It’s still yet to be determined what kind of role there will be for Cam Thomas on Sunday, but one role he evidently won’t see is starting left defensive end, as reports indicate the Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff is giving rookie Stephon Tuitt the opportunity this week.
Depending on the health of nose tackle Steve McLendon, Thomas may start at the center of the defensive line. He has taken the vast majority of the snaps at nose tackle in the starter’s absence.
It would be unfair if I failed to acknowledge that Thomas has played somewhat better, in comparison to his performance earlier in the season, over the course of the past few weeks. His play at nose tackle has perhaps been a bit better than his play at end. And for all of the warts on the tape, his game against the New Orleans Saints was probably the best he’s played for the Steelers thus far—for whatever that might be worth.
The Steelers opened in their nickel, and in fact played a large portion of the game in the nickel. But they came out for the second Saints drive in the base, with Thomas at nose, who helped bring down Mark Ingram after a modest gain on first down.
Midway through the second quarter, on the play in which Tuitt registered a pressure on Drew Brees on a throwaway, Thomas actually did an impressive job of ripping past the center to help influence the quarterback scrambling into the pressure off the edge.
It’s difficult to assign blame along the defensive line on this 20-yard run by Ingram. Thomas moved well to the spot and filled his gap, even making a one-armed tackle effort, but Sean Spence was taken out by the fullback as Ingram slipped through a narrow seam and into the secondary.
As an encore, the Saints back ripped off another 12-yard run on the next play, but, again, it’s hard to place blame on the nose tackle here, absorbing a double team. Tuitt, to his left, lost the inside leverage on the play, while Lawrence Timmons shaded too far outside to fill the hole around right guard.
The Saints put the ball in the end zone through the air on the following play, but Thomas responded on the opening play of the following drive, shedding the center to make the tackle on first down. It would only be fair to point out, however, that he was knocked to the ground on a running play a few snaps later, though the defense held it to a two-yard gain.
Early in the fourth quarter, the center pushed on to block at the second level while the Saints asked the left guard to reach block on Thomas on a run to the right. Thomas gained inside control pretty much immediately and ran down the line to make the tackle on Ingram for no gain.