Vance McDonald Jersey

In 2018, Vance McDonald set career highs in targets, receptions and yards. McDonald, who was only in his second year with the Steelers, wrested the receiving tight end role from Jesse James. James is gone now, and so is a particular receiver who happened to command a massive target share. McDonald, entering his seventh season, isn’t your typical late-bloomer, but that’s the trajectory he’s on heading into this season.

Everything is set up for him to be top-10 fantasy tight end for the first time in his career.

Antonio Brown accounted for 168 targets from in 2018. That doesn’t necessarily mean there are 168 targets up for grabs this season. Ben Roethlisberger had a career-high 675 pass attempts in 2018, and it is unlikely he reaches that mark again. However, in each of the previous three years, Roethlisberger has eclipsed 500 pass attempts. Even if Roethlisberger doesn’t approach his career high in attempts, he’s going to throw the ball more than enough. No player with a meaningful role in Pittsburgh’s passing game will be wanting for targets, McDonald included.
It’s hard to project what Pittsburgh’s passing game will look like without one of the players who defined it over the better part of the previous decade, but we do have a few hints from last year. Roethlisberger ranked 21st in the league in air yards per attempt and 11th in percentage of passes that traveled fewer than 15 yards in the air. He also favored throwing it over the middle, ranking third in the NFL in percentage of passes that were thrown between the numbers. Those tendencies match up well with McDonald’s strengths.
McDonald averaged just shy of five air yards per target in 2018, ranking 38th among 40 tight ends with at least 30 targets, but he still managed to gain 8.7 yards per target. On short passes, McDonald had a target share of 13%, behind JuJu Smith-Schuster at 24% and Brown at 21%. On these catches, McDonald averaged 7.6 yards after the catch, which was better than both Brown and Smith-Schuster. On passes over the middle, meanwhile, McDonald again had a target share of 13%,and gained 8.1 yards per target, which was, again, better than the marks of his star teammates.

Increasing the scope, McDonald led all tight ends in expected points added, or EPA, per target. This is a useful metric because it takes into account game situation, estimating how many points a player adds for each play in which they are involved. In other words, when McDonald was given an opportunity to contribute, he came through at a rate commensurate with Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz, the best players at the position.
It’s hard to overstate how meaningful it is to lead your position in EPA per target. The top-two receivers in the stat were Michael Thomas and Davante Adams. McDonald’s total EPA will likely decrease as he gets more targets, but the mere fact that he led the position on a meaningful number of targets suggests that he can, and should, be a major player in Pittsburgh’s offense this year.

Below is the distribution of Steelers air yards last year. Pay close attention to holdovers McDonald, Smith-Schuster and Washington.
Smith-Schuster mirrored Roethlisberger’s overall distribution, which makes sense since he had 166 targets. James Washington was clearly the deep threat, and should be back in that role, with additional targets all over the field, this year. McDonald thrived inside 10 yards, and could be Roethlisberger’s primary short and intermediate pass-catcher this year. If that’s the case, he’s in for a monster campaign. McDonald is currently the TE9 in 4for4’s half-point PPR rankings and has an ADP outside the top 100. If anyone at this position can be this year’s Kittle, it’s McDonald.

Tyson Alualu Jersey

From the beginning of their professional marriage 2½ years ago, Tyson Alualu and the Pittsburgh Steelers seemed like a perfect fit. So when it came time to extend the partnership this past winter, it was the proverbial a no-brainer from Alualu’s end.

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Apparently, it was for the Steelers, too.

“I knew that I wanted to be back here,” the defensive lineman said during minicamp this past week, “and I just wanted to make sure that the feeling was mutual on their end. They shared that, so in the end I just think it made sense.”

With Alualu set to hit the free-agent market for only the second time in a 10-year NFL career, he and the Steelers agreed to a two-year, $5.75 million contract in late February. It was a deal that closely mirrored the two-year, $6 million deal the same two parties had signed 23 months prior that made Alualu a member of an NFL team other than the Jacksonville Jaguars for the first time.

Alualu alleviated what had become a need for the Steelers as a reliable, steady fourth defensive lineman who was not only good enough that the DL play wasn’t going to slip if one of the top three needed spelled — but also someone who was willing to accept that secondary and thankless role behind entrenched starters Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave.

