PITTSBURGH -- Keep Ryan Shazier on the field for more than a few games in a row and good things happen. Just look at his past two seasons in the playoffs. His two forced fumbles and 13 tackles sparked the Pittsburgh Steelers' wild-card victory in Cincinnati after the 2015 season. His four consecutive games with an interception late last season helped secure playoff wins over Miami and Kansas City.
In both cases, Shazier had been healthy for at least two months.
"I definitely feel I start to catch fire and get a little bit of rhythm," the Steelers linebacker said.
The length of the streaks has been the problem. Shazier has missed a total of 14 games in three NFL seasons. Coincidentally, Shazier made the Pro Bowl after a career-high 13 games played in 2016.
Now, entering a potential contract year, Shazier wants to play a full 16. But not because of a contract.
“I just want to have a full year in general just for myself," said Shazier, who enters the final year of his rookie deal but has a fifth-year option for 2018. "I feel like I have the capability of being one of the best players in the NFL. People can’t really see what I can do when I’m not on the field. Your best ability is availability.”
Shazier was a healthy player at Ohio State, which helped the Steelers envision All-Pro potential for the rangy first-rounder. At full strength, Shazier uses his burst off the line to invade the backfield and his lateral quickness to fly sideline to sideline in zone coverage.
🤔🤔🤔 when you watching the #NFLTop100 and you not on it.
— Ryan Shazier (@RyanShazier) June 27, 2017
After back-to-back seasons of 87 tackles and 3.5 sacks, Shazier is considered a cornerstone defender on a championship team but not yet on the short list of top NFL defenders, a point that seems to motivate the 24-year-old.
"[Playing a full season] would just show my consistency of being able to be a playmaker for this team, cause turnovers, get the offense back the ball, show people in the league that I can be a dynamic player," Shazier said.
Shazier wants that responsibility on a weekly basis.