Steelers Shamarko Thomas: Success Rests On Young Linebackers


The Steelers have lost one of their all-time great to retirement.

Troy Polamalu’s shoe size might be size 11’s*, but the metaphorical shoe he leaves behind is about as big as a football field. Shamarko Thomas, who is just starting his third season with the Steelers, has quite the task in front of him.

He’s going to need all the help he can get if he wants to have moderate success in becoming the next great Steelers safety.

Up to this point Thomas has been relegated to special teams and minimal time actually playing the position he was drafted for.


I have two thoughts on that.

The first thought is the fact that Thomas suffered several minor injuries over his first two seasons that kept him sidelined from time to time. Assuming he’s 100% heading into training camp, we should see more of him in first team drills and on the field during preseason games.

The second is a bit more circumstantial.

Polamalu’s role in the Steelers defense shifted/evolved over the last three seasons (maybe even going back as four seasons). Polamalu began playing less the roaming and playmaking “X” factor and more as a fifth linebacker in the box for Dick LeBeau’s defense.

The pass rush took substantial blows over the years with putzes like LaMarr Woodley not taking their job seriously and backups not able to make a real push at being an impact player. The run defense suffered as well with the front three going through various iterations since dumping NT Casey Hampton.

Polamalu, who at the time had the speed and agility to pursue a ball carrier or pass catcher, went to work playing closer to the line. Staying healthy (for the most part) Polamalu had a bit of a resurgence in his performance that contained whispers of his former splash play making self.

My best guess is that Shamarko rarely saw the field because he doesn’t possess the propensity to find the ball the way Polamalu did and also did not play well when having to stay contained within ‘the box.’ He’s been a fine special teamer, but Steeler Nation has no real way of gauging how well Thomas will play once he stepped into the #1 spot.

Dec 29, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones (95) takes the field before the game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 20-7. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Polamalu’s gone, so now it truly is Thomas’ moment.

Assuming my guess is even somewhat close to being correct, Thomas will need the linebackers in front of him to effectively do their job if he’s going to have a real shot. He’ll need all those guys that are just about his age – Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, and Bud Dupree – to ‘bring it’ along with the young veteran Lawrence Timmons.

That’s not to say that Thomas won’t be able to play the near the line and shade blitzes or get the green light to pursue the QB. He’ll be able to do those things, but he can’t get parked there. His strength will be in giving rookie Senquez Golson, William Gay, and Cortez Allen help over the top and in center field.

That’s where he’ll make plays.

One philosophy behind a defense has been that the secondary is only as good as the pass rush is – this will hold true for Thomas. I’m not saying he isn’t good. In fact, I think he has the potential to be a solid safety for the Steelers for a long time.

He’s still a little in that development phase – after all he did come from a DLB defense. Now with Keith Butler at the helm of the D, I have not doubt the onus will be on Thomas to step up and perform.

He’s just going to need a little help from his friends.

Next: Steelers MMQB Offseason News And Opinion

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