I joined colleague Larry Rubama this morning catching up with the impressive gaggle of football talent Ocean Lakes High has turned out in the recent past. Talked with one of the ex-Dolphins, Shamarko Thomas, who dropped by to help at coach Chris Scott’s sweltering youth camp.
Thomas, who played at Syracuse, was drafted in the fourth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers and is expected to apprentice this season at strong safety behind veteran Troy Polamalu.
Thomas’ compelling personal story, prodigious capacity for work and desire to learn and excel have already drawn plenty of attention in the Steel City. So, too, has the missile-like way Thomas, a burly 5-foot-9, is known to hit receivers and running backs. In light of the NFL’s ultra-sensitivity to violence, Steelers’ officials answered media questions about that in the wake of the draft, suggesting Thomas hits safely and within the rules, but simply with aggression. (Remember Kam Chancellor’s clean, but very big, hit for Seattle on 49ers tight end Vernon Davis last year that reflexively drew flags – because of how it looked -- but, tellingly, no penalty from the league office?)
Anyway, I asked Thomas if in OTAs so far his coaches have discussed with him how he hits and whether they’ve cautioned him to change or to be wary. He smiled and admitted it’s come up, and that the Steelers stress proper form -- i.e. wrapping up, leading with the shoulder and not the head -- rather than going for a “blow up” hit.
“They’re afraid of the fines,” Thomas said. “I don’t want any fines, either.” Still, he predicted in a matter-of-fact way, “I’m gonna get some fines, I’m not gonna lie. That’s just how I play. It’s football.”