While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Can Shamarko Thomas take over the strong safety position in time for the start of the 2015 season?
There is one major variable hanging over this question, and that is, of course, the ultimate fate of Troy Polamalu, who has two years remaining on his contract, but who may decide to retire this year. There is also the possibility that the front office elects to force him into an early retirement, unless he chooses to play elsewhere.
The question assumes that, for one reason or another, Polamalu is no longer in the plans come opening day in September, which means that somebody other than Polamalu must be starting at strong safety.
As of now, it’s pretty much a mystery. Will it be somebody who is currently on the roster? Until March, that does include Will Allen, who started several games for Polamalu in 2014 while he battled injuries.
But surely the Steelers wouldn’t turn to Allen to be a full-time starter, would they? Pittsburgh traded away a third-round pick to draft Shamarko Thomas in 2013 because they thought he had first-round talent if he was just a couple inches taller. He must be the guy.
When then why did he only see two snaps on defense in 2014, which only came because of an extensive list of injuries in the game at that particular moment?
It’s important to remember that Thomas missed a lot of time himself last year with two separate hamstring injuries. He nearly missed half the season, which put him behind the moving train, so to speak. He missed out on practices, which are vital for a young player, and no doubt played a role in his being passed over to fill in on defense, at least to some degree.
Remember, Polamalu brought Thomas to his home to mentor and train him. We’ve seen during the preseason that Thomas does have the ability to play with instinctiveness. He had some setbacks a year ago, but as long as he stays healthy, he should be able to contribute this year in a significant role.