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Steelers

Colin Dunlap: Give Shazier A Chance

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Weeknights, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Colin grew up in Sharpsburg and...
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Let’s relax a little bit here.

Take a deep breath. Sleep on it another night or two.

It seems as if Ryan Shazier has already lost — at least the public opinion poll.

Isn’t that a tiny bit unfair? I think so.

Shazier, who the Steelers made their first-round pick with the 15th overall selection in Thursday night’s NFL Draft, wasn’t Darqueze Dennard.

That seems to be his most damning quality.

That seems to be the early, overriding sentiment from fans about Shazier — disappointment he was selected and not the cornerback from Michigan State who ended up going to Cincinnati with the 24th pick.

Again, isn’t that a tiny bit unfair? I think so.

It appears many fans had fallen in love with the notion of Dennard, at 5 feet 11 inches, 200 pounds, finding his way into a Steelers uniform. Ever since Steelers coach Mike Tomlin attended Dennard’s pro day, there was a heightened buzz around the prospect that projects as a guy who can run with receivers but also out-tough them.

That buzz hit a crescendo as the Steelers were on the clock, set to select at No. 15 when it appeared to be an afterthought that Dennard’s name would be the next one blaring out through the Radio City Music Hall speaker system.

Instead, it was Shazier, a linebacker — who the Steelers project inside — and has run a 4.35 40-yard dash. By virtue of that speed, Shazier (6-1, 237-pounds) walks into the Steelers facility and probably becomes the second or third fastest player on the defense. That’s almost unheard of from the inside linebacker position.

So, I ask: What’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong with the Steelers going out and getting a guy who looks to have the speed and athleticism to be devastatingly disruptive?

Again, I say nothing. Admit it, many of you just don’t like him right now because he’s not Dennard; because he’s not a cornerback and what you felt was the Steelers’ greatest area of need on defense.

However, the Steelers were obviously looking for a big-play, field-swinging, speed-to-burn guy on defense and it would appear they got him.

No one truly knows how Shazier will turn out, if he will be a bust who we laugh at years down the road or have an impact from the time he walks into the Steelers’ facility, but I do know this: I think he has just as much a chance of helping this team than Dennard would have.

It seems painfully obvious that many wanted Dennard because he was the sexier pick, the guy out on that island willing to face the responsibility of playing, perhaps, the NFL’s most pressure-filled position.

Inside linebackers, on the other hand, are more innocuous, less jump-off-the-page-at-you sort of players, lending to the sort of glum way this selection of Shazier has been viewed as the returns are still very early.

The selection of Shazier — and not Dennard — also sends a clear message that Steelers brass is exceedingly confident that the triumvirate of Ike Taylor, William Gay and Cortez Allen will be able to more than shoulder the coverage responsibilities in 2014.

I can’t say that I would bet heavily on those guys; but I can’t say that I’d bet on a rookie mid-first-round rookie doing the job any better right now, either.

Jeff Hathhorn, sports director at 93.7 The Fan who has covered sports for decades in this town, joined my radio show just after Shazier was selected. The question posed to Hathhorn was direct: Forget the fans, how did the media room at the South Side facility — filled with some who have covered the team for 30 years — react when it was announced that Shazier was the pick?

“Shock,” is what Hathhorn said.

A one-word answer.

Shock.

And these are people embedded with the team, some who have spent the better portion of their professional lives covering the organization.

If the reaction in the media room isn’t a barometer as to Shazier’s initial uphill battle, I don’t know what is.

“What we needed was a defensive playmaker, he fills the bill in that regard,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Shazier.

What I’m shocked about is that many already don’t think Shazier will be that guy; if for nothing else than because he isn’t named Darqueze Dennard.

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