Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Ryan Shazier (50) runs after making an interception during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Minnesota Vikings in Canton, Ohio, Sunday, Aug. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Don Wright
August 12, 2015

LATROBE, Pa. (AP) Ryan Shazier just started to put it all together during his rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers before a setback, causing the promising linebacker to miss half of the team's final 14 games.

Now, Shazier is healthy and eager to flash the speed that impressed the Steelers enough to make him their first-round pick in 2014.

''I just feel like I can have a better season this year, especially because I'm healthy, and just the fact that I know what I'm doing,'' Shazier said. ''The speed of the game is back to what it used to be and I'm just having fun.''

The Steelers liked Shazier's 4.4 speed and sideline-to-sideline playmaking abilities, an asset against offenses that continually look for new ways to spread opposing defenses. The former Ohio State player became the first rookie linebacker to start a season opener for the Steelers since 2001.

Shazier, despite 17 tackles in two games, said he didn't truly adjust to the speed of professional football until the Steelers third game against Carolina.

His injury woes began the same game.

Shazier missed all or parts of nine of the Steelers final 14 games. He was inactive for four straight with a right knee injury and missed three more with an injured right ankle. Shazier also left early because of injury against Carolina and later Baltimore.

He's healthy now, adding some bulk to a 6-foot-1, 237-pound frame and ready to make an impact on a deep and talented linebacker group that features four first-round picks.

''He's very healthy and very lean,'' linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. ''He's running to the ball real nice. I'm looking forward to him settling into his starting role.''

Shazier is too, and it showed Sunday during the Hall of Fame game against Minnesota.

His speed was on display as the 22-year-old teamed with Timmons, the Steelers' 2007 first-round pick, to create a formidable inside duo. Shazier, who had five tackles in two quarters, nearly came up with an interception and also took out the fullback on a fourth-and-1 from the 10-yard line, allowing his teammates to stuff an inside run.

''The coaches called a great defense and I just reacted and was able to make a play,'' Shazier said. ''It just felt really great to go out there and just be back out there on the field because I didn't get to play for so long.''

His teammates can't wait to see what's in store for this season.

''I think (Shazier) is going to take off,'' said Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones, the team's 2013 first-round pick.

''He's one of those special guys that can do it all. He can drop into coverage, he can run and fill gaps. He's a very explosive player who is smart and gets to the ball fast and I'm excited to see him play.''

Shazier has already put an injury-filled rookie season in the past. Now, finally healthy, the promising Steelers linebacker is ready to focus on his second season.

''I feel really confident, ready to go and I want to do whatever I can to help the team,'' Shazier said. ''Just knowing what I have to do makes it a lot easier, so I feel like I can play a lot faster.''

NOTES: QB Ben Roethlisberger is anticipated to play 10 to 12 snaps Friday against Jacksonville, while Landry Jones, Tyler Murphy and Tajh Boyd are also expected to play. ... The Steelers placed K Shaun Suisham on season-ending injured reserved after he hurt his knee against Minnesota on Sunday night. Pittsburgh signed former New Orleans K Garrett Hartley on Tuesday to replace Suisham. ... Players ruled out for Friday's game include S Robert Golden (knee), DT Daniel McCullers (hamstring), S Ross Ventrone (leg), LB Vince Williams (hamstring), QB Bruce Gradkowski (shoulder), OT Mike Adams (back) and CB Senquez Golson (shoulder).


AP NFL websites: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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