The Steelers had tried the likes of veterans Cam Thomas and Ricardo Mathews, as well low-round rookie draft picks like L.T. Walton and Joshua Frazier in that role. But none worked out.

Alualu was the perfect combination of talent/pedigree (a former top-10 overall draft pick) with a laidback and secure demeanor who had made enough money (more than $22 million) and experienced enough losing (30-82 in seven seasons with Jacksonville) that he was elated to join the Steelers — even as a backup.

“I just have got a feeling of what they’re building here, that we kind of have what it takes,” said Alualu, who is entering his 10th NFL season. “You want to be part of something great, and I think this is going to be it.”
The irony of Alualu’s first season with the Steelers was that although they went 13-3 — five games better than Alualu ever had before in his Jacksonville career — their season came to an end with a playoff loss to none other than the Jaguars.

Then last season the Steelers slipped to 9-6-1 and missed the playoffs.

Still, Alualu’s contributions have been apparent: he has played in all but one of the Steelers’ games, starting seven and adding 61 tackles and four sacks while playing more than a third of the team’s defensive snaps. He has started games in place of Heyward and Tuitt, and he has subbed in at all three D-line spots in the “base” defense as well as on both sides when they go nickel or dime.

Along with a sage-like veteran presence in the locker room and on the field, it is Alualu’s versatility and ability to master any spot on short notice that has made him so under-the-radar valuable for the Steelers.

“It’s not just myself. A lot of the guys here are in that same position where they can play multiple positions,” Alualu said.

“It’s just a group of guys that we have here made it so nice and made it easier decision for me to come back and try to chase that ring.”

Hey, Steelers Nation, get the latest news about the Pittsburgh Steelers here.

Justin Hunter Jersey

Justin Hunter will undergo surgery to repair his torn labrum, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler has reported. Hunter sustained the injury during Pittsburgh’s Week 13 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. He was placed on IR last Tuesday. In a corresponding move, the team promoted running back Trey Edmunds — brother of No. 1 pick Terrell Edmunds — to the 53-man roster. Edmunds’ spot on the practice squad was be filled by rookie inside linebacker Matthew Thomas, who was released earlier this month to make room for fellow rookie linebacker, Ola Adeniyi.

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A second round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Hunter has 85 career receptions for 1,349 yards (a career average of 15.9 yards per catch) and 13 touchdowns. His best season took place in 2014, when he caught 28 passes for 498 yards (a 17.3 yards per carry average) and three touchdowns as a member of the Tennessee Titans. After finishing the 2016 season with the Buffalo Bills, Hunter signed with the Steelers as a free agent during the 2017 offseason. In two seasons in Pittsburgh, Hunter has seven catches for 44 yards and a touchdown. He has three catches for 21 yards this season.

Hunter has been replaced in the lineup by rookie receiver James Washington, who caught 2 of his 4 targets for 11 yards in Sunday’s 24-21 loss to the Oakland Raiders. For the season, Washington has caught just 10 of 29 targets for 88 yards and 1 touchdown. Pittsburgh has received solid play from fellow receiver Ryan Switzer, who the Steelers acquired in a trade just before the start of the regular season. Switzer, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders, has caught 30 of 36 targets for 224 yards and 1 touchdown this season.

Pittsburgh currently boasts the NFL’s top ranked passing attack. Ben Roethlisberger is having one of the best statistical seasons of his career, completing 67 percent of his passes for 4,227 yards with 28 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. He is the only quarterback this season to throw for at least 250 yards in each of his team’s first 13 games. Last Sunday, despite missing most of the second half with a rib injury, Big Ben completed 25-of-29 passes for 292 yards with two touchdown passes to JuJu Smith-Schuster. Pittsburgh’s second round pick a year ago, Smith-Schuster has become one of the NFL’s best receivers, with 91 catches for 1,234 yards and six touchdowns this season. Antonio Brown is still one of the game’s best players, with 86 catches for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns though 13 games.

