Perhaps this shouldn’t be overly surprising, but the Pittsburgh Steelers did not operate frequently in their base defense against the New York Giants in their preseason opener, particularly with the starters on the field.
This meant that free agent acquisition Cam Thomas only received a small handful of snaps with the starters, as he lined up this game as the starting nose tackle with Steve McLendon out. Otherwise, he would have started at left defensive end.
Thomas’ first snap came two thirds into the first quarter, following Jarvis Jones’ sack on Eli Manning, which set the Giants back to second and 18 from their own four-yard line.
Keeping in mind that this was his first snap of the game, I liked what he showed on the second and long play. Center J.D. Walton got his hands in first, but it was the chip from Brandon Mosley that knocked him off balance. When the right guard released, however, he quickly regained his composure and shook off the center, joining in on and halting the forward progress of the oncoming mass of humanity.
Thomas wouldn’t get back on the field again until the end of the first quarter, but this time he was much more decisive, stalemating with Walton and moving down the line, releasing once Rashad Jennings came within reach. The nose tackle wrapped him up for his first tackle as a Steeler.
He also did nicely on the following play, even though it ended up not counting, having been called back because of a holding call on Mosley. While he walked a bit with Walton in reverse, he quickly threw him off and once again tracked down the pile to ensure that it doesn’t advance further. These three plays, unless I’m mistaken, were the entirety of his work with the first-team defense.
But his work was not over, however, because he also served as a second-team defensive lineman in sub-packages, along with rookie Josh Mauro. In this play after the two-minute warning in the first half, Thomas showed some nifty strength as he threw Walton aside and wrapped up running back Andre Williams in a bear hug for a one-yard gain.
Playing into the third quarter on the second-team nickel defense, Thomas this time grappled with the second-team right tackle before getting his right arm free and wrapping up running back Kendall Gaskins as he attempted to wriggle by.
In all, the preseason debut was a welcome introduction for Cam Thomas to Steeler Nation. While his work as a pass rusher was about as nondescript as Ziggy Hood’s, his display against the run was very encouraging, and I believe he may have been able to momentarily temper the fervor of some of his critics.
This week, he figures to be back at defensive end with McLendon returning from his concussion, so it will be important to see that he can continue this success from the five-technique position as well.