With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp for the 2015 season now in swing, it’s time to get down to the business of football. The time for “football in shorts” or “football-like” events is over as teams all around the league embark on their own personal journey for the upcoming season.
Although for just about every team the time leading up to the regular season and reflect a period of optimism, it’s also a period of great uncertainty, which means that there are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we know who or what a team truly is. It’s a process that can last well into the regular season.
One of the questions on a lot of people’s minds right now stems from legitimate concern, and that question is, quite simply, when are the Steelers’ starting safeties actually going to play together?
Both safeties, third-year strong safety Shamarko Thomas and free safety Mike Mitchell, a veteran in his second season with the team, have been sitting out whole practices or parts of practices, and have not had many working together yet in training camp.
Mitchell has sat out most of training camp thus far with a hamstring injury, which I wrote about yesterday, detailing his maturation from bringing a ‘tough guy’ mentality to every aspect of his life to taking a smarter approach and recognizing that it’s better to get right and attack it when you’re at 100 percent.
Thomas suffered an injury a handful of practices ago, laying a shoulder into a tight end far bigger than he is. He has been in pads for the past two days, but has been limited, and yesterday continued to sit out the team drill portions of practice.
The injuries have mounted so much that the team was forced to get Will Allen in pads, whom they were hoping to rest until after the first preseason game. And Allen least of all the defensive backs on the team is in need of reps.
The real concern stems from the fact that neither safety has a great deal of experience. Though he is a tenured veteran, Mitchell is actually only a two-year starter, and is coming off a frustrating first season with the Steelers as he played through injury.
Thomas hardly saw the field on defense in his second season last year, and many have raised durability concerns. The two have hardly worked together at all for these reasons, and one wonders how the chemistry between them will be during the regular season.
The Steelers have chosen to play it safe and get them right rather than rushing them back, in no small part due to the fact that they have an extended preseason schedule, playing five games this year when 30 other teams will only play four.
But one can’t help but wonder when the pair will be on the field together. Their development, both individually and as a tandem, will be a critical component in the defense taking a step forward this year, particularly as they move toward a system in which they employ more Cover-2 schemes that rely on two deep safeties with strong communication.