Steelers take Ohio State linebacker Shazier in first round
When Larry Foote went down with a biceps injury in Week 1 last season, the Steelers were forced to sign an inside linebacker off the street to play.
Even with major needs at cornerback and wide receiver, the Steelers went back to their favorite school — Ohio State — and favorite conference — the Big Ten — to draft Buckeyes inside linebacker Ryan Shazier in the first round Thursday night.
General manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin repeated the same phrase to describe the 6-foot-1, 237-pound Shazier, a fast, disruptive, high-motor player who ran a cornerback-like 4.38 40 at his pro day.
“What we needed was a defensive playmaker,” Tomlin said. “He gets after the quarterback, he's rushed the passer and makes plays in coverage. … Quite frankly, the man doesn't have any holes.”
“He's a defensive playmaker,” Colbert said. “And as coach said, we need defensive playmakers. … This guy can flat-out run.”
The Steelers have lost a succession of such players — LaMarr Woodley, James Harrison, James Farrior, Aaron Smith — to age and contract issues in recent seasons, and it partially led to their 8-8 records the past two seasons.
Shazier is a certified stats accumulator — 14 career sacks, 44 1⁄2 tackles for loss, nine forced fumbles, a Big Ten-leading 143 tackles in 2013 — but some teams considered him undersized.
While Shazier said, “My weight is perfectly fine,” Colbert said, “He has to get stronger, he's going to have to get bigger. There's some big guys that will get on him on occasion, but usually he figures it out the first time and he'll go make another play.”
Shazier, the son of the Dolphins team chaplain, is the third Ohio State player drafted by the Steelers in the first round since 2006, following defensive end Cam Heyward (2011) and wide receiver Santonio Holmes (2006). Shazier also is the 16th Big Ten player drafted by the Steelers in the past 10 years.
Even with players such as Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Louisville safety Calvin Pryor and Southern Cal wide receiver Marqise Lee on the board, Colbert said Shazier's playmaking skills and speed were too unique to pass up.
“You think about the inside rush possibilities with him, Lawrence (Timmons) and Troy (Polamalu) and whoever else we add to the mix is exciting,” Colbert said.
“He's going to make plays all over the field for us. … He plays with a great deal of urgency,” Tomlin said. “He just represents what's going on in football today. … With the (offense's) ability to spread people out, you need people that can play vertically and horizontally.”
Still, the first reaction from a Steelers defensive teammate player wasn't exactly congratulatory. Cornerback Ike Taylor tweeted, “Huh?”
It's the second year in a row the Steelers chose a linebacker on the first round — they took outside linebacker Jarvis Jones of Georgia last year — but the Steelers consider Shazier to be an inside linebacker, even though his last 29 college starts were outside.
Sixth-round pick Vince Williams started most of last season inside, after Foote was lost to a season-ending biceps injury, and Kion Wilson was signed off the street to replace him for several weeks.