There have been a number of occasions during the season thus far in which the Pittsburgh Steelers were short a safety due to injury, requiring a backup to come in to spell the injured starter, usually for a series or two.
Of the two starting safeties, they have just one game between them out of 10 combined in which they have played every snap, although in some cases that can be explained by the goal line defense, which requires only one safety.
When an extra body at the back end has been needed, however, it has not been third-year former fourth-round draft pick Shamarko Thomas, who was penciled in as the heir apparent and successor to Troy Polamalu throughout the offseason until just before the season opener.
Instead, it has been special teams captain Robert Golden, in his fourth season after signing with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent in 2012, who has been serving in the capacity of the third safety under Keith Butler.
In fact, after Will Allen went down early in the Steelers’ last game with an ankle injury, it was Golden who filled in for the rest of the game, logging 68 of 76 total defensive snaps. Thomas was forced into action for a handful of snaps later in the game when Mike Mitchell was also sidelined briefly.
The natural impression that one gets from this is that the decision seems to say more about Thomas than it does Golden, and for obvious reasons. Thomas ran with the first-team defense when healthy throughout the offseason and through all preseason games in which he was able to participate.
It was only in the week of practice leading up to the season opener that the lineup change was made to replace Thomas with Allen, and even then, it was Golden who served as the third safety, though both played.
It was Golden that Butler brought into the game when the Steelers ran the big nickel with a third safety rather than a third cornerback, though he didn’t exactly get glowing reviews.
It was Golden who briefly spelled both Allen and Mitchell the week prior to last against the Ravens as both starting safeties missed a couple of snaps here and there due to injury, playing a total of five snaps between both safety spots.
And it was Golden who played nearly the entire game on Monday night as the replacement for Allen, though, again, his performance did not exactly elicit rave reviews. The fourth-year former undrafted free agent has logged close to 100 snaps so far, which is not far from doubling the total amount of snaps that he saw in his first three seasons combined.
Pending the results of Allen’s MRI, it may even be Golden seeing his first career start on Sunday against the Cardinals if the veteran is unable to go. The Cardinals, by the way, have established a points differential of over 100 through the first five weeks of the season. I’d call that quite a test, if indeed his number gets called on Sunday.