2015 A Critical Year For Shamarko Thomas

With Troy Polamalu’s retirement, the logical conclusion is for Shamarko Thomas to become the heir to the throne. That appeared to be the plan when the team traded up for the Syracuse safety three years ago and while it’s still a distinct possibility, they sure are making him earn it.

Yesterday’s report of the team putting in a claim on strong safety D.J. Swearinger only points to a certain lack of confidence in Thomas. That isn’t a terrible, nor newsworthy sentiment – who can trust any player who played two defensive snaps in 2014? And no, Swearinger is far from some All-Pro. But it furthers the notion that Thomas isn’t going to be simply handed the job because of the team’s vision for him three years ago. The Steelers are interested in creating competition.

I watched him throughout the 2014 training camp. It was confusing, even frustrating at times, to see how inconsistent his reps were. Will Allen, and even Robert Golden in certain practices, played over him. Thomas received snaps but it was impossible to get a read on how he would be used on a given day.

Sure, it’s making the young player earn his way. A smart approach. But now, with another season in the books, how much have we really learned about what kind of player he is? Personally, I can’t tell you much. Big hitter. Quality special teamer. But as a complete safety? There’s too little information to make an informed opinion. I don’t pretend to know.

A lack of health hasn’t helped his cause, missing time with injury in 2013 and going down with a hamstring last year. Another reason why the team hasn’t been able to fully trust him, not to mention valuable reps missed in practice.

The door is obviously open for Thomas to grab hold of the starting reigns in 2015. Make no mistake, this is still a team that feels he can come in and contribute. He’s as hard-working of a player as they come and any failure won’t stem from a lack of effort. I’m only saying the path isn’t as clear, nor easy, as some may make it out to be.

He’ll have to fend off Allen and clearly, the team wanted to add Swearinger into the mix. Allen is the trusted veteran. The player Mike Tomlin loves. Even if Thomas is considered the favorite, Allen is going to push him in camp.

Much like Jarvis Jones, this is a make-it-or-break-it year for Thomas. Falter and the team will definitely look to upgrade. Show the skills that warranted the selection and the team has its starting strong safety of the future.

No one knows which way he’ll go. But we’re about to find out.

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