“I think both of those players complement each other,” Patriots’ Head Coach Bill Belichick of the Steelers receiving duo of Brown and Smith-Schuster earlier this week. “You’re worried about one player and the other one gets you and vice versa. They’ve got plenty of guys besides them, too. But those two in particular, they have great speed, quickness, catching ability, instincts and run-after-catch. Whenever they get the ball it’s a problem, and there’s a lot of different ways they can get the ball with their skill set and certainly their offense with Coach [Randy] Fichtner’s offense and the quarterback.”

Ryan Switzer Jersey

After catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger during Pittsburgh Steelers minicamp, Ryan Switzer beat soft-serve coverage in the parking lot of the team facility.

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Switzer treated players and employees to Bruster’s Ice Cream after Wednesday’s practice. The Bruster’s truck pulled up shortly after practice and quickly drew a crowd.
Switzer said he’s a big fan of Bruster’s, an ice cream chain headquartered in Bridgewater, Pennsylvania, so he figured give the company some love.

“Plus the guys like it,” he said.

Switzer has hired the truck for appearances multiple times since joining the team via trade from the Dallas Cowboys in August.

Several players have said this year’s Steelers are “team-oriented,” and this gesture only helps.

Switzer plays multiple roles for the Steelers, having caught 36 passes for 253 yards and one touchdown last season along with six rushes for 21 yards, and 859 yards in kick and punt returns.

Morgan Burnett Jersey

It didn’t even take a full workweek for ex-Pittsburgh Steelers safety Morgan Burnett to find a new home.

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The veteran is set to sign a two-year contract with the Cleveland Browns, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reports. Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer first reported the news. The team later confirmed the signing along with announcing the signing of quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who most recently played with the Alliance of American Football’s Orlando Apollos.

Rapoport reported the deal is for two years at a max of nearly $9 million, with a guarantee of almost $4 million.
Burnett was cut by the Steelers on Monday, one year into a three-year pact. The Steelers attempted to trade the safety after he requested his release back in January, but came up empty.

The Browns, apparently, were waiting in the wings.

After being a poor fit in Pittsburgh — who had a bigger need for a deep cover safety than a box-player — Burnett hopes to recapture his form in Cleveland.

The signing furthers the trend of Browns general manager John Dorsey bringing in players with whom he’s familiar. Dorsey was the Director of College Scouting in Green Bay when the Packers made Burnett a third-round pick in 2010.

Dorsey continues to churn the safety position in Cleveland. After trading Jabrill Peppers to New York, he cut young safety Derrick Kindred, traded for Eric Murray from Kansas City (another of his former draft picks) and now signs Burnett.

Just 30-years-old entering his 10th NFL season, there is still tread on Burnett’s tires despite fizzling out in Pittsburgh. It’s likely the Browns have a better plan to utilize the veteran’s skill set than the Steelers did a year ago.

As a box safety and potential dime linebacker, Burnett should pair well as a complement to Cleveland free safety Damarious Randall on the back end. If Burnett plays as well as he did during the end of his run in Green Bay, the Browns should have a stable back end rotation to lean on in 2019.

Gilbert led the AAF with 2,152 yards passing and was second in the league with 13 touchdowns as he quarterbacked Orlando to the league’s best record. Previously, Gilbert played for the Carolina Panthers in 2018, playing in just one game and had previously been signed by the Rams, Patriots, Lions and Raiders.

Joshua Dobbs Jersey

As a recipient of an aerospace engineering degree, Joshua Dobbs is all too familiar with Newton’s third law of motion.

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He just didn’t expect it to be such a jarring part of his flight training for a trip with the Air Force Thunderbirds.

What goes up must come down — even an F-16 jet — as the Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback learned while prepping for his April flight with the famed military pilots.

“If you have to eject, this is how you operate the parachute, and if the parachute doesn’t open before 10,000 feet, this is what you have to do,” Dobbs said Wednesday. “I’m like, I just want to go up, get a picture and come back down.”

Dobbs laughed at his joke. Thankfully, his flight had a smooth takeoff and landing, fulfilling a dream for the third-year quarterback who longs to someday work for NASA or Pratt & Whitney, a manufacturer of aircraft engines for the U.S government.

