Rookie Thomas impresses teammates while learning on the job
By Ralph N. Paulk
Published: Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Shamarko Thomas tumbled down some teams' draft boards partly because some perceived his 5-foot-9 frame to be a detriment in an era of big, heavy-hitting safeties.
The Steelers overlooked his size when they visited him during his pro day at Syracuse. Thomas' speed, agility and football aptitude captured the attention of general manager Kevin Colbert and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
“We have had some pretty good short players around here,” LeBeau said. “If a guy plays good football, we don't overexcite ourselves with his height. A good safety can bring guys down to his level.”
Indeed, the 5-10 Troy Polamalu carved out an All-Pro career that likely will land him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Thomas didn't waste time consulting with Polamalu. And Polamalu didn't pull punches about the difficulty of processing LeBeau's defensive schemes.
“Troy said, ‘I'm not going to lie to you. It took nearly a year to learn the playbook,' ” Thomas recalled. “He said boogie down to learn all of the positions because it'll make the job easier.
“My first impression of the playbook was that it was big. I had to adjust to the wording because our defense in college was way different.
“I really understand my assignments more each day because Troy has really been helpful,” added Thomas, who has practiced in the nickel package. “They've stressed how important it is to get into the playbook, and things are starting to slow down some. I'm not thinking as much now because I'm in better position to make plays.”
Thomas has been a sponge the first two weeks of training camp. He keeps close to his mentor, occasionally resting his arms on Polamalu's shoulder as Thomas inquires about his progress.
“(Thomas) being here couldn't come at a better time for a better person,” Polamalu said. “All (safety) Ryan (Clark) and I ever wanted from anyone new coming in is to have a humbling disposition and a willingness to learn.
“The more he's willing to learn, the more he can soak up and the less he'll make mistakes. Ryan and I have made every mistake in the book, so hopefully he'll learn from us both.”
So far, it's been difficult to evaluate the native Virginian. He looks like a natural some days and a project on others. He clearly looks better suited to defend the run than the pass — a weighted examination that can't be gauged accurately until he lines up against the Giants in the preseason opener Saturday night at Heinz Field.
“What attracted us to him is the energy he brings to the game,” LeBeau said. “When we talked to him in the one-on-one interviews, he impressed you as a very mature young man. He's been everything we anticipated he would be.
“He's definitely going to get better. We'll see what he does with the tools he has. I don't like to put too much on these young guys because he'll have to develop at his own speed.”
However, veteran linebacker Larry Foote has no doubt the Steelers have discovered the man likely to succeed either the 32-year-old Polamalu or 33-year-old Clark.
“He is a Steeler,” Foote said. “I told Kevin we got lucky in getting him.
“Shamarko is fast, and he's in the action. He has enough speed and size for this game. Steeler Nation will be pleased when they see him.”
Thomas is already feeling the pressure, but he welcomes the challenge.
“At first, I was in awe when I stepped onto the field with all these great players,” Thomas said. “When I saw Troy make a play, I thought, ‘Now this is the real NFL.' After that, my instincts kicked in because I was born to compete.
“I felt some pressure coming in here, but it's something I've always fed on. The way I figure, I've got time to learn from the best.”
Coach Mike Tomlin usually sticks with his top four or five draft picks. So Thomas' roster spot seems assured considering the Steelers lost Ryan Mundy and Will Allen to free agency. Still, he's been pressed some in camp by Robert Golden and Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith.
The more demanding challenge Thomas faces in training camp might be the battle of expectations. It's rare that a fourth-round draft pick has so many eyes focused on his every move.
Of course, the attraction is the possibility he's the one who soon will replace Polamalu or Clark.
“I haven't thought about it, but everyone says it,” Thomas said. “I'm just blessed to have this opportunity to learn from Troy and Ryan because they are the smartest people I've ever met on a football field.”
NEW NICKEL CORNER
Shamarko Thomas won't start at safety or return kicks Saturday night in the Steelers' preseason opener against the New York Giants, but the fourth-round draft pick could enter the game as a cornerback.
So much for that learning curve.
Thomas, the 5-9 strong safety who packs a wallop as a striker in the run game, has played plenty of nickel cornerback with the second team these last few days of training camp. And, really, it's had nothing to do with the Steelers being down four cornerbacks due to injuries.
"He has done a nice job," said Coach Mike Tomlin, "and oftentimes you can tell his growth and development just simply by his willingness or ability to communicate in walking-like settings, the work that we do in the a.m. Day by day, you hear him more verbal in communication and that is a big part of that position. It is kind of the hub of communication. It is package football. He is embracing that. We will continue to put it on his plate and see if he can execute in a game-like setting situation. I just think he adds value to himself the more he is capable of doing. Obviously, he has a physical skill set that is geared toward that flexibility and we are not going to take it for granted."
Thomas admits that his talking on the field as "the hub of communication" needs work.
"I feel like I'm getting the playbook down," he said. "There are little things I've got to work on like communication and stuff, but it's getting better."
A third-team strong safety behind Troy Polamalu and Damon Cromartie-Smith during spring workouts and most of training camp, Thomas "loved it" when he was used as the nickel Wednesday. It's where he spent much of his time in college.
"No matter where I play, I just have to be me," he said. "They drafted me for being me, so I'm just going to be me out there and do that. I'll be very focused and just read my keys."
How do you not root for this kid? Let's go tear'em up Saturday night Shark!
