If Pittsburgh Steelers safety Shamarko Thomas considered his rookie season a disappointment, his second year in the league probably made him feel like he barely contributed to the team at all. In fact, on the defensive side of the football last season that’s exactly what happened.
After managing to play nearly 200 snaps on defense as a rookie, Thomas, the Steelers former fourth-round draft pick, only played two snaps on defense in 2014. Both of those snaps came late in the third quarter of the regular season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals and that’s only because fellow safeties Troy Polamalu and Will Allen were briefly sidelined at that the same time with injuries.
Thomas may have played more last season had he stayed healthy and practicing, but a hamstring injury suffered in the Week 5 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars while playing on special teams forced him to miss five of the next six games. Once he was fully healthy the train had already left the station without him and thus his main contributions all season came on special teams.
“(The injuries) definitely set me back,” Thomas reportedly said recently, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It was definitely a learning process. It taught me to take care of my body better. It set me back but gave me motivation to get better. It’s definitely a big offseason for me.”
It certainly will be a big offseason for the Syracuse product as the Steelers might be counting on him to be their starting strong safety in 2015 depending on what ultimately happens over the summer with Polamalu and Allen. While still under contract for the next two seasons, Polamalu might decide to retire over the summer after looking every bit of his age in 2014. As for Allen, who has been the Steelers primary backup safety for the last several season, he will once again be an unrestricted free agent come the start of the new league year.
Luckily for Thomas he’s had great mentoring so far during his young career. In fact, last offseason Polamalu invited him out to California to train with him right before the start of training camp. That was a huge honor for Thomas as the Steelers future Hall of Famer usually prefers to train by himself.
While Thomas did play quite a bit during his rookie season before suffering an ankle injury in the Week 10 game against the Buffalo Bills, he mostly saw time as an extra slot cornerback. In other words, he’s played very few snaps at the strong safety position outside of the preseason.
The Steelers traded up in the 2013 NFL Draft in order to select Thomas, so that certainly means they coveted him quite a bit. After two full seasons of learning the defense and how to train and practice like a professional, it will be very disappointing if he’s only able to contribute on special teams during his third season. By the sound of things, Thomas will be ready to compete for the starting strong safety spot come once the offseason practices get underway.
“I am definitely ready,” Thomas said. “I work hard and prepare hard.”