With the Pittsburgh Steelers coming off their bye week and little to talk about in the interim outside of returning players, now would be as good a time as any to take a look back on what’s transpired this season and give out some mid-year player evaluations.
The team as a whole has suffered its ups and downs throughout the season, particularly the bi-polar offense that prefers the comforts of home. Even with all the road struggles, however, the Steelers are ranked seventh in the league in scoring, averaging 26.2 points per game.
On the flip side, the defense has struggled not only with youth and inexperience but also with injuries, en route to posting the 19th-best defense in points allowed, giving up 23.9 points per game, with hopes to start changing that down the home stretch.
Player: Cam Thomas, DE
Free agent pickup Cam Thomas likely hasn’t won over many fans in his short tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite being the primary starting left defensive end, while filling in at nose tackle in the starting lineup twice.
It is, in fact, his inside and outside versatility more than anything that has likely allowed him to stay put, even though the coaching staff appears to have formed a higher opinion of his overall performance than others watching his games.
It’s unclear whether or not the Steelers initially envisioned him as a part of the starting lineup when he was first signed, as it seemed his inking was a reaction to losing out on Al Woods, a similarly versatile player, with whom it’s certainly debatable the Steelers may have been better off.
With the Steelers making no other significant moves along the defensive line, however, in terms of expected impact in 2014, Thomas found himself lining up with the starters, and he’s been there since.
Many, including the beat writers, have wondered, and continue to wonder, why Brett Keisel isn’t starting instead of Thomas, especially given the fact that Keisel actually logs more snaps overall. But then again, if he logs more snaps, does it really matter?
It might, if you consider the fact that one of the biggest struggles this defense has faced during the season has been getting the opposing offense off the field on opening drives. But both Keisel and the coaching staff seem committed to a plan to limit his snaps in order to keep his body fresh for the playoffs, which, it’s worth keeping in mind, the Steelers haven’t experienced in a few years.
Despite his size, Thomas has had difficulty anchoring from both the defensive end and nose tackle positions. He has also struggled flowing to the ball, often clogging up traffic lanes for other defenders and impacting the Steelers’ defense to respond to a play.
He makes a play or two every game that seems to keep him in the good graces of the coaching staff. And truth be told, he did an overall commendable job during his nose tackle snaps in the second half of the last game. but it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the worst starter on this team.