Steelers vs Redskins: Shamarko Thomas catches Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith
By SteelCityRoller on Aug 14 2013
The latest Steelers depth chart seems to highlight the position battles to be fought in the team's second preseason game against the Redskins, one being the fight to backup Troy Polamalu.
Despite not playing a single snap at safety against the New York Giants in the first game of the preseason, rookie Shamarko Thomas is now a co-backup with Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith behind starter Troy Polamalu.
Thomas spent his snaps at nickel back in Week 1, and Cromartie-Smith played every snap not played by Polamalu. Thomas had a hand in a few tackles. Cromartie-Smith whiffed on a punt blocking assignment which resulted in a blocked Drew Butler kick and eventually a Giants field goal. Evidently, advantage Thomas.
Cromartie-Smith did have a few good moments in the Giants game, although they went mostly unnoticed. On a few occasions he found himself in man coverage with a receiver streaking down the sideline. Cromartie-Smith used the sideline against the receiver, preventing a catch in-bounds; however the three points he cost his team are difficult to ignore.
Thomas had yet to take over safety duties as of Monday's practice, but evidently the team plans to work him in more as the preseason progresses. The team will not want to need five safeties in 2013, and will be wanting Thomas to earn the fourth spot through performance.
With three games remaining before the regular season starts, the depth chart position seems to be Cromartie-Smith's to lose. Allowing blocked kicks on special teams is how it happens.
Cromartie-Smith 'or' Thomas will have another opportunity to stand out when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to FedEx Field to take on the Washington Redskins on Monday night in the second game for both teams.
Versatile Safeties May Open Up A Roster Spot For Steelers At Another Position
Posted on 17 August 2013 by Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the 2013 season with untested depth at the safety position after both primary reserves—Ryan Mundy and Will Allen—departed in free agency this spring. Of the three primary candidates to apprentice behind the starters this season, only second-year player Robert Golden has in-game regular season experience on defense.
Golden, who joined the team as an undrafted free agent a year ago, helped his cause as a longshot to make the team because of his versatility, having been a cornerback in college transitioning to the safety position.
Thus, his position was assured as a swingman in the secondary, possessing the ability to play the slot if needed, which he did last season after a rash of injuries resulted in him being the next man up at cornerback.
This year, the Steelers drafted yet another versatile safety that is certain to make the roster: Shamarko Thomas. The team liked his potential so much, despite his height, that they traded their 2014 draft pick in the third round to select him in the fourth round this year.
Part of what sold defensive backs coach Carnell Lake and others on Thomas was his ability to play the slot and cover receivers man to man. It is a skill in which he excelled at the college level, and the Steelers are already grooming him to use that ability on the professional level, as evidenced by the number of snaps that he took from the slot in the first preseason game.
With two reserve safeties demonstrating the aptitude to also play cornerback, it gives the Steelers the opportunity to save a roster spot that can be used to retain a promising player at another position, such as wide receiver, linebacker, or defensive end.
Or perhaps it will offer the team the ability to carry four tight ends while some of their numbers at the position work their way back from injury. Heath Miller and David Johnson remain on the Physically Unable to Perform list, but Miller especially has a chance of being activated for the regular season, even if he is unable to play initially. The team also must decide how to approach Matt Spaeth’s foot injury, which promises a long recovery.
In recent years, the Steelers have typically carried 10 defensive backs in total, generally splitting the numbers between six cornerbacks and four safeties. Last year, for example, the team had Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Mundy, Allen, and Golden. The year before, Van Dyke and Golden were replaced with William Gay and Bryant McFadden. Before Allen and Brown were drafted, the Steelers had Crezdon Butler and Anthony Madison at cornerback.
Given that the secondary is a unit in which you ever-increasingly play five and six men at a time, teams are more and more inclined to carry 10 or more defensive backs. This may be the year in which the Steelers buck that trend, however, due to the versatility of their young safeties.
Having Golden and Thomas in a dual safety-nickel role affords the Steelers the opportunity to carry as little as four cornerbacks if they so choose, those being, in all likelihood, Taylor, Allen, Gay, and Brown.
Van Dyke has been a complete non-factor during training camp due to a hamstring injury that is seriously jeopardizing his chances of making the roster. Rookie Terry Hawthorne has just returned from a knee issue of his own, and is slowly working his way back. Josh Victorian and Isaiah Green are both promising young corners, though their height is not ideal.
Other than Van Dyke, however, these cornerbacks retain practice squad eligibility. There seems to be no reason or need to carry more than one of these four cornerbacks, if any, on the 53-man roster when the Steelers can stash two of them—say, Hawthorne and Victorian—on the practice squad should injuries hit the position as they did last year.
Let us also not rule out the possibility that the Steelers elect to carry safety DaMon Cromartie-Smith, despite the fact that he did himself no favors in his do-or-die camp by allowing a punt block in the first preseason game. Cromartie-Smith is a veteran of the system, having spent years on the practice squad already, and offers size from the safety position that the team simply does not have elsewhere.
Of course, the question of a battle between a fifth safety versus a fifth corner could be moot should the Steelers decide to carry 10 defensive backs anyway. In this season, with interesting players and needs at other positions, however, I see no need for a tenth man in the secondary, thanks to the versatility of the backup safeties.
@ Shamarko Thomas made seemingly every tackle in the second half from his safety position, many with authority.
But if he continues to lead with his head, he's going to have issues.