Steelers rookie Ryan Shazier takes down Bills tight end Scott Chandler in the first quarter at Heinz Field Saturday night.
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers will start four new players on defense in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns Sunday. They are being added to an aging group of veterans playing in the twilights of their careers.
The new lineup, which will include rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier, and was assembled to improve a defense that fell on hard times last season. It will also include end Cam Thomas, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and safety Mike Mitchell.
The performance in the preseason didn't do much to quell fears it will rebound from the lackluster 2013 showing, but don't tell that to veteran cornerback Ike Taylor.
"That was the same thing in 2005," Taylor said of having new starters. "Troy [Polamalu], myself, Deshea Townsend, Brett Keisel and [James Harrison] were new starters, and we won a Super Bowl that year. We didn't have the stats, but we had that brotherhood. I see the same thing this year. This team on defense reminds me of 2005. It's a real close-knit team with the young guys."
Taylor didn't have his facts straight. Townsend and Polamalu became starters in 2004. Keisel became a starter in 2006 and Harrison in 2007. But his point was the young group meshed well with a veteran core.
He expects the same type of development with this defense, even though it was shaky at times in the preseason.
"You have to gradually build it up from OTAs to training camp until now," he said. "As much as y'all say you can't see it, I'm telling y'all it's going to be there.
"It's going to be there from Week 1."
High on Shazier
The youngest starter on the defense is Shazier, who will turn 22 Saturday. Despite some ups and downs in preseason games, Taylor expects big things from the former Ohio State star.
"We have a rookie in Shazier, who is going to be a hell of a player," Taylor said. "With Shazier, he just has to be well-conditioned. If he's well-conditioned, the sky is the limit. He's one of those Troys or [Maurkice] Pouncey kind of guys. You can't hold those guys back. He has that kind of talent. They only come around every few years, and he's one of those guys, in my opinion."
Hoyer OK with Johnny plays
Brian Hoyer earned the Browns starting quarterback job by playing better than first-round pick Johnny Manziel in training camp and games.
But the Steelers expect the Browns to use the rookie Manziel in certain situations, and the Browns have hinted that will happen.
"For me, the biggest thing in this situation is, if it can help us win, that's all I care about," Hoyer said.
"As a quarterback, you want to be the guy on the field, but if there is a certain situation where they think it will help us pick up a first down or score, that's what this game is all about.
"You have to be mentally tough. Whatever is best for the team is what you have to do."
Offer still on the table?
Hoyer spent three weeks with the Steelers in 2012. It wasn't a long tenure, but he developed a good relationship with defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in that time. Sunday, LeBeau will devise schemes to stop Hoyer and the Browns offense.
"I got along with coach LeBeau really well," Hoyer said. "When they released me and I was walking out, he said, 'It was great to have you here. If I can ever help you with anything, let me know.'
"I don't know if that offer is still on the table now that I'm the Browns quarterback, but what a great guy and great coach."
Wide receivers Lance Moore (groin) and Martavis Bryant (shoulder) did not practice. ... Cornerback Brice McCain (groin) was limited . ... Tight end Matt Spaeth (hamstring), inside linebacker Sean Spence (knee) and long snapper Greg Warren (knee) were full participants.
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.
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