“An experience of a lifetime,” is how Dobbs described it on social media after completing the flight.
Dobbs throws passes for a living, but he couldn’t resist taking a few passes across the skyline with the Thunderbirds. Such is his love for space that Dobbs has the following Paul Brandt quote written on his Instagram page: “Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon.”

Partial credit for the trip should go to another athlete familiar with traveling at high speeds: retired NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

Dobbs was serving a three-week internship in February 2018 at Fanatics, an online sportswear retailer. A trip to the Daytona 500 was on the docket, and Dobbs got to rub elbows with Gordon. Dobbs was invited to a private suite where among the guests were the Thunderbird pilots who had performed the pre-race flyover.

Turned out that some of the pilots were Florida football fans and remembered Dobbs from his four years as Tennessee’s quarterback and his aerospace engineering background.

“They said, ‘We’d love to have you fly with us,’ ” Dobbs said. “I said, ‘Hey, wherever you are, I’ll meet you there.’ ”
The Thunderbirds performed last summer at the Westmoreland County Air Show, the event coinciding with the opening of Steelers training camp across Route 30 from Arnold Palmer Regional Airport at Saint Vincent.

Dobbs, however, couldn’t get his schedule to mesh with the Thunderbirds, so the flight was postponed until the offseason.

In April, Dobbs received the invitation to fly with the group prior to an air show in Waco, Texas. A camera crew from Sports Illustrated was brought along to document Dobbs flight as part of its “24 Hours With” video series.

Before Dobbs could go up in the air, he had to pass a crammed certification process. He began his crash course at 7 a.m on a Saturday when he received his anti-gravity suit and mask. He was drilled on safety procedures, hence the ejection protocol, and tutored on the flight profile.

“You’ve got to get certified quickly to be able to go up,” Dobbs said. “It was a pretty extensive process.”

Because of some heavy cloud coverage, Dobbs said the flight was pushed back until the afternoon, which led to his biggest mistake. With some time to kill and only a light breakfast in his stomach, Dobbs headed to a vending machine.

His snack of choice? A bag of Cheetos.

“I was starving,” Dobbs said.
Once airborne, Dobbs said his pilot made several passes over the airfield without fanfare. Then, he did a 9-G turn, a maneuver that is nine times the force of gravity.

“He rolls the plane and does a U-turn,” Dobbs said. “Imagine the force of stopping a plane, going and the jolt of the engine. You experience 9 to 9.1 Gs. That’s the one that gets people blacking out.”

Dobbs didn’t black out. But he did throw up a little while later.

“He rolls the plane really hard four times, then he rolls it slow to the left,” Dobbs said. “That got me.”

Out came the Cheetos. Dobbs, though, was happy he projected his snack into a bag rather than all over the canopy.

“It was all orange,” Dobbs said. “Probably not the prettiest sight.”

Other than that mishap, it was smooth flying for Dobbs.

For his next adventure, Dobbs has been invited to attend a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The launch is scheduled for early July, a few weeks before the Steelers report to training camp.

“I hear this one is going to the space station,” Dobbs said. “It should be pretty cool.”

Cameron Sutton Jersey

Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton might have the most intimidating helmet on the planet.

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A tweet from The Checkdown shows Sutton during practice with the Steelers wearing a visor of the infamous horror character Jason Voorhees, and it’s awesome.

I don’t think the league will let him rock it during a game, but it’s pretty damn sweet to wear during practice. Take a look at it below. (RELATED: JuJu Smith-Schuster Responds To Antonio Brown Calling Him Out On Twitter)
It’s game over if you see a defensive back with that helmet gunning for you on the field. Jason is one of the most iconic killers in the history of film.

He uses a machete to hack people to bits! There’s a reason why the films have grossed an absurd amount of cash.

It’s because they’re highly-entertaining for those into slasher films and blood.
If you see Sutton running towards you on the field with that mask on, then you better dip for the sidelines as fast as possible.

There’s no shot I want to go up against somebody rocking a Jason mask. It’s just that simple. Count me out!
The season is months away, but Sutton is already letting it be known he’s not messing around this year with Pittsburgh. I love it. Too bad Goodell is soft and wouldn’t let him wear that visor in a million years in a game.

