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story.lead_photo.caption In this Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, file photo, Pittsburgh Steelers' Antonio Brown hugs Ryan Shazier before a preseason NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay, Wis. Shazier will be back in Cincinnati on Sunday, but in an entirely new role for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ten months after sustaining a spinal injury that threatened his career, the linebacker is thriving as a de facto coach. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps, File)

PITTSBURGH -- At least one portion of Ryan Shazier's daily routine hasn't changed much from the previous time the Pittsburgh Steelers were preparing to face Cincinnati, even if the rest of the injured linebacker's life is hardly the same.

Shazier still makes his way to the club's practice facility around 7 a.m. most days. Any teammate willing to drop by Shazier's usual spot can feel free to pull out a notebook and start jotting down Shazier's thoughts while he serves as both peer and professor.

"He's just trying to find little nitpick things," Pittsburgh rookie safety Terrell Edmunds said.

It is Shazier's way of staying connected to the game even as he continues his long and inspiring recovery from that frightening moment last December when the Pro Bowler lowered his helmet to hit Bengals wide receiver Josh Malone late in the first quarter, a play that ended with Shazier clutching his lower back in agony while players knelt around him in prayer and Paul Brown Stadium fell eerily silent.

Ten months later, the sight of Shazier being taken off the field on a stretcher before being placed in an ambulance remains fresh as the Steelers (2-2-1) brace themselves for their annual visit to Cincinnati (4-1) on Sunday.

Playing amid a mixture of fear for their friend and uncertainty over Shazier's status, the Steelers rallied for a 23-20 victory.

Asked how they managed to recover emotionally in time to put together a stirring rally, they're still not sure. In the immediate aftermath of Shazier's injury there was only chaos and confusion.

Outside linebacker Bud Dupree admitted he and inside linebacker Vince Williams -- two of Shazier's closest friends on the team -- were under the impression Shazier had been blindsided by a member of the Bengals. The two spent the rest of the first half looking for revenge.

In the end, it's Shazier who has taken up for his teammates.

Though the 26-year-old remains open to the possibility of playing again -- he's able to get around the practice field without assistance these days and his practice clothes remain hanging in his locker much as they have been before he got hurt -- he's intent on helping in other ways.

His mere presence provides an emotional lift, but Shazier is intent on being something far beyond an avatar for inspiration. He's become a go-between of sorts between the coaching staff and the defense. He can cut through the clutter and deliver some "real talk" when necessary.

"Since he's not playing, his mental part of the game is so great," Dupree said. "He shares a lot of stuff with us. He lets us know stuff ahead of time before the coaches even tell us. We already know it. It keeps us on our toes."

And it keeps Shazier engaged. There remains no timetable for when he will make a decision on whether returning to play is feasible. There's so much going on in his life -- from his physical recovery to his new role with the team to becoming a father for a second time -- it hardly matters.

"You look at him, what he's been through, how he's handled it combined with his love for the game and his mind for the game, it's amazing," linebacker Tyler Matakevich said. "It hasn't changed him. He's been the same guy since the day I got here."

Sports on 10/11/2018

Print Headline: Steelers' LB Shazier helps in other ways

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