Pittsburgh Steelers second-year safety Shamarko Thomas had quite a promising preseason, adding a tackle behind the line of scrimmage on a seemingly regular basis to his highlight reel. He’s shown the instincts and explosiveness that make you want to compare him to the man he’s supposed to replace, Troy Polamalu.
The preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers wasn’t his most exciting display, even if he did play for most of the game, but he did play well, particularly against the run. How much this translates into regular season playing time remains to be seen.
Thomas entered the game on the Panthers’ third possession toward the end of the first quarter. On the second play of that drive, lined 15 yards off the ball with two receivers on his side of the field, he came flying into view after realizing the play was a run, and along with Ryan Shazier, planted Fozzy Whittaker into the ground after a two-yard gain.
On the first play of the next possession, Thomas once again came in from deep for run support, this time from the left side of the field. He picked his way through the traffic in order to lay a shoulder into Whittaker as he was going to the ground.
Late in the first half, Thomas was floating around at linebacker depth, shadowing the running back. When he saw the wide receiver screen go out wide, he went to the sideline to help Isaiah Green, who missed the initial tackle. Thomas’ effort to bring down the wide receiver failed as well, but it bought the cornerback time to recover and push him out of bounds, resulting in just a two-yard gain.
Into the fourth quarter now, Thomas continued playing deep as a true safety, rather than up at the line, as he had frequently earlier in the preseason, and during his rookie year on the field.
On this particular carry, he had to make up for the missed tackles at the line of scrimmage to bring Whittaker down 14 yards down the field. Defensive end Nick Williams was also down the field making the tackle as well.
Thomas did manage to help close out his night on a strong note. Late in the game, the Panthers were facing second and three, and the strong safety was playing close to the line of scrimmage. Carolina tried to block down on him with a wide receiver, but Thomas easily got around him and caught the running back by the legs for a loss of four on the play.