What a shame!

Mason Rudolph Jersey

James Washington and Mason Rudolph entered the draft in 2018 as teammates, and they left it the same way. Going from Oklahoma State to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the second- and third-round picks would continue their relationship as professionals that they began at the college level.

Neither of them had the rookie season that they would have liked, but a new year promises to have new possibilities, and more opportunities to grow through experience. Each of them now have a season under their belt, even if the wide receiver, Washington, was able to get substantially more playing time than Rudolph, who was inactive as the third-string quarterback.

Not that he didn’t use his time wisely on the bench. Rudolph has previously talked about how Mike Tomlin helped to keep him engaged by being open to his suggestions and ideas for the offense, listening to them and maybe even deploying them. He credited that a lot for his being able to stay dialed in, and felt that he would have been able to play if called upon by the end of the year.

Washington had no choice but to be engaged because he was playing immediately, and clearly doing so before he was ready. If anything, his early opportunities were a net negative experience for him as he struggled, and it reached a point where Ben Roethlisberger had a talk with him, which he considered the turning point late in the year, after which he was able to make a few plays.

Those late-season experiences have carried over into 2019, finding the pair of 2018 Day Two draft picks hopeful and optimistic. Washington could earn a starting role across from JuJu Smith-Schuster this year, while Rudolph is looking to become Roethlisberger’s backup by leapfrogging Joshua Dobbs.

“I feel like he’s a lot more confident”, Washington told Jacob Klinger about Washington. “I mean, we both are. I mean, all last year we were kind of back-and-forth calling each other, trying to pick each other’s brain and just learn playbooks together. He would call me, we’d go over signals so I feel like we kind of helped each other a little bit”.

They continued to stay in touch and pick each other’s brain throughout the offseason and into OTAs, and surely they will remain in contact during the break ahead of training camp as well. It can be incredibly valuable to have that relationship with another teammate who is in a similar point of their career.

As has long been established, Tomlin and the Steelers—and really the rest of the NFL—expect a big jump from their second-year players, and Washington and Rudolph are two players that they drafted, as high as they did, because they saw great potential in them as starters.

With the rookie jitters out of the way, and going into the season knowing what to expect, will they take that huge next step that has become expected of players in their position? We’ll have to find that out over the course of the season.

James Washington Jersey

This is the time of year where I start drafting in earnest and am starting to notice that I’m regularly ending up with specific players at certain points in the draft. I wrote about Kenyan Drake earlier this month, and another player that I’m getting in just about every draft is Pittsburgh receiver James Washington.

According to Best Ball 10s ADP, he’s going off the board as the No. 43 receiver at the 102nd pick, which lands him in the ninth round. At DRAFT, he’s the No. 49 receiver off the board at pick No. 115, on average, which places him in the 10th round. I currently have him ranked No. 31 in full PPR formats, so I think he’ll return sixth- or seventh-round value.

The former second-rounder was highly productive in college, racking up 145 catches for 2,929 yards and 23 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Oklahoma State. He won the Fred Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top receiver in 2017. The Steelers made him the seventh receiver off the board in the 2018 draft.
He was a favorite of #ReceptionPerception creator Matt Harmon as he evaluated last year’s draft class. Harmon wrote: “What makes Washington stand out among this crop of prospects is his ability to offer two skills that are rare and valuable: winning deep and in contested spaces.”

After a strong preseason last year, catching seven passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns, Washington had a quiet rookie year, catching just 16 balls for 217 yards and a touchdown on 30 targets. To be fair, there wasn’t much room for Washington in the offense with Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster gobbling up 168 and 166 targets, respectively. Even though Washington was the fifth fiddle in the passing game, he still played 55% of the snaps and had two of his best games late in the season, posting three catches for 65 yards on four targets against the Patriots in Week 15, and three grabs for 64 yards on three targets in Week 17 with Brown sidelined.

