Linebackers continue trimming down, Steelers Ryan Shazier an example of that trend

Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

It used to be the 250-pound linebacker vs. the equal weight fullback. Now, the lighter, athletic linebackers are being employed to counter four receiver offenses. Mike Tomlin's Run and Hit Linebackers are becoming the standard.

Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier played his last year at Ohio State at 225 pounds. He bulked up top 237 in the offseason, preparing for the draft and subsequently, his first year in the NFL. He went in the opposite direction the past few months as future Hall of Fame LB Ray Lewis did in 2012. Lewis typically played around 250 pounds throughout the majority of his career, but dropped down to 235 for the 2012 season - one that ultimately resulted in a Super Bowl championship for the Ravens.

"The game is changing," Lewis told reporters at the time. "The game isn't any more (about) 250-, 260-pound fullbacks," he said. "You don't have the offenses running the ball 25-, 30-, 40-plus times. Passing is just happening more."

The Steelers have surrendered more completions in each of the last three seasons - 289 in 2011, 299 in 2012 and 329 in 2013. While none of those figures put them outside the top 10 for least completions allowed in the NFL, the 329 total last year would have been the 14th most in the NFL in 2011, and 10th most in the NFL in 2008.

The answer isn't categorically the complete shift to lighter linebackers, but the Steelers clearly see a different direction for the position. The same year Lewis was mixing in a few salads to his menu, the Steelers drafted Sean Spence in the third round. Spence measured in at 5-foot-11, 231 pounds - which is a big safety in today's game, and could have passed for a small defensive end a generation ago. They added Terence Garvin as an undrafted free agent last year, he weighed in at 221 pounds.

When rookie Vince Williams (241 pounds) wasn't cutting it, the Steelers moved strong safety Troy Polamalu (220 pounds) into the inside linebacker position on passing downs. Garvin would move into that role toward the end of the season.

Lewis vs. James Farrior as a match-up in the Steelers vs. Ravens rivalry is over. Perhaps Shazier vs. C.J. Mosley will replace it to some degree. Mosley weighed in at 234 at the Combine in February. It would seem both teams subscribe to the lighter theory.

They'll test it out against each other in Week 2 in Baltimore.

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