When it was decided last year at this time that the Pittsburgh Steelers no longer needed the services of veteran safety Troy Polamalu, the team likely hoped that young safety Shamarko Thomas would be able to fill his big shoes in 2015. That, however, failed to materialize as not only did Thomas fail to win a starting job during the team’s training camp, he started the season as No. 4 on the safety depth chart.
Ahead of the league’s annual meetings in Boca Raton, Florida on Sunday, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was asked to give his thoughts on Thomas’ future heading into the 2016 season and as you can tell by his response, they weren’t overly positive.
“I can’t really speak to it, because I’m not involved with it day to day,” said Colbert of Thomas’ future, according to Bob Labriola. “I think Shamarko has proven to be a valuable special teams player for us. Has he held onto a starting job? No, but when you have reliable guys who have come through in the past, it was a little easier to go back knowing they could, if one guy wasn’t measuring up. So are we going to have those options this year? Probably not as many.”
While the Steelers did re-sign unrestricted free agent safety Robert Golden just prior to the start of the new league, all early indications are that veteran safety Will Allen will not be brought back for another season. Additionally, while fellow veteran safety Ross Ventrone is currently under contract for the 2016 season, he’s merely a special teams player.
While Thomas is sure to be back in Latrobe this year for training camp battling for a roster spot, he’s also sure to have a lot of competition. For starters, the team is expected to select yet another young safety in the first four rounds of the 2016 NFL Draft and they still could add another cheap veteran free agent at the position in the coming days or weeks.
After playing 190 defensive snaps in the first half of his 2013 rookie season, Thomas has only played a total of 23 snaps in the past two and half seasons as he’s been relegated to only being used on special teams for the most part. With fellow safeties Mike Mitchell and Golden now ahead of him on this offseason’s depth chart, Thomas is headed for another year of special teams duty should he ultimately make the final 53-man roster.
While Thomas seemingly has all of the physical tools needed to play starting safety in the NFL, head coach Mike Tomlin has indicated more than once over the course of his young player’s career that he struggles with the game above the neck.
To date, Thomas, who the Steelers selected in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft out of Syracuse after trading up to do so, has recorded just 46 total tackles during regular season play in addition to forcing one fumble.