The Pittsburgh Steelers signed free agent Cam Thomas to a two-year contract in order to provide depth along the defensive line, as the team was entering a free agency period in which three of their top players at the position were hitting the open market.
The organization did, in fact, lose two of those players in free agency, though they finally re-signed Brett Keisel late in the preseason. While he has logged his share of snaps, though, the Steelers have kept him in a reserve role, and people are questioning why that might be.
Technically, he did start two games recently while nose tackle Steve McLendon was out with a shoulder injury. The Steelers slid Thomas over the nose tackle and inserted Keisel into the lineup at right defensive end.
But that actually had no appreciable effect on his playing time. He actually logged his highest percentage of snaps in Week Two, and he averaged about 65 percent of the team’s defensive snaps during his two starts, which was close to his season average before logging a season-low snap percentage on Sunday.
Thomas actually played 40 of the Steelers’ 71 defensive snaps against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, which was his second-highest snap percentage over the last six weeks. While he does make a play every now and then, his play does present legitimate problems for the defense.
There a too many occasions in which Thomas is completely taken out of a play, even against a single lineman. More than that, he has a tendency to get caught in the wash while flowing down the line of scrimmage, which slows the other defenders in getting to the ball.
Dick LeBeau has seemingly made all the right calls, at least in terms of personnel, when it comes to making changes. He turned to Arthur Moats and Sean Spence to replace Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier. He gave James Harrison plenty of snaps once he was in the mix.
Most significantly, he hasn’t been shy in having Cortez Allen take a seat in this past game behind Brice McCain and Antwon Blake while he works through whatever issues are preventing him from playing at a higher level. Blake had a strong game as the outside corner in sub-packages, and he may stay there for the time being.
Many are wondering, then, why Thomas remains in the starting lineup when they have Keisel to turn to. After all, Keisel has logged more snaps this season than Thomas anyway.
There’s also rookie Stephon Tuitt, who has seemingly been playing well for the most part in his sporadic playing time. But he has logged 83 of his 132 snaps on the year over the course of the past four games, and has gotten involved in some pressure in the passing game.
With the pedigreed rookie pressing for snaps and the veteran playing well, it’s still unclear why Thomas remains in the starting lineup, as I doubt even the coaching staff would be able to claim that he is playing at a higher level than Keisel.