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Shazier will see playing time as a rookie, says linebackers coach Keith Butler

With athleticism of the charts, Ryan Shazier could be a huge boost for the Steelers defense, as well as push for a starting role at linebacker in his rookie season. According to linebackers coach Keith Butler, Shazier is progressing well and is definitely going to see playing time in his rookie year.

Joe Sargent

Rookie linebackers Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams bucked the trend in 2013 when they were given starting roles at linebacker in the Steelers defense.

Traditionally, rookies don't start in Pittsburgh, especially not on defense. That was about as close to a sacred rule as you could get.

Of course in 2013 a severe lack of depth and an untimely injury to Larry Foote pushed Williams, a 6th round draft pick, into major playing time. For Williams' part he played admirably given the situation, however for Jones' part, a 1st round pick, he may have been thrown in to the fire prematurely and expectations raised too high.

In any case, both players showcased why rookies don't start on the Steelers defense, because mistakes will happen.

So when the Steelers drafted another linebacker in the first round of this years draft, inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, many were curious as to how significant a role he would play. After all, Williams hardly locked down the spot opposite Timmons, but the dangers of starting a rookie were fresh in every ones mind.

After a solid effort in OTAs, with the occasional spectacular moment thrown in, it appears Shazier is headed toward a significant role in the defense, with perhaps even a starting role in contention.

Per Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler suggests that Shazier will absolutely see playing time on the Steelers defense as a rookie.

"Normally, I’m not a big guy with rookies," Butler said. "In fact, I don’t like to play rookies because in defensive football there are two things that get you beat. One of them is missed tackles and the other is mental mistakes.

"And normally when you come and try to learn this defense it’s going to take you a little while to do it. [Shazier] understands concepts and he picks things up a little easier than most rookies have. We have a lot of new faces on defense, so we don’t have a choice whether we can play him or not. We have to play him and we have to be faster and we have to win."

It is encouraging to see that Shazier is picking things up quicker than average, perhaps a little less encouraging to see Butler say he has to play out of necessity more than preference.

What Butler does make clear is the desire to be faster and the fact Shazier is going to play, two things that go hand in hand.

With the majority of mini-camp remaining as well as all of training camp, it is impossible to say where Shazier will end up in the pecking order.

With the rare athletic gifts that Shazier possesses, both fans and coaches alike have to be hoping that he is sufficiently far enough along in his learning to crack the starting lineup. As coach Butler said, we have to be faster and we have to win. Shazier could help with both.