Shazier Becoming a Student of the Game
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Hobbled with a sports hernia this spring, weakside linebacker Ryan Shazier isn't able to do much during Buckeye football practice, focusing mainly on staying loose and taking mental reps.
Photo by Dan Harker
While he would much rather be padded up, running around, and bringing the worst of intentions to ball carriers, the mental side of the game still carries immense value, and it's something that Shazier has taken a necessary increased interest in during the offseason.
Though the injury is currently a nuisance, a lack of understanding about the defense could be crippling. Despite his stellar play last season, there were times when he was a bit slow on the mental side, which made him even slower on the physical side. This is something that he wants to eliminate in 2013.
"I feel like mentally, that slowed me down a little bit last year," he said of his lack of complete understanding.
"The game slowed down from my freshman year, but it was still kind of fast. So I feel even next year, with a little bit more experience, it should slow down a lot more."
While the game was "still kind of fast" by Shazier's own admission, he did manage to finish second in the Big Ten in tackles (9.6 per game). His 17.0 tackles for loss led the conference. His 5.0 sacks were good for eighth in the conference, as were his 12 passes defended.
Basically, he was everywhere last season, and he did it without always knowing where he was supposed to be.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Shazier has a knack for the football that is a level above what football study brings. But imagine him moving forward with not only his innate physical ability, but also now with the foundation of study and the understanding of an opponent's tendencies.
That is where he wants to be, and that is what he is working on right now.
"Me and Coach Fickell have just been talking about football and it's helping me learn about plays and what offenses are going to do," he said.
"In rehab I work on my steps and staying behind the ball, and I'm watching more film with the coaches. Coach Fickell keeps talking to me about football, and we're watching random games. Just going over offenses will help me a lot more too."
We'll see how much his study habits help him on the football field this September. Even though he admits that he is still learning, it hasn't kept his teammates from picking his brain during the offseason.
"Ryan's a great person to have around because we get into the film room with him," fellow linebacker Joshua Perry explained.
"He knows the defense pretty well, and he's been a leader for us. I think that just permeates throughout the linebacker room. He sees everything. He's got a great football mind, and so he's letting us know that, 'Hey, you can do this, you can do that.' It's invaluable."
By helping to teach the game to his teammates, he's learning it more in depth as well. The more you teach something, the more natural it becomes. Eventually, it becomes rote, engrained like a vivid memory, able to be recalled within an instant. That's where Shazier eventually wants to be, and right now he's using the spring to help get him there.
Ryan Shazier is already a very, very good player, and he is going to litter All-American lists over the next few months like third world propaganda being dropped out of an airplane. But just imagine what he'll be like when he's playing faster. What kind of numbers is he capable of when that happens?
"I have goals in my head," he admitted.
"I'm not really going to tell you what they are, but I have goals in my head. I just want to do whatever I can to help this team make it to the next level. We're on a chase right now and we're trying to do whatever we can to get there."
For Shazier, that means becoming the best linebacker he can be in the film room, so that he can then become the best linebacker he can be on the football field.
When those two entities combine, they will form one of the most outstanding linebackers in the nation, and he won't even need a fake girlfriend to prove it.
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