Shamarko Thomas got a respectable amount of playing time during the first half of his rookie season in 2013 as a slot defender until he suffered an ankle injury. The missed practice time and the solid play of veteran Will Allen kept him out of the lineup even when he returned from injury.
While Thomas represented himself well, all things considered, during his playing time, he was certainly not without his flaws. All players miss assignments, and rookies are most prone to them. Missing practice time for a young player is nearly always a death sentence for playing time simply because it greatly increases the probability of mental error.
While Thomas’ multiple hamstring injuries may be the main culprit for his noticeable lack of playing time during his sophomore campaign last year, during which it was Allen, once again, filling in where he hypothetically should have been—this time in the starting lineup—it was as much Allen’s experience and knowledge of the defense versus his own that kept him on the sidelines.
Perhaps that is partly why the third-year safety, projected to enter the starting lineup in place of his mentor, Troy Polamalu, has found sanctuary this offseason in the film room, digesting as much game tape as possible in order to prepare himself for the biggest opportunity of his professional life.
Thomas has played well during the preseason, and it has given observers such as myself the confidence in his ability to become a fine starter in this league, but it’s worth keeping in mind that the type of game played in exhibition format is a much more vanilla, simplistic, less nuanced form than we see on Sundays.
Thomas is still working out the finer details of his assignments during his third offseason, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Players should continue to grow throughout their careers and get better mentally, no matter how many years they play. And this one seems to have the right mentality.
“I’ll never be comfortable, so I’m definitely locked in”, he was quoted as saying in a notebook column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in a collaboration between Ralph Paulk and Mark Kaboly.
He went on, saying, “I’m really locked in on my film study. I find myself in the film room every day — before practice and after practice. It’s helped me get better as a player”. According to Paulk and Kaboly, Thomas has already targeted some areas of his game for improvement, namely route recognition and reading keys.
Citing Polamalu’s influence as the reason that he has become more of a student of the game, Thomas said that he writes down all of his missed assignments to study them and work on improving them.
It’s good to see that Thomas has so taken to Polamalu’s influence. Polamalu may have seemed like a gambler on the field, but his gambles were based on intense film study and reading tendencies. Thomas may never become Polamalu, but he can certainly come into his own this season.