Washington said that he hit a wall in his rookie season but has taken steps to avoid that in 2019. He has lost 15 pounds to improve his speed and is in much better shape heading into his sophomore campaign. What sort of role can Washington expect to fill in the Pittsburgh offense now that Brown is out of the way? Will he be a bona fide No. 2 option, getting 100-plus targets from Ben Roethlisberger, or will he be sharing that role with the newly signed Donte Moncrief and/or rookie Diontae Johnson?
The table below shows the WR2 in Pittsburgh in terms of targets per game and his resulting per game numbers.
Including Smith-Schuster’s monster 2018 campaign, the WR2 receiver in Pittsburgh has played at a 68-904-5.8 pace on 112 targets, which equates to low-end fantasy WR2 numbers. If we remove Smith-Schuster’s season since it looks like an outlier, the line drops to 63-839-5.6 on 105 targets, which are still solid fantasy WR3-type numbers.
The other thing that I’d like to point out is that the Pittsburgh WR2 has averaged 4.2 catches for 59 yards and 0.45 touchdowns, a 67-944-7.2 pace, in 2010-2013 and 2015, the five seasons in recent memory where Le’Veon Bell was not a major factor in the passing game (excluding JuJu’s outlier season). With Bell gone, his targets are up for grabs, and while I expect the running backs to get the majority of those looks, Washington will have something to say about it as well.

I currently project Washington for 63-842-5.9 and that makes him a solid fantasy WR3. He could certainly lose snaps to Moncrief or someone else and finish lower than that, but he has the talent and opportunity to finish as a fantasy WR2. That makes him a great pick in the ninth or 10th round in all fantasy formats.

Ryan Shazier Jersey

Pittsburgh Steelers injured linebacker, Ryan Shazier, receives award for overcoming adversity.

It’s impossible not to respect Ryan Shazier after everything he gone through. After being drafted by the Steelers with the 15th overall pick in 2014, Shazier quickly became a leader of the defense and went on to land two consecutive Pro Bowls by the age of 25.

However, everything took a devastating turn late in the 2017 season. During a road game against the Bengals on Monday night football, Shazier writhed in pain after tackle, while the nation helplessly looked on.
The injury to Shazier’s spinal chord would have life-altering implications. It no longer became a question of when Shazier would see the field again; rather, if he would walk again.

Shazier somehow managed to stay positive through it all. Eight months after an injury that would have caused most men to lose all hope, Shazier defied the odds:
America sobbed as a video went viral of Shazier walking across the Steelers practice field for their ‘Friday Night Lights’ practice. If this would have been the only thing Shazier pulled off, it might have been enough for fans to see that not all hope was lost.
But Shazier didn’t stop there.
Ryan Shazier continued to impress, and video after video, he showed the nation why there is always hope.

In March and April, Shazier was seen doing pull-ups and box jumps – no doubt preparing for the biggest moment of his life.
On May 4th of this year, Shazier touched the hearts of the nation. The Steelers linebacker (who was never supposed to be able to walk again) danced with his wife at his wedding.
All of his sweat and tears led Shazier to that moment, and his efforts didn’t go unnoticed.

Yesterday, the Steelers role model was selected as the 2019 George Halas Award winner by Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).
Ed Bouchette – a PFWA member and writer for The Athletic – had this to say on the character of Ryan Shazier:

“In my 35 years covering the Steelers, I’ve seen many players overcome much adversity, but never have I seen such determination by a player to overcome what Ryan has and to reach a point, physically and mentally, where he is. It’s unbelievable how teammates talk about how he has inspired them. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have spoken many times about what he has meant to the organization, the front office and the players. He has been one big inspiration.

“He’s going to all the meetings, watching film, breaking down opponents, going in with the scouts to watch stuff, looking at prospects at draft time, and he’s on the field every day. He’s made remarkable recovery from an injury where many of us believed he wouldn’t be able to.

“He’s an inspiration to fans as well. His first public appearance was at a Steelers home game. They showed him on the Jumbotron, and the ovation was incredible. Same thing at a Penguins game. At the NFL Draft, he walked without help publicly for the first time. He’s been a tremendous inspiration all the way around.”

Since his injury, Shazier has been a player Steelers fans could count on to make headlines for all of the right reasons. His hard work, determination, and unmatched effort on the road to recovery simply make him one-of-a-kind.
Shazier embodies what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler, and his relentlessness has been an inspiration to football fans nationwide.