The Pittsburgh Steelers were waiting for Ryan Shazier to return from a high-ankle sprain, and the time finally came on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals. The only issue was that Shazier was nowhere to be found on the field.
Shazier was active for the game in Cincinnati, but his playing time was split between Sean Spence and Vince Williams who did a tremendous job alongside Lawrence Timmons.
There are several reasons why Shazier might not have been immediately inserted into the starting role he occupied coming out of training camp.
The coaching staff could have opted to take a wait-and-see approach with his recovery from an injury which can become a season-long problem. Shazier might have been told he was going to be used in a backup role leading into the game until he gets his feet wet. Or the coaching staff might not trust where he is now, in terms of the playbook, after missing so much time this 2014 season.
Whatever the reason may be, Shazier will have his work cut out for him if he wants to return to his starting role against the Atlanta Falcons next Sunday or beyond the game in Atlanta.
Even with the solid play of Spence and Williams on Sunday, neither possesses the speed and athleticism that Shazier brings to the lineup. The coaching staff will want to get Shazier back onto the field as soon as possible, even if in a limited capacity, to take advantage of his unique skill set.
The Steelers were able to stop the run and force the Bengals to become one-dimensional, but for this team to make a run at a post-season birth, having a playmaker like Shazier on the field will only improve those chances. When he returns to the lineup, however, could be anyone's guess after his absence in the Cincinnati game.