Linebacker Ryan Shazier has been at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex prior to the last few games for the team's 'Winning Edge' meeting, but on Wednesday he made his first visit to practice since suffering a spinal injury against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 4.
"It means a lot. He's so special to us," said Anthony Chickillo of having him there. "He is our brother, he is our friend. We love that guy to death. It's motivating to have him out there. He has been through a lot, going through a lot. He wants to be out there with us. That is all that is on his mind. When you see him, you know how much he loves football and wants to be out there for us. You just want to go hard for him. You just want to win for him."
Shazier shared an image of himself and a message of hope for his progress, as well as thanks to all who have been keeping him in their prayers.
"I am just happy for him," said Vince Williams, sitting in his locker still wearing Shazier's No. 50 practice jersey that he sports every day. "It's the next step for him. He came a long way. I am happy to see the improvement. Seeing him get back around football. It's good to get those breaks and be around familiar faces again.
"He is just getting stronger. Every time I see him he gets stronger and stronger. His spirit is definitely starting to pick up more and more."
That was evident by the smile that was a constant from the moment he arrived at practice.
"He was happy. He was smiling," said Bud Dupree. "Shay loves the game. He misses it. Anytime he comes around it puts a smile on his face and seeing him smiling is always a positive for us. Every time he smiles, every time he is around, we get a feeling. It's good to know we help brighten his day."
Shazier referred to coming to practice as a 'first down,' and that the 'touchdown' is going to come in time.
"He said that on the sideline," said Dupree. "He said each step is a first down and he is going to keep getting first downs until he gets in the end zone. We are going to be with him along the whole way. It's great to know we are making a difference to him too.
"Just being here. He was smiling as soon as we saw him rolling in. We were chatting with him on the sideline. He is still the same guy, the person we know him as. He is still one of the best people in the world."
Shazier has been giving Dupree and the other linebackers the same input he always has, looking at the game plan each week and sharing tendencies and the like with them.
"He was the quarterback of the defense," said Dupree. "He was the person who knew things were coming before the play was snapped. He helps us out a lot too, even while he is in the hospital."
His teammates, who have been visiting Shazier on a regular basis, all agreed that having him there was another step in the journey that they will be by his side throughout.
"Any time I see him it's good," said Mike Mitchell. "It's always good when I see him no matter what. The day got better. I was locked in on the regular work mode, then seeing him you start laughing and joking a little bit more. Then you get locked back in. But it does pick you up."