The ability to improvise

Among the things the Steelers have missed during Ryan Shazier's two-game absence due to a shoulder injury are the second-year linebacker's instincts and athleticism.

When last seen on the field Shazier was in the process of crafting a monster game on Sept. 20 against San Francisco.

And as it turns out that resulted at least in part from Shazier's willingness to color outside the lines on occasion.

Shazier had 15 tackles (11 solo, three for a loss), a sack, a quarterback hit, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against the 49ers.

He followed his assignments for the most part, but Shazier also improvised at times.

It wasn't because Shazier has been given the freedom to take or leave the scheme as he sees fit.

"Nobody let him," defensive coordinator Keith Butler explained. "But at the same time you don't want to coach him out of making plays. He went outside the realm of the construct of the defense a couple times and made plays.

"He was within the construct of the defense for the most part and he played well within the construct of the defense. One or two times he didn't, he made a couple plays by himself."

The Steelers prepare for the week 5 contest against the San Diego Chargers.

Shazier said on Monday that his shoulder felt "a whole lot better," on Monday.

And head coach Mike Tomlin characterized Shazier on Tuesday as a guy who "appears to be dramatically improving."

Tomlin officially considers Shazier "questionable" for Monday night's game at San Diego, which means another opportunity for Shazier to follow his nose as well as the playbook may be at hand.

Butler won't discourage such periodic personal initiative as long as it produces the desired result.

"I said, 'You better make the play," Butler maintained. "That's all I ever say, 'You better make the play.' I'm not going to tell him not to make plays; that would be foolish as a coach."

Shazier rewarded Butler's trust against San Francisco, another sign of the progress that's being made by last season's No. 1 pick.

"Yes, he did," Butler said. "Last year, he didn't. Last year he did it a couple times and he didn't (make the play).

"He has great instincts. He has great speed, is what he's got, and he can get away with a lot of stuff."

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