Why Ryan Shazier’s pro debut couldn’t have been any better

Ryan Shazier vs Bills Preseason

Man, that Sean Spence sure will make a great backup for Ryan Shazier, huh?

Last week, after the Pittsburgh Steelers first exhibition game against the Giants at MetLife Stadium, Spence, the inside linebacker that Pittsburgh picked in the third round of the 2012 draft, was the talk of the town thanks to his performance in his first game in nearly two years after suffering a catastrophic knee injury that many believed could end his career before it even got started.

Ryan Shazier vs Bills
Shazier stares into the Buffalo backfield

It was/is a great story. Spence was all over the field against the Giants and showed the fans and coaches that he can perhaps be a very good inside linebacker and provide stability at the position for many years to come.

However, there’s a big difference between being good and being a difference-maker. And after Shazier’s debut on Saturday in Pittsburgh’s 19-16 preseason victory over the Bills at Heinz Field, he isn’t the talk of the town because it’s kind of hard to move your lips when your jaw is hitting the floor.

Seriously, it might have only been a preseason debut, but can you think of any recent Steelers first round pick who made such a great first impression as Shazier did at inside linebacker when he recorded 11 solo tackles, a pass defensed, and a hope-inspiring interception that ultimately led to a scoring drive?

Going back and mentally glossing over the past 10 first round picks or so—Jarvis Jones, David DeCastro, Cam Heyward, Maurkice Pouncey, Ziggy Hood, Rashard Mendenhall, Lawrence Timmons, Santonio Holmes, Heath Miller, Ben Roethlisberger—it’s hard to think of anyone who even approached what Shazier did the other night in his very first game with the Steelers after they made him their top pick in May’s draft.

Again, it’s only preseason, but maybe it’s a lesson to us all that the knee-jerk reactions that many have the night of the draft or the next few days—issuing grades, declaring “winners” and “losers,” and talking in “absolutes”–are way too premature, and we should probably wait and see how things pan out first.

Absolutely, it would have made sense for the Steelers to draft a receiver or a cornerback with their first round pick, and many people who were upset about them not going in either direction certainly were justified.

But a defense that was rather pedestrian over the past three seasons and pretty deficient in getting after the quarterback and taking the football away? That needed to be addressed, too.

It’s early, and Shazier’s debut could be just a distant memory in a few years. But Saturday night, when he was playing like a man possessed and looked like an early front-runner for Defensive Rookie of the Year, that angst that many felt in May because Shazier wasn’t a receiver or corner, that was probably a distant memory, too.

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