Ryan Shazier aces first test with Steelers

August, 17, 2014
8/17/14
9:00
AM ET
PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Shazier refers to it as a re-enactment and said it is something he often does at night.

[+] EnlargeScott Chandler, Ryan Shazier
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsIn his first NFL action, Steelers rookie Ryan Shazier all but assured his starting spot in the regular-season opener against the Browns.
The rookie linebacker will play out a game in his head, not necessarily against an opponent, and that revelation following the Pittsburgh Steelers' 19-16 win Saturday night over the Buffalo Bills was fitting for two reasons.

The Bills weren't much of an opponent for Shazier at Heinz Field, and even his most generous of dreams probably couldn't have produced what he did in his first NFL game.

Shazier recorded 11 tackles despite playing less than a half, and he set up the Steelers' second touchdown with an interception and 27-yard return.

The first-round pick topped the list of Steelers deserving of game balls, and imagine what Shazier will do when the right knee that he bruised on Aug. 3 is no longer an issue.

"Still have to get back to 100 percent," said Shazier, who missed the Steelers' preseason opener because of the injury. "I don't feel like you can be 100 percent if you just started back at practice."

Shazier missed almost two weeks after hurting his knee, and he didn't return to drills until last Thursday, the Steelers' final practice of training camp.

That's what made his play and the impressing closing speed he exhibited even more impressive.

Shazier recorded eight tackles in the first quarter and two of them came while covering kickoffs. The 6-1, 237-pounder also flashed the athleticism that has been on display since offseason practices when he ran step for step with Bills tight end Scott Chandler and intercepted an ill-advised E.J. Manuel pass in the middle of the field.

"From the instant he got here he's proven that it's not too big for him so I can't tell you I'm surprised by his effort," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "I'm not."

Shazier impressed veteran strong safety Troy Polamalu with his effort.

"He made the plays," the eight-time Pro Bowler said. "When he's out there making plays like he did, it's really encouraging for us to see."

Shazier was all over the field and the biggest question after all but assuring he will start the Steelers' regular-season opener Sept. 7 against the Cleveland Browns is whether stamina will become an issue.

Shazier, also a welcome addition on the Steelers' special teams, said he doesn't have a problem with the heavy workload that he seems destined to receive in his first NFL season.

"It's been my dream to be in the NFL so whatever the coaches ask me to do I'm going to do," said Shazier, who turns 22 the day before the Steelers host the Browns in the season opener for each team. "I've been dreaming about this my whole life."

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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