Only in his second year, Ryan Shazier learning Steelers leadership on the fly

The Steelers are riding the leadership roller coaster with second-year linebacker Ryan Shazier, and other notes from a Christmas Eve work day.

PITTSBURGH -- If you watched the Pittsburgh Steelers closely Sunday, you probably figured that Ryan Shazier was a big part of the problem on the Denver Broncos' first two touchdown passes.

You would've been right.

Shazier is the new playcaller this season. He replaced Lawrence Timmons after the staff determined that Timmons "played better without the responsibilities of making those calls and checks," said defensive coordinator Keith Butler.

In his second year, Shazier was deemed ready to take on the responsibilities that confounded even James Farrior the first two or three years he relayed the playcalls from the sideline to the team.

"There are growing pains with it for him," Butler said. But Butler believes Shazier and the team will be better off down the line, "because he's going to get used to doing it and we feel it doesn't affect his play."

But Shazier admitted after the game that his mistakes in communication affected the team's play during the first half Sunday. At least two easy touchdowns were the result of major communication busts. It appeared that Shazier had difficulty doing his job.

"He did," Butler said. "And Mike (Tomlin) did a good job of taking him out and letting him settle down a little bit."

Butler said that it wasn't just Shazier, that it at times involved other players and even himself in the chaos.

"But we got all of it straightened out at halftime," Butler said.

The Steelers didn't allow the Broncos a point in the second half and rallied for a 34-27 win, an overall positive game for Shazier and his growth as this team's defensive playcaller.

"It is," Butler said. "I think it's going to work out well. I think two or three years down the line he's going to be better than Potsy at doing this. Potsy knew football because Potsy played a lot of football. But Ryan knows concepts, and he's got a good head about football, a good understanding."

(Read the full transcript of Butler's talk about Shazier.)


With their offensive skill positions ravaged, the Baltimore Ravens' big question at the moment is quarterback. Joe Flacco was hurt last month and replaced by Matt Schaub, who played two games before suffering a chest injury. Jimmy Clausen started the last two games and the Ravens were blown out both times.

Clausen compiled a poor passer rating of 70.5 and the Ravens signed Ryan Mallet on Dec. 15, and have thrown him into the mix this week.

With Schaub coming back to health, which one will play Sunday?

"We will have one out there playing," was just about all Ravens Coach John Harbaugh would say. "We will have to see how it goes this week. I probably wouldn’t be inclined to talk about it, because I wouldn’t really see any value in announcing a quarterback at this point. At some point it seems like it makes sense to, and we will, but the truth is right now, we are not sure where Matt Schaub is with his health. He is a lot better than he was last week and the week before that. We will see how that goes this week."

Clausen supplied the only clue: "Everyone is getting reps," he said.


Chris Carter, the Steelers' former linebacker, was waived by the Cincinnati Bengals after he played against the Steelers two weeks ago. He was signed by the Ravens this week, just in time to play the Steelers.

Carter was a former fifth-round pick who lasted three seasons in Pittsburgh and started three games. He was picked up by the Bengals, the Indianapolis Colts and again by the Bengals, with whom he played 14 games this season. Carter has six tackles on defense and four on special teams this season.

The Ravens signed Carter when they put tight end Crockett Gilmore on Injured Reserve. "There’s a possibility that he could actually play in this game this week," said Harbaugh.


The Ravens have nothing else for which to play this season other than beating their division rivals.
The Steelers, of course qualify.

"It means something just to beat Pittsburgh, period," said receiver Kamar Aiken. "If we can sweep them for the year that’s big for us – just period – because of the rivalry in itself. That’ll be an extra bonus if we can knock them out, too.”

"It’s big just to know that rivalry is so big in the NFL," said rookie defensive end Za'Darius Smith. "And having an ex-teammate [Bud Dupree from Kentucky] that plays for the Steelers, that’s even crazier. It’s great to have that energy and intense [emotions] throughout the game. Preparing for this week is going to be even more intense."


Free safety Mike Mitchell (shoulder) returned to practice Thursday but tight end Matt Spaeth (knee) sat out.


On Wednesday, it was Cam Heyward playing Santa Claus by handing out Apple watches to every player.

On Thursday, it was Cam Thomas in the role of Claus. Thomas commissioned a beautiful painting of Stephon Tuitt that arrived with the title "The Lion Slayer" along the bottom.

Why do the players call Tuitt that?

"At training camp I told the guys I think I can kill a lion with a dagger," Tuitt said. "I really do believe it."

The players were sitting around one night suggesting scenarios, and Tuitt was presented with "A lion was coming to attack me and kill me, and I had a dagger. Wuld I kill it?" Tuitt said. "And I said, 'Yes, I would kill it.'"

Greg Warren, sitting next to Tuitt's locker, was asked if he thinks Tuitt could do it.

"Absolutely," Warren said. "That's why we call him the lion slayer."

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