By Garrett Pelto
If you followed any of the 2017 NFL season, you probably lost a favorite player to some injury.
Whether it was Odell Beckham Jr. and his broken ankle, J.J. Watt and his tibial plateau fracture, Eric Berry and his ruptured Achilles tendon, Richard Sherman and his Achilles tendon, David Johnson and his dislocated wrist, Aaron Rodgers and his broken collarbone, Deshaun Watson and his torn ACL… USA Today listed an entire Pro Bowl team from those who were injured this year.
While it doesn’t make much sense to compare which injury is more severe, one injury stood out this year as the scariest to all who watch and play the sport: Ryan Shazier and his spinal injury.
During the first quarter of the Steelers Monday Night Football game against the Bengals this season, Shazier rammed headfirst into Bengals receiver Josh Malone on a pass across the middle of the field. Immediately after making contact, Shazier’s lower half appeared numb.
Those looking on could tell Shazier was seriously injured when he reached for his back and squeezed and clenched his fist. Shaizer was diagnosed with a spinal concussion, medically referred to as “cervical cord neurapraxia” (CNN).
According to Cleveland Clinic, CNN occurs when a player tackles with his head down, compressing the spine. Most are able to return, but depends on the hit. Shazier’s CNN requires patience.
Pittsburgh fans, NFL players and football fans all were shocked by of Shazier’s injury. Former and current players like Demarcus Ware and Arizona Cardinals Tyrann Mathieu tweeted their prayers and support for Shazier.
Other players like Duke Johnson Jr. from AFC North rival, Cleveland Browns, showed support for Shazier with a touchdown celebration that involved a prayer and a subsequently raised five zero with his hands. Johnson explained his celebration and said he does it “for [Shazier] and his family” adding “we were just looking out for one of our own.”
Fast forward two months and the Steelers ended the season 13-3, winning three of the last four regular season games without Shazier. Could have been four for four if the NFL could agree on a catch rule. Referees screwed the Steelers out of a win against the Patriots even with Shazier in attendance. See Jesse James. His presence was dearly missed during the AFC Divisional game against the Jaguars when the Steeler defense allowed 45 points in the 45-42 loss in Pittsburgh.
As a reminder of what the Steelers lose when he isn’t on the field here is a list of Shazier’s accomplishments thus far:
- Tied Ohio St. record with 16 solo tackles in a single game
- 2013 first-team All-American
- 2013 first-team All-Big Ten
- Drafted round one, pick 15 in 2014
- Two time Pro Bowl (2016 and 2017)
- 299 career tackles in NFL
- Seven interceptions in NFL
- Seven forced fumbles in NFL
- Played 99 percent of defensive snaps through first 11 games in 2017
Throughout these months, the public hasn’t heard too many updates on the progress of Shazier. His family, especially his father, Vernon J. Shazier, have been asking for prayers and giving words of inspiration. Shazier’s father helped start the Twitter hashtags: #Shalieve, #Prayfor50 and #Champion4Christ.
Obviously spinal injuries are not something to take lightly, especially in a contact sport and for a linebacker who has to hit or tackle large men every play. Steeler fans can’t ask more from Shazier. At one point, it was unsure if Shazier would ever walk again.
This man was willing to give up his legs, his ability to walk, for football.
With CTE and concussions being a huge focus (and hopefully the catch rule now too), the NFL is worried about player safety more than ever before. But Shazier hasn’t ruled out his return. As January began, 50 regained feeling in his legs and then released one month later from University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. (See his IG picture from his release ):
Via @Shazier Instagram
It’s hard to imagine learning to walk after a doctor puts metal screws and brackets in your spine let alone imagine returning as a hard hitting linebacker without hesitation. In evaluating Shazier’s injury and his potential comeback, I tried to think of any football players that had a similar injury and were able to return.
As far as Steelers go, former quarterback Tommy Maddox suffered a spinal concussion and was able to return after two games. More recently, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo suffered a spinal fracture, an injury similar to Shazier’s. Carr only missed one game after hurting his back in week four against the Denver Broncos and Romo returned two weeks later after his initial injury.
Pretty much everyone can agree that Shazier has more muscle strength than Romo. He’s also not 35 years old like Romo was.
