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The Roar

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Shazier leads Steelers' first-string youth in impressive preseason win

Roar Rookie
18th August, 2014
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If you’re harping on about how the Pittsburgh Steelers are getting older and slower, you better be talking about ageless defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau and no one else. Otherwise, you’d just be wrong.

The myth that has propagated the Steelers for the past couple of seasons is now exactly that – a misleading generalisation leaned on by those trying to justify why Pittsburgh will miss the playoffs for the third straight year.

And sure, people place varying levels of stock into how reflective preseason games will be of a team’s regular season, but Pittsburgh’s two outings so far, against the Giants and Bills, appear miles more glistening than the first-string’s showing this time last year, where an anaemic offense combined with a whimpering defence to turn a winless preseason into an 0-4 start.

Rookies and young guns are stepping up in a way not seen for a long time in the Steel City, and leading the pack is first-round pick Ryan Shazier. In his first 25 minutes on an NFL field, the Ohio State inside linebacker racked up 11 tackles and an interception.

The stats tell a fine story, but it was the way he went about his work that was most impressive. He showed great awareness, seemingly materialising wherever the ball was on any given play. His initial contact was swift and solid, refusing to allow any post-tackle yardage, he displayed softer hands than most cornerbacks on the interception, and he penetrated the special teams wall on a kickoff to ground the returner short of the 20-yard line – a rare luxury in the modern era of touchbacks.

For those yet to give up on second-year outside linebacker Jarvis Jones – who recorded a nice sack last week – the havoc that Shazier can create in the middle of the field should pay dividends for the Georgia monster in his attempt to make a bigger impact after a flat rookie season.

From all accounts, Shazier is looking like the defensive x-factor that Troy Polamalu has flourished as for the last decade, and may well be a contender for Rookie of the Year if last night’s play is no fluke.

On a night where the Buffalo running game didn’t exactly hit the brick wall, defensive leader Cam Heyward showed flashes of the brilliance he displayed in the second half of 2013, including a batted E.J. Manuel pass on fourth down and blowing up a screen to force a four-yard loss.

Perennially underrated middle linebacker Lawrence Timmons also got some nice work in, making a statement with the stuffed run on third down that set up Heyward’s block.

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The difference is apparent on offense too, with spark-plug Dri Archer racking up almost 100 yards on just three catches in his preseason. His pair of 40-yard gashes made the highlight reel, but even his 4-yard gain on a screen – Big Ben’s first throw of the night – showed Madden-esque acceleration, and could’ve gone for a lot more if they could just get Hines Ward suited up and blocking again.

Combine that with Marcus Wheaton’s textbook corner endzone catch and Antonio Brown, well, doing AB stuff, this is a team full of young stars ready to prove themselves game winners in 2014.

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