As the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first official depth chart reveals, free agent signing Cam Thomas will be a starter for the season opener, though it’s open for debate whether it will be at right or left defensive end.
It’s also open for debate how long-term that starting position is, as there are two players looking to take over that role. One would be the recently re-signed Brett Keisel, whose main obstacle right now is showing he can handle a full workload.
The other is rookie Stephon Tuitt, who has, mostly quietly, played very well this preseason. He figures to see a decent amount of time in sub-packages this year, which the Steelers seem poised to use more than ever as it is.
But as it currently stands, Thomas remains the starter, and he has started every preseason game, including the final game against the Carolina Panthers, which proved to be a fairly average performance, but was an improvement over his last two outings.
It didn’t get off to a good start, though, as he was blown off the line of scrimmage on the first snap of the game. The right tackle simply buried his helmet in Thomas’ chest and started driving him back, pushing him out of the play. The running back took the ball right where he should have been for five yards.
A few plays later, Thomas showed a bit more resistance, standing up with the lineman near the line of scrimmage. He was able to peel off the block and reach low for the running back as he slipped by, helping trip him up as he joined Ryan Shazier to make the tackle after a four-yard gain.
After the successful fourth-down conversion, however, Thomas was able to blow up the right tackle, using full arm extension to drive him back in the pocket on a pass rush, getting him bowlegged and eventually driving him to the ground as he pushed him into the back of Jarvis Jones. It was some of the first signs of life seen from his pass rush all preseason, and for that alone is worth noting.
On the next snap, the Steelers broke out the big nickel look for the first time during the preseason, and for the only time with their starting unit, using Thomas as the left defensive tackle.
Off the snap, the Panthers stacked a combination block against Thomas, but once the first lineman peeled off, he cleared away the second, and penetrated the backfield to assist Lawrence Timmons in bringing down the back for no gain. In all, it was a fairly eventful opening possession for Thomas.