Ryan Shazier has little time left to get caught up
By Neal Coolong on Jul 22 2014
Highly drafted rookies have the widest gap between realistic expectations and viable preparation to succeed. Steelers rookie LB Ryan Shazier will likely end up winning the starting position but he has to play well above his level of experience if the Steelers are to find their defensive dominance again.
Being taken with a high draft pick in the first round is a double-edged sword.
Usually a player shows outstanding enough talent their mark is just waiting to be made on the NFL. They will likely, barring injury, experience a long and fruitful NFL career.
At the same time, there's a reason the team selected that player, and it usually is not related to him being the one piece they're missing to bring the franchise from sub-.500 to the Super Bowl. Talent around that player isn't all that great, and the steep and painful lessons in becoming an NFL player are usually what wins out in that player's first season.
The Steelers are caught in the middle of a tale of two rookie linebackers. There's Vince Williams in 2013; a player taken in the sixth round and looked to be more of a developmental player early in his career, if he made the roster. This time last year, no one was talking about the questions surrounding starting a rookie opposite Lawrence Timmons.
That's different this year. The Steelers, so compelled by the athleticism of Ryan Shazier they used their first round pick, 15th overall, on the linebacker out of Ohio State. Certainly a better athlete than Williams, perhaps a better player in the early stages of their careers. Still the same level of pro experience as Williams did on this date in 2013.
It's rare to find Patrick Willis or Kiko Alonso; linebackers who step in the starting lineup on Day 1 and dominate. It's not impossible either, however. Willis was the 11th overall pick in the 2007 draft, and Alonso was taken in the second round. Not that a draft spot ultimately matters, but it's not as if the Steelers are unaware of what to look for in their linebackers.
Still, the draft is more about the future than the right-now. Williams was pushed into service last year, becoming the first rookie inside linebacker to start for Dick LeBeau's defense he returned to the franchise in 2004. It isn't exactly ideal, but even if it isn't Shazier, the Steelers' options aren't exactly stacked. Williams showed enough liability where he's certainly not a three-down option. Sean Spence is technically a third-year player but has as much regular season experience as Shazier does.
While Shazier is no doubt looking forward to the challenge ahead of him, he's still put in a pretty tough spot, from one line of thinking. He doesn't have a veteran in place to really compete with him for the spot. Timmons is locked in at his position and will serve as a mentor but isn't competing with Shazier. Williams can't compete with Shazier's athletic ability. Spence isn't any more experienced and is coming off a significant knee injury.
So Shazier enters camp largely as the default starting inside linebacker opposite Timmons. That won't exactly endear his teammates. Not his fault, certainly, but he still has a lot to learn and really not a whole lot of time left to learn it.
The countdown clock flips from time remaining until the team's first practice (four days) to the countdown until Week 1 vs. Cleveland (47 days).