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