Steelers: Where’s Shamarko Thomas?


The Steelers offseason has been dominated by talk of the secondary but none of that talk has answered where is Shamarko Thomas?

Shamarko Thomas was once the heir apparent to Troy Polamalu. Troy is years gone by now and Thomas has not yet ascended to the starting role. The way people talk this offseason Robert Golden is the presumed starter. While Golden is a fine player it seems as though people have forgotten Thomas is around at all. He’s around. But where is he?

Well, here’s where he came from. Thomas played college ball at Syracuse and he played a lot. He was on the field every year he was there and was All Big East his senior year. In 2013 he was the Steelers 4th round draft pick. When he came out he was lacking height but was very fast and strong as well with a lot of experience. It was likely the Steelers intent, or hope, that he step in for Troy when the time came.

In fact, Troy would take on somewhat of a mentoring role with Thomas, training with him in the offseason and offering advice. Thomas got a lot of playing time his rookie year at safety and nickel and started two games for an injured Polamalu.

He did some good things but wasn’t ultimately ready. He had a famously difficult game against Gronkowski and the Patriots. But you could argue, and I would, that’s on the coaches for putting a 5’9″ rookie there.

But regardless, he played his second year but did not start, mostly on special teams. He only made 5 tackles and had 1 forced fumble. Following Polamalu’s retirement many believed Thomas would step in for Troy, including the coaches. But during the offseason that changed.

Over the course of the offseason Shamarko Thomas ended up behind veteran Will Allen. He didn’t fix that during the preseason and remained almost exclusively a special teams player after that. Thomas did play with a recklessness at times that led to missed tackles. There was what seemed to be difficulty reading and in coverage. But, there’s not a lot fans have seen so how can we know?

Jacob Klinger of Penn Live quoted Tomlin as saying at the time, “He’s got to be good above the neck. He’s got to be in position to make plays, he’s got to do a good job of communicating, some of the things that we thought Will Allen gave us a better opportunity to do well given the course of his experience.”

It’s a dangerous time to be a young Steeler on the back half of your rookie contract if you haven’t developed yet. The Steelers recently cut former 2nd round pick Mike Adams. They also declined to pick up the 5th year option on the contract for Jarvis Jones. Cortez Allen was meant to be the heir to Ike Taylor, and was paid like it. He got cut recently.

The Steelers are turning the page and it’s not clear if there’s a spot for Shamarko Thomas on the next one. Former undrafted free agent and special teams stand out Robert Golden is presumed by many to be the starter at safety at the moment. On top of that the Steelers drafted Sean Davis in the 2nd round of the NFL draft. Davis is expected to be a safety for the Steelers but that’s not entirely clear at the moment.

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So Golden is the stop gap and Davis is the young guy developing, where does that leave Shamarko Thomas? I don’t want to jinx the young guy but last time I wrote an article asking a player’s whereabouts it was Cortez Allen.

Kevin Colbert recently told Bob Labriola of of the future of Thomas, “I can’t really speak to it, because I’m not involved with it day to day. I think Shamarko has proven to be a valuable special teams player for us. Has he held onto a starting job? No, but when you have reliable guys who have come through in the past, it was a little easier to go back knowing they could, if one guy wasn’t measuring up. So are we going to have those options this year? Probably not as many.”

You might need to read that twice. It’s a bit of a riddle. The Steelers brass have been very cryptic about Thomas for about 2 years now. Which is why we ask where he is. But let’s dissect this diplomatic, seemingly empty statement.

On it’s face the indirectness of it, the pointing out he can’t hold a starting spot, all the negative words, can’t, not, no… If you ask about Antonio Brown’s future Colbert’s answer won’t have question marks. It seems bad.

But, there is hope in these words. The pointing out of the special teams value is something to consider. It’s not nothing. The Steelers drafted Curtis Brown in the 3rd round in 2011. It became clear early Brown was not going to be the starting corner  but he settled into a role as a solid special teams contributor before being cut due to injury.

Colbert also points out a reason Thomas should have hope at least to make it through the offseason. I think anyway. If I’m reading the last part of that riddle correctly, Colbert is essentially saying the Steelers aren’t happy with Thomas but he’s not totally awful and the Steelers aren’t happy with anything else they have so he’s at least going to get a shot.

As for Tomlin, he remains vague as well, still eluding to mental issues. He was quoted by Penn Live as saying, “He’s still evolving as a defender. He’s still working to prove himself in that area. I like his work. I don’t think it’s from a lack of effort. It just hasn’t come together for him yet.”

As for Thomas, he told Bryan DeArdo of 247Sports, “It was the most challenging football season. I had high expectations for myself and others did too. I just finished watching all of the games, even the preseason games, and I didn’t always look like myself. I just need to get back to being myself. Replacing Troy, I wanted to be perfect. Working and focusing on being perfect, I wasn’t playing up to my abilities. It showed on the field. I really think that is the biggest thing. I need to come back and play relaxed and play like the player they drafted.”

He went on to say, “I know Troy is going to be a Hall of Famer. He played a long time. I expect the same from myself. I don’t think it was too high a standard to live up to. I just have to keep pushing on to do it.”

Apparently the two still stay in touch. Thomas obviously looks up to Troy and that has to be a lot of weight on the young man. Regardless, his contract is up in 2017. This is possibly his last chance to do something.

Next: Steelers: What will become of Jarvis Jones?

Based on Colbert’s words Thomas should at least have the offseason to make his case. You never know with the Steelers always cap pressed but a cheaper contract should save him from Cortez Allen’s fate. But you can’t rely on a cheap contract to make an NFL roster. This is likely the last chance Thomas will have. But he seemingly, at least at the moment, will have one more chance to show something.