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 pessimistic side of the coin.
Question: Can Shamarko Thomas take over the strong safety position in time for the start of the 2015 season?
When the Steelers traded their third-round draft pick in 2014 for a fourth-round pick in 2013 to select safety Shamarko Thomas, it was presumed that he would be the heir apparent to Troy Polamalu. This seemed especially so after listening to defensive backs coach pour on the accolades in his post-selection press conference.
Early in his rookie season, in fact, he was already seeing a good amount of time—not at safety, but rather in the slot, mostly covering wide receivers, which is something that he had already done in college.
After suffering an ankle injury in the second half of the season, however, he never saw the field again on defense, having been taken over by Will Allen in six-defensive back looks.
In fact, when scanning over the total body of evidence over the course of the past two seasons, one can no longer automatically make the assumption that Thomas is in line for a starting spot in this defense. There are too many times in which he has simply been passed up for playing time.
Is Thomas prepared to take over a starting spot in 2015? It’s hard to say because we simply haven’t seen him in that role enough. He played all of two snaps in 2014, and that was only due to an uncommon amount of injuries taking place in a short period of time.
Can he be? Perhaps. Will he be? Unknown. But the question will be moot anyway if Polamalu and the team decide that the veteran should return. Or perhaps his return would in essence be an answer to the question of whether or not he will be ready.
There’s no doubt that he has stood out at times in the preseason, but he wouldn’t be the first player to shine against inferior competition only to shrink against his peers. The jury is very much still out on this question. The Steelers could certainly choose to go another way in replacing Polamalu, whether that comes this year or at a later date.