Ben Roethlisberger praises Ryan Shazier

PITTSBURGH -- Rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier has impressed the Pittsburgh Steelers with his physical ability during offseason practices. The first-round pick drew praise from Ben Roethlisberger on Friday for what the Steelers quarterback said is an overlooked part of Shazier's game.

"He's going to be fun to watch," Roethlisberger said on WDVE 102.5 in Pittsburgh, "and the thing about him that is most underrated that people don't talk about is he's very smart on the field. I think he's going to be a guy that's going to be calling the defense pretty soon."

That assessment will only add to the growing hype surrounding Shazier, who turned in the play of offseason practices on Wednesday when he made a leaping interception of a pass that Bruce Gradkowski threw because he didn't think Shazier would get to it.

Shazier put his knowledge of the Steelers' playbook at a "five or six” on a scale of one to 10 earlier this week, and the 6-1, 237-pounder is only going to get better as his comfort level in the defense increases.

Shazier still has to show he can play well when the pads go on at St. Vince College in Latrobe, and the Ohio State product will have to work through the grind of training camp along with the rest of the rookies.

But at this point it's hard to imagine a scenario in which Shazier is not the starter alongside inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons when the Steelers open the season Sept. 7 against the visiting Browns.

"We've got some guys on defense that look special," Roethlisbeger said of the Steelers' rookie class.