Troy Polamalu decided he would retire after spending over a decade of service as the ..."/> Troy Polamalu decided he would retire after spending over a decade of service as the ..."/>

Steelers: It is time to begin the Shamarko Thomas era

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When Pittsburgh Steelers legend Troy Polamalu decided he would retire after spending over a decade of service as the keystone of the team’s secondary, it was widely assumed that 2013 fourth round pick Shamarko Thomas would step into his role at the strong safety position. After five preseason games worth of preparation it was announced that Will Allen would take on starting duties at the beginning of the 2015 season.

Will Allen? The Steelers veteran safety has been a serviceable backup in years past, especially when Polamalu was injured, but did not look like the best option to go with on a defense that is in a transitional period. It is understandable to want to go with the safe option after years of not having to worry about the position, but why not start Thomas and pull him if his play begins to hinder the defense?

Allen is by no means getting younger and will be an unrestricted free agent at the start of the new league year in 2016. The Steelers must begin to take the steps to prepare Thomas for an eventual starting role. Unless their view on him has changed, there must have been a reason they moved up in the draft three years ago to select him.

As fate would have it Allen would leave the Steelers Monday night matchup against the San Diego Chargers with a left ankle injury in the first quarter of regulation. When he was seen limping off the sidelines it was almost a certainty that Thomas would enter the position he was being groomed for, but special teams captain Robert Golden would be the one to replace him.

It would seem that the Steelers are apprehensive about putting Thomas into a starting role. Could it have been his ridiculous attempt to make a play on a punt return that had been called for a fair catch earlier in the game that warranted Golden getting into the lineup before him? There could be an underlining factor that we are unaware of, but it is still concerning that he isn’t the first to go after a starter is sidelined.

Thomas would finally find his way on the field after Mike Mitchell left the field for a few plays. Thomas was able to take full advantage of the time given to him, and recovered a fumble put on the ground by rookie running back Melvin Gordon. His quick instincts and ability to recover the ball gave the offense an opportunity to make a play for the lead.

Allen underwent an MRI on his injured ankle on Tuesday and it was reported by Steelers.com reporter Missi Matthews on twitter that he sat out of practice on Wednesday. While it does not necessarily mean that Allen will not play in the week six matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, it isn’t the best news given that the Steelers are on a short schedule. They may have to make a decision in naming a starter in place of Allen.

If Allen continues to miss practices Thomas will have a solid four days to prove that he can earn the right to start over Golden against the Arizona Cardinals. The future of his place on the depth chart depends on it. If he finds himself in the starting lineup on Sunday, it will be his chance to prove that he is truly the Steelers’ long term solution at the strong safety position. If they draft a safety in the early rounds of next year’s draft, it will spell doom for Thomas’ chance at becoming what many expected him to be.

The Steelers’ should be giving him any and all opportunities to prove he can be a future starter. The organization gave up a third round draft pick to the Cleveland Browns to move back into the fourth round to select him. If he does not pan out it will essentially be a waste of two draft picks, which is something that the organization has been too cavalier about in the past.

Thomas will be presented with a very challenging offense led by Cardinal’s quarterback Carson Palmer. With weapons such as the ageless Larry Fitzgerald and speedster John Brown, he has a touchdown to interception ratio of 13/3. Palmer’s season is shaping up to be one of Pro Bowl caliber after being sidelined early last year with a torn ACL.

In the absence of Will Allen, Shamarko Thomas has the opportunity of a lifetime to make a difference for a very young Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive squad. He has shown flashes of being a very talented player, and will do everything in his power to make sure that will be on display for many seasons to come.

Look for the era of Shamarko to truly begin on Sunday.

Next: Steelers bit by NFL hypocrisy

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