ORLANDO, Fla. -- Those close to Ryan Shazier have expressed major optimism over the past few months as the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker continues recovery from a severe spinal injury. Pictures and videos circulating on social media show Shazier standing, attending various sporting events and doing pull-ups in a gym. And although Shazier uses a wheelchair, the expectation is he will eventually need it less and less.
That brings up Shazier's desire to play football again. The Steelers are supporting Shazier, who's due $8.718 million as part of his fifth-year option that's fully guaranteed for injury. Shazier will be with the team in a teammate/advisory role in 2018, but having him take the field for them in 2019 or beyond is a different conversation.
Asked how the team approaches Shazier's hopes to play again, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert stressed he'll never place a cap on what Shazier can handle.
“There is no ceiling in Ryan's recovery. He aggressively approaches it every day," Colbert said. "We support him in every way possible in that endeavor. Where that leads, only he will know and he will determine further down the road. His approach, his mental approach. I can't tell you how impressive an inspiration he is to us."
Shazier works out in the team facility daily and also undergoes hours of rigorous rehabilitation with a Pittsburgh-based specialist. He's certainly not hiding, appearing all over town from Pittsburgh Penguins games to galas honoring late Steelers chairman Dan Rooney.
Shazier's attitude is infectious and can only help the Steelers next season, Colbert said.
"The kid had a devastating injury -- his willingness to not only aggressively rehab but to put himself out there and ask for no pity, again that's all part of the recovery process that I think, he helps us as much as we help him," Colbert said.
What will Shazier's role be in 2019? The team won't project that far out, at least publicly. Colbert confirmed the team has the flexibility to extend Shazier's contract, although he was asked generally about it and didn't express it as a definitive plan. What's clear is the team wants Shazier around as much as possible this year, and if Shazier attempts a comeback in earnest, he wouldn't surprise Colbert.