The Pittsburgh Steelers have parted ways with a number of aging talents that epitomized success in the community during the height of their careers. While their on-field assets may have diminished over the years, however, one should not underestimate the ripple effect that their departures could have within the locker room.
While the concepts of camaraderie and leadership may be somewhat elusive when it comes to the team chemistry of a sports team, there is no doubt some truth to the idea that these qualities help build a winning team, especially when it comes to a game as interconnected with one another as is football.
The last several offseasons have seen some quality championship characters exit stage right, and their vacant lockers no doubt diminished the overall character of the room as a whole. Just recently, the team saw both Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu retire, even if their departures were already in the plans for this spring.
While the Steelers do maintain a select body of leaders within the locker room, which I have already explored, it’s equally important for them to foster a group of emerging players who can enter leadership roles of their own in time.
When looking at the team’s roster, I can’t help but be drawn to the secondary when considering where Pittsburgh is most lacking in leadership, where William Gay now counts as the veteran and highest-quality performer, after the retirements of Polamalu and Taylor.
Mike Mitchell has his chance to step up in his second season with the team, but so does Shamarko Thomas, the third-year safety entering his first year in the starting lineup, barring something unforeseen.
Everything about Thomas to me screams of the makeup of a leader, but the first step is to establish himself on the field—more specifically on defense, because he has already shown that he can be an impact player on defense, blocking a punt that led to a safety and causing a fumble that led to a touchdown.
Demonstrating playmaking ability on special teams is obviously a beneficial signal for his ability to transition to playing on defense, where he was almost entirely absent last season, partly due to a pair of hamstring injuries. But it has to come on the field first before anything else can follow.
I do believe that Thomas will be able to transition on defense relatively smoothly and establish himself as a starting safety during this upcoming season, but the process of establishing himself as a player that others turn to is a bit more elaborate.
But he has the characteristics of leadership. Off the field, in his private life, he has already had to be that, having lost his parents and thereafter taking the mantle of raising his younger siblings. Between his community work and his mentorship under Polamalu, he appears to have the right makeup for somebody whose job it is to make those around him better.
But again, it all comes back to what he does on the field first. He has the all-out playing style that not only earned him the nickname “Headache”, but is also motivating. If we get to see that on Sundays, I believe we will see Thomas emerge as one of the core young fixtures of this unit’s immediate future.