In comparison to Carr, Shazier is one year younger. Carr showed how being young can pay off when it comes to injuries by playing the entire year. While the Raiders and Carr had an ugly year, I don’t think it all can be put on Carr’s shoulders, even if he wasn’t 100 percent. Romo had his struggles when he returned too, leading to more back injuries and his retirement.
Another worrisome factor is that Shazier is not a quarterback protected by the league’s rules and officiating. Linebackers get penalized for their hits on quarterbacks, others positions rarely get penalized for their hits on defenders. In returning to football, Shazier has to bring the hammer across the middle and against the running game.
Steelers without Shazier
Unfortunately for Steeler folk, Shazier was the leader and brain for this defense. While Shazier has only been in the league for three years, his impact was deeply felt on Pittsburgh’s defense and it is hard to replace a football player of his caliber.
Replacements include linebackers that most around the league do not recognize: Sean Spence, Tyler Matakevich, L.J. Fort and, my man, Vince Williams.
Williams is a dog on our defense and he always grinds to get better. In case you haven’t seen it, please refer to this crazy man’s game of medicine ball volleyball with former Steeler, now traitor, I mean New England Patriot, James Harrison here.
Via @FanDoley Twitter
I desperately wished Williams would have stepped up and ball out for his boy, but to my disappointment, Williams couldn’t cut it against the Jags who put up 164 rushing yards against us. Shazier and Williams did extensive offseason training and bonded like two teammates competing for a position don’t often do. Williams describes his relationships with Shazier and the emotions that came after the injury
As much as I love Williams’s work ethic and attitude (I especially love his Twitter), I don’t think he’s good enough to replace Shazier if he cannot return. It’s so frustrating to think about all the wasted Steeler draft picks on linebackers, and when we got one of the best in the league in Shazier, he potentially suffers a career ending injury.
I’m looking toward the draft. Some mock draft experts say that the Steelers could get Rashaan Evans from Alabama, and even though I am skeptical of their early predictions, I am hoping we could get an athletic defensive player from Alabama.
Evans had 74 total tackles, six sacks and a forced fumble in 2017. He’s played four years at Alabama, so he has learned and progressed in the college atmosphere, and our coaches are always looking for someone to develop.
Basically anyone from Bama excites me. Saban and his dark magic gets these players ready for professional football like no other. I just assume they are all brainwashed machines in that football program that eat, sleep and breathe football. Not to mention, we just hired Alabama’s defensive line coach, Karl Dunbar.
When it comes down to it though, we are looking at one year without Shazier. I have to admit when I saw that injury, and it sat with me the next couple pf days, I stared at my ceiling and thought about how Shazier would never strap up his helmet again and I just saw his last play.
But then I realized. This guy loves football too much to quit.
Shazier isn’t done. Shazier has eight months until OTAs and around nine months until minicamp and preseason games since injuring his back. I understand he has just started to show significant progress like standing up. And even then, he still needs the help of someone else.
But this guy loves football. Too much to quit.
Players like 50 love the sport like it is a part of their body. The passion he brings to football and the inspiration he provides to his teammates shows how tough and impactful a leader he is.
Bad things happen to good people and he has been dealt a shit hand, no doubt about it.
But this guy loves football. Too much to quit.
He loves it so much he was facetiming and celebrating a Steelers victory in his hospital bed.
You better #Shalieve he knows how long until next football season. You better #Shalieve this freak who goes out in negative degree temperatures with no shirt during pregame warmups, is a hardass mad man who won’t quit. And you better #Shalieve he will play again if given the chance.
Via @RyanShazier Twitter
Updated Feb. 21, 2018
Being this was my first article written for CheapSeatFans I felt that I should come back and toot my own horn with the recent statements made by Ryan Shazier on, Steelers fullback, Roosevelt Nix’s podcast.
Shazier is quoted saying, “I gotta get back, bro. I really feel like I’m the best linebacker ever, I just have to be back out there so everybody can see it. You know what I’m saying?”
In response to his Instagram post with Ben, Shazier said, “People were thinking Ben was supporting me, too — he barely was even holding me”.
I told y’all that he loves football too much. Those who haven’t met a football player that actually lives for the game, just know that they are a different breed. Every football player knows the consequences stepping on the field. They are slightly twisted in the head and they are willing to sacrifice their bodies and mind to be great.
When a player becomes the best at being mentally twisted and sacrificing their body between the white lines… good luck trying to keep that freak off the field.
So believe me again when I say you should #Shalieve!