Steel­ers:

Dupree, Shazier, Jones have huge ex­pec­ta­tions on Pitts­burgh’s de­fense

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - ByWill Graves

Young lineback­ers aware of huge ex­pec­ta­tions that come with play­ing on Pitts­burgh’s de­fense. »

pitts­burgh » The com­par­isons are un­avoid­able. It comes with the ter­ri­to­ry­when you’re a linebacker and the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers draft you in the first round.

And as much as Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones— all taken in the open­ing round over the last three years, all tasked with build­ing upon a legacy strewn with Hall of Famers and Pro Bowlers— try to down­play the ex­pec­ta­tions, they know they can’t out­run them.

“You feel it,” said Dupree, taken with the 22nd over­all pick last spring. “But you just try to be pa­tient.”

Not al­ways the eas­i­est thing to do, par­tic­u­larly at a place dubbed “Linebacker U” by as­sis­tant coach Joey Porter, who knows about serv­ing as the nerve cen­ter of Pitts­burgh’s evolv­ing 3- 4 de­fense. If the Steel­ers were go­ing to cre­ate the kind of chaos they have lacked in re­cent years, they needed their young core to grow up quickly.

The learn­ing curve ap­pears to be lev­el­ing off. Shazier, Dupree and Joneswere right in the middle of Pitts­burgh’s fre­netic 18- 16 win over Cincin­nati last Satur­day.

Shazier fin­ished with 13 tack­les, a pair of forced fum­bles — in­clud­ing the strip on Jeremy Hill that gave the Steel­ers one last shot— and a bru­tal but ap­par­ently not il­le­gal shot on Ben­gals run­ning back Gio Bernard that seemed to shift the game’s tone from ag­gres­sive to even more primal. Jones put to­gether a strip sack that set up a field goal while Dupree was a pres­ence in theCincin­nati back­field.

“Those guys have played­well for us and they need to con­tinue to do that,” said de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Keith But­ler.

Den­ver and Pey­ton Man­ning, draft­ed­while all three lineback­ers were in el­e­men­tary school, of­fer a starkly dif­fer­ent chal­lenge in Sun­day’s divi­sional round. Make no mis­take, the Bron­cos watched Shazier and com­pany cre­ate their own brand of youth­ful havoc.

“You watch ( Shazier), he’s smart, he never quits,” Bron­cos tight end Vir­gil Green said. “Watch­ing that game last week, he could have eas­ily given up in that four- minute sit­u­a­tion, but he’s go­ing for the ball.”

Yet for how­ex­plo­sive Shazier and his two good friends looked in Cincin­nati, he un­der­stands they’re still learn­ing con­sis­tency. It’s the di­vid­ing line be­tween good and spe­cial.

“If you have good games, con­tinue to back it up and make sure your team­mates can de­pend on you,” Shazier said. “If you do some­thing one week, do it the next.”

It’s a painful les­son that Shazier and Jones have been forced to learn. Jones missed more than half of 2014 with a bro­ken wrist — one en­dured while sack­ing Cam New­ton — while Shazier has bounced be­tween the start­ing lineup and the trainer’s room for much of his two years in the NFL. The 15th over­all pick in the 2014 draft was bril­liant against San Fran­cisco in Septem­ber, only to com­plain of a “linebacker in­jury” that even­tu­ally cost him a month.

Pitts­burgh lineback­ers Jarvis Jones, left, and Ryan Shazier take a break dur­ing prac­tice this week. The Steel­ers have been dubbed “Linebacker U” by as­sis­tant coach Joey Porter, a for­mer Colorado State star. Gene J. Puskar, The As­so­ci­ated Press

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