Steelers Showing Interest in Fresno State Safety Phillip Thomas
Fresno State University held their annual Pro Day on Wednesday afternoon.
Thomas had a fine career at Fresno State. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
When I read that free safety Phillip Thomas performed well during his workout session, I wondered whether or not the Steelers would show interest in the promising prospect.
Luckily for me, my question was answered earlier today by Ricardo Cano of “The Collegian” (Fresno State’s student newspaper).
According to Cano, Thomas (6’1″ 208 lbs.) is scheduled to meet with members of Pittsburgh’s brass at some point before “Draft Weekend.”
At least to me, it comes as no surprise that the Steelers scheduled an interview session with the former Bulldog. As most know, the franchise is in need some sort of viable “transition strategy” to install when the time comes for veterans Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark to retire.
Long-time backup Ryan Mundy signed with the Giants earlier this month, veteran Will Allen remains unsigned, and 2012 UDFA Robert Golden is the only player behind the starters with any experience.
Although Phillip is considered to be one of the 2013 draft class’ top safety prospects, the last two years were anything but a cake-walk for him. In fact, heading into the 2012 season, many wondered how well and how much he would be able to play.
After a productive 2010 campaign (64 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 3 interceptions), Thomas unfortunately sustained a leg injury right before the 2011 season began. The injury was a major blow to Fresno State and Thomas, and the safety was shelved for the entire year due to his broken fibula and high ankle sprain.
To his credit, Thomas not only fought back from his devastating injury, but he was named a Jim Thorpe Award finalist for his stellar play in 2012. Overall, Thomas started all 13 of the Bulldogs’ games and led the team in tackles (84), tackles for loss (12.0), and interceptions (8) (led the entire FBS-level). In addition to those numbers, Phillip tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (4), and finished second in passes defended (13), and tied for second in Sacks (4.0).
The aspect of Thomas’ game that I like the most is the fact that he is a ball-hawking safety who displayed the ability to make “splash plays.” Over his career (3 years), Phillip snatched 13 interceptions, forced 6 fumbles, and even scored 3 touchdowns last year. Although Thomas is a bit of a “risk-taker” on the back end, his ability to force turnovers is something that Pittsburgh’s Defense could desperately stand to use.
In addition to his ball-skills, Thomas is an accomplished blitzer and “in-the-box” player too. During his career, Phillip racked up 17.0 tackles for loss to go along with the 4.0 sacks he made during the 2012 campaign. If he is selected by Pittsburgh, I am sure that Defensive Backs Coach Carnell Lake, one of the League’s best at said craft during his career, will be pleased to utilize the youngster’s skill-set in that area.
One of the biggest questions that surrounds Thomas (outside of durability after his freak injury) deals with his straight-line speed. While some scouts might be concerned with that part of his game, Phillip was able to at least improve upon his Combine time in the 40 yard dash (4.65 seconds) at his Pro Day when he recorded an impressive time of 4.53.
If Pittsburgh selects Thomas, I can actually envision the Coaching Staff playing him at strong safety instead of free safety. Due to his toughness and ability to help out deep and “in-the-box,” Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau could use Phillip in a number of different facets like Polamalu has been during his Hall of Fame career. Due to Thomas’ versatile skill-set, he has the potential to be an effective weapon for LeBeau and Lake to utilize all over the field.
In the event that Colbert & Co. do not draft a Safety in Round 1, I believe that Thomas would be a solid player for the Steelers to target in the late-2nd/early 3rd-Round. A year of development on Special Teams and in sub-packages would benefit the young safety greatly. This would provide Thomas time to adjust to the speed of the pro game, and give him adequate time to learn LeBeau’s “complex” defense.
Regardless of whether or not Pittsburgh’s brass believe that Thomas is “their guy,” Colbert & Co. are more than likely to select at least one safety prospect during “Draft Weekend” next month.
Statistics Courtesy of: Fresno State and ESPN
Players Heights/Weight Provided By: CBSSports.com