Ahead of the 2020 football season, we caught up with former Ohio State and Pittsburgh Steelers star Ryan Shazier on behalf of Pepsi.
The former Buckeyes star and No. 15 overall NFL Draft pick shared his thoughts on the upcoming season, the Big Ten drama, Justin Fields’ future and more.
The Spun: As an Ohio State guy I wanted to know your thoughts on the Big Ten canceling the season?
Ryan Shazier: I’m going to be honest, I was extremely upset. Extremely upset. Because, you know, I felt like Ohio State had a great shot at winning the championship this year. With us not playing football I feel like it’s a little unfair to some of the players. But I totally understand [the Big Ten] is doing what they think is best. To me it’s just crazy how some people are playing sports and some people aren’t, it’s just crazy. I’m upset, but at the end of the day I just kind of have to support they decision they made.
The Spun: A lot of Buckeyes fans are upset they won’t be able to see Justin Fields for another season. Do you actually think there will be a spring and, if so, should Fields play?
RS: If there is a spring season, I know every Buckeye fan is going to be mad at me, but I do not believe he should play. If there is a spring season, how many games is that going to be? And that’s definitely going to interact with the NFL draft. To me, everyone goes to college to get a job and Justin’s job – obviously he can get a job in whatever his degree is in – but Justin’s job is going to be a top-five pick, maybe even a top-one pick. If he already has that kind of in the bag I don’t see what the point of messing that up or making it worse by getting hurt. Obviously I love Ohio State and I would love for him to win a championship here, but sometimes you have to do what’s best for you in that time. Winning the championship might be best for him this year, but probably not what’s best for him in the spring.
The Spun: Back to you being an Ohio State guy, I have to ask about this former Wolverine [Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker] Devin Bush. How do you think he did in Year 1 and what do you expect out of him in Year 2?
RS: I’m actually excited about Devin. I think he’s going to have a great year. I think last year he did really well, especially for his first season. He came in and was given a lot to handle in his first year. I’m excited for him because one thing Devin doesn’t really have to focus in on this season compared to last year is just learning. Obviously he’s still learning, it’s his second year, but he can actually focus more on just making plays and doing what’s best for the defense. He’s going to continue to grow as a player. Last year, he was a rookie so he doesn’t know what to expect. He doesn’t know how long the season is going to be. He has to focus on “okay, what do I do in this situation?” compared to before he had to learn his x’s and o’s and what player does he have to cover. Now he won’t have to worry about that because he’s in the same defense with the same coaches. all he has to worry about it making plays for the defense now.
The Spun: With Ben Roethlisberger back in the fold, what do you expect from the Steelers this season considering how nasty the defense was last year?
RS: I think the defense is going to pick up where they left off last year. They’re going to come with the same intensity. I think they’re focused on playing well. The took a big step last year, but when you lose a starting quarterback, you usually add four games to the year after and if you add four games with Ben back that puts the Steelers at 12-4. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pittsburgh come back at 12-4 this year behind Coach [Mike] Tomlin who is someone I completely trust.
The Spun: The Steelers have been leaking a few Big Ben videos over the past few weeks and he looks to be back at full strength. If that’s the case, do you think Pittsburgh is the team to beat in the AFC North?
RS: At the end of the day, I’m not going to say they’re the team to beat because you always have to respect the team that won before you. I definitely feel that people can underestimate or sleep on the Steelers. But when they step on the field at Heinz or wherever, just know that the Steelers are likely going to be the favorite, but everybody doesn’t expect it. I think this is going to be a great season.
The Spun: Everybody expected big things out of Cleveland last year and then Lamar Jackson kind of came out of nowhere. Who do you think could be a breakout player for the Steelers this year?
RS: I think [wide receiver] Diontae Johnson is going to continue to grow and have a tremendous season. I think [defensive end/OLB] Bud [Dupree] is going to have another great season as well. And then [wide receiver] James [Washington] stays health he’s going to be hard to stop. I don’t really have one person, but those are the guys I have so far.
The Spun: Finally, let’s just dive into what you have going on with Pepsi and the “Made for Watching Football” campaign.
RS: Pepsi came up with its “Every Game is a Home Game” program and I was extremely excited to be a part of it. To be able to bring the same experience to fans without actually being at the game this year and kind of bring the game to them. I thought that was really cool because there is a lot of people going through adversity right now and have a tough time – especially with COVID-19 – and to be able to bring some inspiration to somebody who is going through a tough time right now. A lot of the fans are just as much Steelers as the players are and to be able to be there with them and learn about them and hear their stories it really shows you that the fans are just as much Steelers as we are.
Ryan talked to us on behalf of Pepsi, which is running an “Every Game is a Home Game” program. The last edition focused on lifelong Steelers fans Tim and his son, Pat. During a difficult year, Tim and Pat were not able to attend Steelers game during the 2019 season. This year, they were looking forward to attending Steelers home games, but the pandemic made that not possible. Pepsi and Ryan Shazier partnered to bring the game atmosphere back to Tim and Pat.