PITTSBURGH – For many people, waiting a highly anticipated event to occur is like a form of torture. The hours and days drag, just adding to the anticipation.
For Steelers’ rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier, however, the opposite has happened as he awaits his first start in the NFL Sunday against the Cleveland Browns in the regular season opener.
For Shazier, there hasn’t been enough time in the days since he first reported to the Steelers this spring fresh out of Ohio State.
“Not too long ago, it seems like I was in college,” said Shazier, who turns 22 on Saturday. “Now, I’m about to start my first regular season game for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Everything is just flying by.
“It’s really exciting. The days don’t even seem like they have enough hours in them, that’s how fast they’re going.”
The Steelers selected Shazier with the 15th pick in this year’s draft with the intent on starting him at the inside mack linebacker position. He lined up there with the starters on the opening day of mini-camp in June and, outside of missing two weeks in training camp with a bruised knee, has been there since.
Even so, the Steelers admit Shazier is a work in progress.
“He’ll be better in two weeks than he is today,” said head coach Mike Tomlin.
“I think that’s one of the points you continue to re-iterate to young players.”
“He’s by no means a finished product.”
Shazier will be the first rookie to open the season in the Steelers’ starting lineup since Kendrell Bell did so in 2001 at the same position.
Jarvis Jones, the team’s top pick in 2013, split first-team snaps with Jason Worilds at outside linebacker in the opener last season, but Worilds started the game.
Needless to say, the expectations are high, at least among fans and the media.
ESPN.com polled its reporters and on-air talent regarding the upcoming season. Shazier was picked to win the NFL Rookie of the Year on 11 ballots. Bell (2001), Jack Lambert (1974) and Joe Greene (1969) have been the only other Steelers to win that honor since it was instituted in 1967.
“I don’t put a lot of pressure on myself. The guys aren’t trying to put a lot of pressure on me. We just go out there and work. Nobody says, ‘Oh, you’re a rookie, you do this,’ or ‘You do that.’ We’re all just out there trying to depend on each other and make plays. I don’t feel like there’s pressure, just responsibility.”
But Shazier offered a glimpse of what the Steelers saw in him in his first preseason game Aug. 16 against Buffalo.
After missing the opener with the knee injury, Shazier played like a man possessed against the Bills, recording eight tackles on defense, two more on special teams and an interception in just under a half of play.
But he and the rest of the Steelers’ defense weren’t nearly as effective the following week at Philadelphia. Shazier had issues getting off blocks by offensive linemen. He finished with six tackles and a pass defended, but clearly played as well as he had against the Bills.
Shazier had five more tackles in the preseason finale against Carolina, giving him a team-best 20 tackles in the preseason.
“Sometimes you’re going to be good, sometimes you’re going to have bad games,” Shazier said. “I feel like I experienced that.”
“There are a lot of lessons to be learned.”
Thus far, Shazier has been a quick study. How quickly he can become acclimated to the grind of the NFL and his new teammates will help determine how well he plays this season.
Jones struggled with that in 2013, finding himself benched at times for not fulfilling his duties.
Shazier hopes to avoid the same fate as the days speed by waiting for his first NFL start.
“I’ve been dreaming about this all of my life,” Shazier said. “One of the stages, I’ve gotten past. Now, we’ll take another step. I’m ready to just get it on.”
Odds and end zones
Tomlin said Tuesday that the Steelers expect the Browns to use rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, who lost a training camp battle with Brian Hoyer for the starting job, to be used in some form or fashion. … Tomlin said running backs Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount will play against the Browns. The two were charged with marijuana possession two weeks ago, while Bell also was charged with DUI. … Tomlin said rookie receiver Martavis Bryant (shoulder) was the only player who did not participate in practice for the Steelers Monday. Bryant’s status is up in the air for Sunday’s game.