The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Shamarko Thomas
Experience: 3 Years
The Steelers by now probably regret giving up a future third-round draft pick in order to move back into the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft in order to acquire safety Shamarko Thomas, whom they coveted and saw as Troy Polamalu’s heir apparent.
It was no idle plan, after all. They targeted him specifically because they saw in him much of what made Polamalu great, or so they thought. He was seen as an explosive, instinctive, hard-hitting safety with range and coverage ability. He has yet to put all that together, and hope of a turnaround is nearly evaporated.
During the 2014 offseason, Thomas was even granted the very rare opportunity to spend time working and training with Polamalu, who taught him what to do both on and off the field, in sports and in life. It was a defining personal moment for the young man.
But so far his defining career moment consists of a string of mental miscues during the preseason that resulted in him losing his starting job that he was penciled in for after Polamalu’s retirement. After the preseason ended, the coaching staff determined that they would be better served turning to the veteran experience of 12-year veteran Will Allen.
Not only was he demoted from the starting lineup, however, he was effectively benched, because even when the Steelers did use a third safety, or there was an injury, it was fourth-year veteran Robert Golden who came onto the field. Golden started three games in place of Allen during his ankle injury, and also served in the team’s quarters and goal line packages.
Thomas’ primary function, as it has been since his rookie season, was special teams. Unfortunately, his season came to be defined by a series of fair catch interference penalties—three in total—even if one or two could be seen as debatable.
It is unfortunate in that it overlooks the very good work that he put in overall. He did not log a high number of special teams tackles, but that is in large part a factor of his ability to get down the field and induce fair catches as a gunner (after all, he got down there fast enough to interfere with three of them).
The future feels a bit uncertain right now for Thomas, who is currently the third safety on the depth chart. The Steelers would seem likely to continue to address the position, likely in the draft. That could push him to the bubble, but his special teams work should secure his spot on the roster as he gets one last chance to show he can be more than a liability defensively.