Shazier can help Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the process of rebuilding their defense, and Ryan Shazier is right in the middle of it.

Shazier, the Steelers’ No. 1 draft pick – and 15th overall – a linebacker out of Ohio State, has been quite impressive in training camp.

Shazier has made such a good first impression he’s already been penciled in as one of the two starting inside linebackers in the Steelers’ 3-4 alignment.

In the first practice in pads, Shazier showed off his speed, twice beating LeGarrette Blount in a backs-on-backers drill. In the drill, linebackers line up across from running backs or tight ends and attempt to beat them with a pass-rush move to get to the quarterback.

“He got my attention,” Blount said of Shazier. “He’s a quick kid, he’s really fast. He makes plays.”

But better yet for Shazier was another guy who he impressed, namely Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

“Ryan did some nice things,” said Tomlin. “He was elusive. He was playing to his assets with his speed and agility.”

Assistant linebackers coach Joey Porter spent the drill exhorting Shazier to use his speed to his advantage.

“So I’m going to try to use my speed as much as possible,” said Shazier, Pittsburgh’s fastest linebacker.

But there’s more to Shazier than just speed, as he was one of only 10 players in Ohio State history to lead the Buckeyes in tackles in consecutive seasons, finishing his three-year college career with 315 total tackles.

In fact, he’s been tagged a younger version of Troy Polamalu – lining up everywhere and anywhere, and if things stay the same, Shazier will be the first Steelers rookie to start a season opener since Kendrell Bell in 2001.

One Pittsburgh scribe went as far as to pen that Shazier had “earned the trust of defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and looms as a legitimate Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.”

Scott Brown, ESPN’s Steelers reporter, was a little more realistic with his assessment of Shazier’s worth. “He should be an upgrade at weakside inside linebacker, but will inevitably endure some rookie struggles, even if he is ready to start this season,” said Brown.

The Steelers hope the highly-touted 6-1, 237-pound Shazier along with another former Buckeye first-round pick (2011) in Cam Heyward -who last season moved into a starter’s role at the end – will be two of the stalwarts spearheading the team’s defensive revitalization.

According to Chris Bradford of Timesonline.com, “Shazier also brings some much-needed attitude to the defense.”

To Tomlin though, “a good defense is really predicated on being where you’re supposed to be and good tackling. So even though speed is an awesome asset, it’s not going to be the defining asset for us. This is football, not a track meet.”

Shazier realizes “the more pressure on you, the more people expect of you. But I feel like I do better when I have pressure on me.”

Contact Steve Hemmelgarn at shemmelgarn@newsandsentinel.com