Steelers team physicians, along with neurosurgeons from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, announced Thursday that linebacker Ryan Shazier underwent spinal stabilization surgery. The fourth-year player was injured Monday in a game at Cincinnati then taken to a hospital there before being transported to UPMC on Wednesday.
The Steelers offered no more information on Shazier, but such a procedure can require a months-long recovery and has almost certainly ended his season. The greater question may be if Shazier will play football again, but to Pittsburgh players and coaches that potential issue was thoroughly eclipsed by concerns for their teammate’s well-being.
“I’m not worried about him playing for us again, I’m more worried about him,” defensive coordinator Keith Butler said Thursday to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Y’all have been updated as much as we have. The thing that we’re hopeful for and prayerful for is that he comes back and he’ll be okay.
“The football stuff is secondary. His life is a lot more important to me than football.”
Linebacker Arthur Moats, who may take Shazier’s place in the Steelers’ lineup when they host the Ravens on Sunday, told the newspaper that Shazier’s football future was “the last thing I’m concerned about.” Moats added, “After seeing him on the field like that [Monday], I want to see him just walk. That was scary to see him roll over like that on the field.”
Shazier was injured on a first-quarter play when he lunged forward to stop the Bengals’ Josh Malone. His head slammed into with the wide receiver’s thigh and Shazier immediately fell to the turf, then turned over on his back while appearing to have trouble moving his legs. The 25-year-old was immobilized on a board before being cart off the field, with at least one teammate in tears at the scene.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, who reported Tuesday that Shazier had “some movement in his lower extremities,” cited sources in saying Thursday that the linebacker’s surgery “will necessitate months of recovery.” A neurologist who consults with the NFL Players Association said to ESPN’s Michele Steele of the procedure required by Shazier, “It’s not good. … We’re not going to see him this season. He may not play football again.”
“Thank you for the prayers. Your support is uplifting to me and my family,” Shazier said on Twitter Tuesday, in his only public comments since being injured. He added the hashtag, “#SHALIEVE.”
A first-round pick by the Steelers in 2014 out of Ohio State, Shazier was a Pro Bowl selection after the 2016 season and is considered a leader for Pittsburgh both on the field and in its locker room. “He’s the heart and soul of this defense,” rookie Steelers linebacker T.J. Watt said Wednesday. “He’s the quarterback.
“It’s just different not having him here in meetings and out there in practices. It’s weird.”
“Obviously you want his health to be the number one concern. If they felt surgery was necessary, I’m glad it got done,” Pittsburgh defensive end Cam Heyward said Thursday. “But I just don’t know the extent of it. It’s a serious thing. All we can do is pray for him and try to be there for him.”
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