With second-year nose tackle Daniel McCullers being declared out after suffering what looked like a nastier lower leg injury than it mercifully turned out to be, expect to see a healthy dose of Cam Thomas later today, and perhaps later in the week, as it seems likely the young defensive lineman could be in for multiple games missed.
Thomas, of course, is the much-maligned free agent acquisition from last offseason, who spent the majority of the 2014 season starting at left defensive tackle. But he also started two games in place of nose tackle Steve McLendon, and after he was demoted from the starting lineup, he logged more time at nose than at end.
Throughout much of training camp and the preseason, in fact, Thomas logged most of his snaps at nose tackle, in part due to the fact that McCullers was dealing with a hamstring injury during much of that time.
Instead of being cut, as many predicted, Thomas increased his value over the course of his offseason by improving his game and flexing out his versatility as a player who can play all three defensive line positions, as well as in both the base and nickel packages.
While his improvement was evident during the preseason, it is fair to say that his first game was clearly his best showing, as he did an excellent job of consistently firing off the snap, and was frequently the first player to move, which led to the occasionally blown up play due to his ability to beat the man across from him with his timing.
He has not been able to have the same level of impact thus far during the regular season, when he does manage to get on the field, but that should not be surprising given the improved level of competition that he is now facing.
Overall, he has played fairly well, but largely quietly. He has only registered two tackles on the season thus far, one in each game, after logging about 40 or so snaps, in addition to a couple of quarterback pressures.
Thomas and McCullers were logging a similar percentage of snaps prior to his injury through the first two games, but with the former now the first man off the bench at all three positions, expect the veteran to see his snap count increase until the younger lineman is able to get back on the field.
In the meantime, the Steelers figure to throw a bone one of two rookie defensive ends that they have on the roster by giving them a helmet today. But don’t expect them to play much, if at all, as it is likely that they will utilize McLendon at defensive end even more as a result of McCullers’ injury.