The Pittsburgh Steelers have been consistently adamant throughout the offseason about their plans for second-year strong safety Shamarko Thomas for the 2014 season.
Carnell Lake spoke during the offseason that the Steelers plan to keep him at safety for the foreseeable future, emphasizing that they want to see him develop as a safety for his long-term good rather than using him in the slot in the short-term.
He logged significant snaps as a nickel back during his rookie season a year ago before injuring his ankle, after which he was replaced in the lineup by Will Allen.
Now that starting cornerback Ike Taylor will be out for an extended period of time, the team is exploring options as the third cornerback to play on the outside when the Steelers play in their sub-package.
Among those options Thomas’ name is not to be found.
This was reiterated by head coach Mike Tomlin yesterday during his weekly press conference when a reporter asked him about that possibility, saying that he has not played for the Steelers in the slot since last season.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Steelers can’t get him on the field.
Three years ago, Dick LeBeau ran a form of the big nickel that included three safeties in a five-defensive back look, with Ryan Mundy at the time serving as the third safety. Other teams, such as the New York Giants, have used this package heavily in the recent past.
While the Steelers want to keep Thomas at safety, they certainly have never been shy about moving starting strong safety Troy Polamalu around.
It would be hard to argue that with Taylor out, Thomas is not among the team’s top five defensive backs. If they want to get him on the field, they can use Polamalu to play in the slot and up in the box with Thomas at strong safety.
This will not only allow the Steelers to get their most talented sub-package on the field, but will also give the team the chance to get Thomas some valuable playing time in the position he’s scheduled to inherit, possibly as early at 2015.
The second-year safety flashed quite a bit with his play during the preseason, showing explosiveness and instincts that make it obvious why the team views him as the successor to their All-Pro strong safety.
The misfortune of Taylor affords them the opportunity to give Thomas some playing time, even if only on a limited basis. Polamalu, after all, is not unaccustomed to covering slot receivers, nor playing in the box, and spent a lot of time at linebacker last year. Nevertheless, I still have a feeling the Steelers will continue to resist putting him on the field.