t been seen since Charles Jefferson, played by a young Forrest Whitaker, made every tackle in a game after he thought his car had been vandalized in the movie “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”
Shazier had four tackles on Buffalo’s opening possession, which ended with a field goal.
Then, after the Steelers scored on a 76-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown, Shazier knifed through the flotsam to slam return man T.J. Graham to the ground on the ensuing kickoff.
A short time later, he blanketed tight end Scott Chandler on a pass over the middle, intercepting quarterback E.J. Manuel’s pass and returning it 27 yards to the Buffalo 37 to set up a second Roethlisberger touchdown, this one to Markus Wheaton.
Again on the ensuing kickoff, it was Shazier stopping Graham on the return, shooting through a mash of players to drop the Bills’ receiver in his tracks.
It wasn’t all good for Shazier. He did show that he was at least slightly human when he allowed Chandler to catch a pass on a third-and-27 play, deke him to the outside and slip to the inside for a 24-yard gain that set the Bills up for a 53-yard field goal.
But the final stats on the Steelers rookie were impressive. Shazier had nine tackles, two more on special teams and the interception before finally leaving with just over four minutes remaining in the first half.
Was it the emotion of making his preseason debut?
But this was the kind of impact the Steelers had in mind when they selected Shazier with the 15th pick in this year’s draft. They envisioned an every-down linebacker they could pair with Lawrence Timmons who was as adept at coverage as he was putting running backs on the ground.
They envisioned a linebacker who could very well come in as a rookie and lead the team in tackles.
That’s why they had no issues inserting Shazier into the starting lineup from the opening day of offseason workouts.
That unusual move for a team such as the Steelers showed just what the team thought of the rookie.
In previous years, the team would have at least paid lip-service to making the kid earn his spot in the starting lineup. It would have at least waited until a few days into training camp to make the move.
But the Steelers had a pretty good idea what they had in Shazier.
They had to wait an extra week to show it to everyone else thanks to a bruised knee suffered by the rookie at training camp.
Now we know.
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.