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PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) – In a season full of distractions, the Steelers must now look to put the team’s most serious obstacle behind them while preparing for the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football.
The team announced Thursday that linebacker Ryan Shazier underwent spine stabilization surgery Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, the result of a tackle that left the 25-year old motionless from the waist down during the Steelers’ win over Cincinnati Monday night.
While the prognosis is unclear, the Steelers, collectively, are more concerned with Shazier’s ability to lead a functional life more than his possible return to football.
“All I am is hopeful that he gets well,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. “I’m not worried about him playing for us again. The football stuff is secondary. His life is a lot more important to me than football.”
Butler will turn to outside linebacker Arthur Moats to take on some of Shazier’s duties in a position Moats has not played since he was with the Buffalo Bills in 2013.
“Luckily, I’ve been in the same defense for four years now,” said Moats, who has made just three tackles all season. “I feel like that’s definitely helped me out with the transition.”
The team also signed free agent linebacker Sean Spence, who was with the team from 2012-2015 before stops in Tennessee and, earlier this season, in Indianapolis. On top of that, Shazier’s backup in Tyler Matakevich missed practice Thursday with a shoulder injury.
All of those things compounded makes filling the inside linebacker void a monumental task, as Shazier was on pace for his best season as a pro with a team-leading 89 tackles and three interceptions.
“We have to communicate more,” an emotional Cam Heyward said Thursday. “Ryan was our vocal leader out there, getting everybody lined up. We can’t replace Ryan and we know what Ryan brings. But we can try to hold up our end of the deal.”