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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, June 07, 2018 1:00 am

Steelers' Shazier looking to play again

Not clear it's possible after spinal injury

Associated Press

PITTSBURGH – Ryan Shazier's routine hasn't changed much, even after a life-altering spinal injury put his football career in jeopardy.

The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker still arrives at the team facility about 7 a.m. He still watches copious amounts of film. He still works out regularly. And he still believes one day he will run out of the Heinz Field tunnel in full uniform despite the many obstacles he understands are in his path.

“My dream is to come back and play football again,” Shazier said Wednesday in his first wide-ranging public remarks since undergoing spine stabilization surgery in December. “I'm working my tail off every single day; have (playing again) in the back of my mind every single time I go to rehab.”

Shazier walked into the media room with help of a cane and spent 20 minutes outlining his journey since he lowered his head to hit Bengals wide receiver Josh Malone in the first quarter Dec. 4. He called the moment after impact when he grabbed the small of his back while his legs lay motionless “a little scary,” but was quick to thank emergency responders in Cincinnati for their delicate work on the field in the immediate aftermath.

He underwent spine stabilization surgery Dec. 6 and has spent the intervening months remaining adamant he would play again while being a fixture at the team's practice facility, where he has become a de facto coach. It's a role he's embracing, but one he's not quite ready to accept on a full-time basis.

Details of the exact nature of Shazier's injury and his long-term prognosis remain sparse. He declined to get into specifics about whether playing again is even medically feasible, saying his medical team has told him to focus on making incremental improvements.

“Honestly, right now, I'm not a doctor,” Shazier said. “Every day I take it one day at a time. The further we get along in rehab, the better they can give me answers.”

Shazier has made remarkable progress in the last six months. He spent several weeks in the hospital following surgery, though he took time out to attend several Steelers home games near the end of the 2017 season. He regularly posts updates through his social media accounts and provided an indelible moment during the NFL draft in April when he walked on stage in Dallas to announce Pittsburgh's first-round selection.

The Steelers placed him on injured reserve last month, ending any chance of a comeback in 2018. The team also modified his contract so that he would receive the majority of the $8.7 million he is due this year up front.