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Steelers eager to see which version of Shazier shows vs. Browns

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Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Eagles tight end Zach Ertz tries to break away from Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier for extra yardage during a preseason game Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

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By Alan Robinson
Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014, 9:30 p.m.
 

After one quarter of Ryan Shazier's first NFL preseason game, it was easy to come away thinking the first-round draft pick wouldn't be just a starter but a star.

The Buffalo Bills couldn't keep the inside linebacker with the 4.3-second 40-yard dash speed out of their backfield as Shazier seemingly made every other tackle, plus an interception. To Shazier's teammates, it was exactly what they had seen throughout training camp: a fast, top-end talent.

“If he's well conditioned, the sky's the limit,” cornerback Ike Taylor said Wednesday. “He's one of those Troy (Polamalu), (Maurkice) Pouncey kind of guys. You can't hold him back. Regardless of what anyone wants to say, he's got that kind of talent.

“Every few years (there are) one of those guys.”

The Steelers need Shazier to be more than one of the guys on a reshaped defense that has shed most of the nameplates who defined them: James Harrison and James Farrior, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith, Ryan Clark and LaMarr Woodley and Larry Foote.

They need him to be special, and he'll get his first chance Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

Johnny Manziel might be the rookie who has been the most watched in camp, but Shazier hopes to be the player who is the most watched in the game.

Shazier will be the Steelers' first rookie inside linebacker to start a season opener since Kendrell Bell in 2001. Bell became NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

“I'm not really thinking about that,” Shazier said. “But it means a lot. It means the guys trust me. The coaches trust me. I'm going to go out there and do what I can do, play and have fun ... because the more fun I have, the better I play.

“But wherever I am, I know I'm ready.”

As several teammates said, a rookie never knows exactly what he's getting into until he has played in a game that counts because he'll see things he hasn't seen before.

“The first couple of snaps, you go, ‘I've got to get on my horses,' ” second-year linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “You've got to play catch-up because guys are moving a lot faster than in the preseason. … It's not like these guys are moving super fast, but those guys have been the in league five or six years, and they know how to get the job done.”

Shazier's most extensive preseason playing time came against the Philadelphia Eagles two weeks ago, and his performance did not rival the Bills game.

Playing against the NFL's fastest-paced offense, the 6-foot-1, 237-pound Shazier sometimes found himself out of position, laboring to defend against tight ends who made 70 yards in receptions against him. And it wasn't long after safety Mike Mitchell corrected him that Troy Polamalu's sideline outburst occurred.

Former NFL offensive lineman Brian Baldinger, the analyst on the Eagles' telecast, saw a sometimes confused rookie.

“I know they say a lot of nice things about Ryan Shazier because he can run, but it didn't seem like he had any nose for the ball,” said Baldinger, who also is an NFL Network analyst.

So who is the Shazier the Steelers drafted at No. 15 overall from Ohio State? The player he was against the Bills or the Eagles?

“It's going to be an adjustment (getting off blocks) because it's not something I'm used to,” Shazier said. “I'm used to college linemen.

“But the more I practice, the better I'm going to get at it. I've got to keep working and get better at it every day.”

That Eagles game taught him, he said, “what I need to work on.”

“I feel like I'm a pretty good fit. If I wasn't, they wouldn't have drafted me,” Shazier said. “(I'm not always going to be) where I'm at right now. I'll get better game in and game out.”

The Steelers can't wait to see how good that will be.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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