Ryan Shazier shows familiar face to Steelers at practice
Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier attends practice Wednesday in a wheelchair.
PITTSBURGH — Arthur Moats looked to the far sideline of the Steelers’ indoor field, working with the scout team defense, he said, wondering why a crowd was forming.
When he came over after the offensive practice period, he realized.
“I was like ‘Oh, shoot. My man Shay’s here,'” Moats said. “You know what I’m saying, blessing us with his presence today.”
The defense gathered around Ryan Shazier, in a wheelchair, attending his first practice since suffering a spinal injury against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 4. “Good to see my dogs,” an already smiling Shazier told the unit, Moats said. Then the former defensive playcaller shifted his teammates’ focus back to practice. “Lock up,” Moats said Shazier told them.
“Defense on three, 1-2-3 defense.” Then Shazier’s unit took the field.
Pittsburgh players relished in seeing Shazier, and his smile on Wednesday afternoon, though both were a familiar sight to many of them. They text or talk with him daily. He’s still involved in the team’s game plan and passes along tips about opposing team’s tendencies.
Players from all around the team walked over in waves to chat with Shazier on Wednesday, Chris Hubbard said. Some of the conversation was small talk, general messages of support, he said.
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Martavis Bryant hadn’t seen him in person since Shazier took, then left the field at Paul Brown Stadium more than a month ago.
Yet Shazier – in a wheelchair – remained himself.
The first words Sean Davis heard from him were a joke, he said. That’s how they talked throughout the session.
Davis smiled and shook his head, “Uhh,” when asked what Shazier teased him about.
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Sean Spence, who was re-signed to fill Shazier’s spot on the roster, said he relates to the boost of energy he saw Shazier get. Spence spent the first two years of his career sidelined with a knee injury.
“Not the next couple days, just for in that moment: You just feel at home again, at ease,” Spence said.
It had only been five days since Spence saw Shazier, he said. The Steelers linebackers, Cameron Heyward, Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden visit Shazier in the hospital every Friday, Moats said.
On each of the five Fridays since Shazier returned to Pittsburgh, they’ve brought him dinner — from Chipotle, Eddie Merlot’s, twice, and Cheesecake Factory, Dupree said. His favorite food is french fries, Dupree said, and it doesn’t matter where they come from or if he’s supposed to be having them smuggled in.
“I don’t know if it’s not right or not, but we make sure he’s happy,” Dupree said. “Whatever he wants to do, we’ll do it.”
Shazier told teammates on the sideline Wednesday a similar message to what he wrote on Instagram later, that he considered getting to practice a metaphorical first down.
“He said every step is a first down and he’s just going to keep going ’til he gets to the touchdown,” Dupree said. “So I don’t know if he meant walking or he meant playing, but I don’t know.
“But me personally, I want him to be walking. I don’t care about playing.”
Following Wednesday’s practice, Dupree and his fellow linebackers lingered around Shazier. Dupree would wonder afterward if Shazier would be at other practices this week or what scouting tips he might get from him at Friday’s “Winning Edge” meeting.
Their talk around 3 o’clock in the indoor facility was still mostly “chit-chat,” Moats said. Before he wheeled off they knew they would see him in a couple days.
Said Heyward: “We’re going to do anything that makes Ryan feel good.”
PennLive staff reporter Lauren Kirschman contributed reporting to this story.
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