Shazier: The Kid Can Play

The Steelers' first-round draft pick put on an impressive show in his first preseason game, a 19-16 Steelers win.

PITTSBURGH -- This Ryan Shazier kid, the pick everyone pretty much ripped on draft day, the pick that was questioned because the Steelers had so many other linebackers, about that kid:

He can play a little bit.

In the Steelers' 19-16 win over the Buffalo Bills last night, Shazier played just as the Steelers expected when they drafted him with the 15th pick instead a much-needed cornerback.

"Not unlike what he's done when he's worked from the instant he's got here," said Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin. "He's proven that it's not too big for him, so I can't tell you that I'm surprised by his effort tonight. I'm not."

In the rookie inside linebacker's first preseason game -- after one practice in the last 11 days because of a knee bruise -- Shazier was all over the field. In the first quarter alone he knocked out the other team's best player, made six tackles, intercepted a pass, returned it 29 yards to set up a touchdown and a 13-3 Steelers lead, and also made a pair of special-teams tackles.

Shazier added three tackles in the second quarter to finish his only half of action with nine tackles, or six more than any Bills player made the entire game.

"I thought he did an awesome job filling in for his first game back from an injury," said fellow inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. "He made a few big plays for us."

The rookie's suddenness, his quickness, was obvious as Shazier chased down tight ends and running backs in the short passing game. He didn't play paddy-cake as a tackler, either. Shazier knocked Sammy Watkins out of the game with a rib injury on a third-down hit that fell incomplete. But a Cortez Allen penalty on the play gave the Bills a first down and they eventually kicked a field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Without a catch, Watkins was clearly upstaged in the rookie competition by Shazier, and the Bills' talented and explosive receiver was also upstaged positionally.

Earlier this week, Steelers defensive backs derided media preoccupied with Watkins, the fourth pick of the draft.

"We've got Antonio Brown every day. You watch that, don't you?" asked William Gay.

And three days later it was Brown giving the Steelers' offense a rare first-series preseason touchdown by taking a slant from Ben Roethlisberger 76 yards for a touchdown on the Steelers' second snap.

Brown caught the pass as a pair of Bills were colliding near midfield and he outraced the safeties to the end zone. Shaun Suisham missed the 33-yard extra point and the Steelers led, 6-3.

The Steelers added to their lead a series later, thanks to Shazier's interception. He cut under tight end Scott Chandler and reached high to snare E.J. Manuel's pass. Shazier returned it to the Buffalo 37. Eight snaps later, Markus Wheaton beat Stephon Gilmore to the corner of the end zone and hauled in a 16-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger on third-and-11 to push the lead to 13-3.

"Markus stayed outside and ran a great route," said Roethlisberger. "I just put it in the corner and he did the rest."

Shazier did make a mistake that allowed the Bills to cut the lead to 13-6. He took a poor angle on a short pass to Chandler on third-and-27 and then slipped as Chandler cut up the field. Chandler gained 24 yards and allowed Dan Carpenter to make a 53-yard field goal.

Even with the slip, Shazier still hogged the defensive spotlight. On the other side, Roethlisberger deftly ran the no-huddle to complete 8 of 11 for 128 yards and two touchdowns with a passer rating of 150.8. Afterward Roethlisberger said, "That's how this thing should work. ... The communication was what I wanted to work on, and we didn't have mental errors of what I saw. It was a good start to the no-huddle."

Roethlisberger was replaced by Landry Jones with 5:34 left in the first half, but the Steelers didn't score again until Suisham kicked a 48-yard field goal with 9:26 left in the game.

Jones, who completed 2 of 5 passes for 53 yards and an interception, fumbled to set up Buffalo's tying touchdown. The second-year quarterback was sacked by Stefan Charles and his fumble was returned 59 yards by defensive tackle Landon Cohen to the Steelers' 16. A pass interference penalty on Antwon Blake gave the Bills a first down at the one, from where Anthony Dixon scored the tying touchdown.

Bruce Gradkowski entered with 5:32 left in the third quarter and also struggled to move the Steelers' offense. The veteran QB did put together a 31-yard drive in the fourth quarter that was capped by Suisham's 48-yarder to give the Steelers a 16-13 lead with 9:26 remaining.

The Bills tied the score with 1:56 remaining on a 44-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter, and then intercepted Gradkowski with 43 seconds left.

But rookie linebacker Howard Jones, who scored the Steelers' only touchdown last week -- on a fumble caused by bookend linebacker Vic So'oto -- again scooped up a fumble caused by So'oto. This time Jones returned it to the Buffalo 1, and two snaps later Suisham kicked a 20-yard field goal for the game-winner as time expired.

"It's good to get a win," said Tomlin. "We kind of came in with the mindset that we would throw the ball around with our first group and run some no-huddle things. I thought that went well. We created some turnovers, the defense, and that's always good."

NOTES -- Steelers reserve guard Bryant Browning, with a dislocated shoulder, suffered the team's only injury. ... Reserve cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson and Devin Smith were late additions to the injury list after suffering setbacks late in the week. ... Second-round pick Stephon Tuitt worked with the first-team nickel at defensive tackle on passing downs. ... The Steelers called running backs Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount co-starters. Tomlin explained, "I want both guys to have the lead dog mentality." Bell carried four times for 11 yards and Blount three times for zero. ... Dri Archer gained 40 yards on one reception from Jones, but the Steelers didn't score any points on the drive. ... Suisham had only touchback in four kickoffs, but Tomlin said that was intentional. "We have to cover kicks," Tomlin said. "Shaun could put the ball through the back of the end zone like some of these people we're playing, but we want to see what our kickoff coverage teams are capable of."