Shaken Steel­ers try to stay pos­i­tive in wake of Shazier’s in­jury

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - SPORTS - By Will Graves

PITTS­BURGH >> Ryan Shazier’s locker sat un­touched in a cor­ner of the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers locker room Wed­nes­day save for one lit­tle piece: his yel­low No. 50 prac­tice jersey, which found its way into the hands and over the shoul­ders of good friend and fel­low inside line­backer Vince Wil­liams.

While Wil­liams and the rest of Shazier’s team­mates tried to go about the busi­ness of pre­par­ing for a visit from Bal­ti­more on Sun­day night that could clinch Pitts­burgh’s third AFC North ti­tle in four years, Shazier spent

the day be­ing trans­ported from Cincin­nati to Pitts­burgh to un­dergo fur­ther test­ing on a spinal in­jury that left his fu­ture murky and his team­mates shaken.

“I think it’s just weird with­out 50 here,” rookie out­side line­backer T.J. Watt said. “He’s the heart and soul of this de­fense. He’s the quar­ter­back. It’s just dif­fer­ent not hav­ing him here in meet­ings and out there in prac­tices. It’s weird.”

Pitts­burgh signed Sean Spence, who spent three sea­sons with the Steel­ers af­ter be­ing taken in the third round of the 2012 draft, to fill Shazier’s spot on the ros­ter.

Tyler Matake­vich could start in Shazier’s spot against the Ravens if his aching left shoul­der comes around in time.

Yet the void left by the re­lent­lessly up­beat and charis­matic Shazier both on the field and off will be more dif­fi­cult to re­place. Per­haps impossible. And Shazier’s team­mates know it.

While they’ve in­un­dated him with texts and phone calls and tried to stay pos­i­tive, the sight of one of the league’s best lineback­ers on a stretcher, his legs mo­tion­less af­ter a rou­tine hit served as a jar­ring re­minder of their own foot­ball mor­tal­ity.

“It just brings it back to re­al­ity of how dan­ger­ous the sport truly is,” line­backer Arthur Moats said. “A lot of times, es­pe­cially with in­jury stuff like that, peo­ple just kind of get … you get kind of ‘Oh, we see it all the time, guys get hit all the time, guys get hurt all the time but it’s noth­ing crazy.’ When you see a guy go down like that, it kind of puts it into per­spec­tive like ‘Oh yeah, it’s real life.’”

Safety Mike Mitchell was 20 feet away when Shazier low­ered his head to hit Cincin­nati wide re­ceiver Josh Malone in the back. Shazier bounced off and rolled over, point­ing to the bot­tom of his back in ob­vi­ous pain, his legs splayed awk­wardly.

“That’s my brother,” Mitchell said. “When we walked out there, that was one of the things that re­ally shook me up a lit­tle bit be­cause Shay’s tough as nails. When I look at him, he had tears in his eyes. I could clearly see he was re­ally scared.”

The Steel­ers seemed to spend the rest of the first half in a daze be­fore ral­ly­ing to win on Chris Boswell’s last-sec­ond field goal. They re­main guard­edly op­ti­mistic about Shazier’s prog­no­sis while also a bit pow­er­less. All they can do is sit, and wait, and play.

“You un­der­stand that the only way to do your job and help him with his re­cov­ery is make sure we go out there and ex­e­cute, him not hav­ing to have that burden of ‘Dang, the team’s strug­gling. The team’s do­ing bad. I got to hurry up and get back,’” Moats said. “I feel like if we just con­tinue to be suc­cess­ful, that’ll make it a lit­tle eas­ier on him.”

Try­ing to com­part­men­tal­ize their jobs with con­cern for their friend isn’t easy, es­pe­cially when it re­mains un­clear if Shazier will be able to walk again let alone con­tinue a ca­reer that ap­peared on the verge of star­dom up un­til the mo­ment his hel­met struck Malone’s back.

Yet to a man the Steel­ers know this is what they signed up for, Shazier in­cluded. If he can’t be along­side them, the next best thing they can do is honor him with their play.

“It sucks the in­jury that hap­pened,” defensive end Cam Hey­ward said. “I think the air was let out of the build­ing for a while, but we un­der­stand we’ve got to keep play­ing.

“We know it’s not easy. He was an in­te­gral part of our de­fense and our team. We keep him in our prayers. Keep in con­tact with him and then we try to fo­cus on foot­ball.”

He was an in­te­gral part of our de­fense ... We keep him in our prayers. Keep in con­tact with him and then we try to fo­cus on foot­ball.” Cam Hey­ward Steel­ers defensive end, on line­backer Ryan Shazier

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Steel­ers inside line­backer Ryan Shazier laid on the field af­ter suf­fer­ing a back in­jury while mak­ing a tackle against Cincin­nati on Mon­day.

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