The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Can defensive back Shamarko Thomas find some sort of role on defense this season?
It would be fair to say that the Steelers drafted Shamarko Thomas with relatively high expectations for a fourth-round pick in 2013, and even higher hopes. They traded away a future third-round pick to double-dip in the fourth round during that season, which seems like an atypical move for Pittsburgh to do unless they really valued a player.
The evidence has existed, of course. He was awarded relatively extensive playing time during a large stretch of his rookie season until he suffered an ankle injury. He spent the following offseason training with Troy Polamalu, and last year, as we all remember, he was intended to enter the starting lineup after Polamalu’s retirement.
We also know how that ended up working out, whereafter he was not only demoted but reduced to the fourth safety on the depth chart. He only ended up playing a small handful of defensive snaps for the Steelers last year when injuries arose to either necessitate it or present the opportunity.
Can the Steelers really have gone from potentially viewing Thomas as a starter in 2015 to potentially viewing him as on the roster bubble in 2016? Has their view of his ability to run the defense been so irreparably damaged by his mental mistakes during the 2015 preseason—and presumably during practice as well—that they have abandoned the notion that he can be a contributor?
Perhaps more realistically, will circumstances dictate that Thomas remain toward the bottom of the totem pole? With the re-signing of Robert Golden, it would seem assured that at the very least he would not be in the running for a starting job. And the Steelers are also widely expected to address the safety position with a high pick in the draft.
That safety will likely be groomed as the future starter—perhaps even starting this year—but at least in the meantime serving as the quarters safety, which is a role that Thomas might otherwise be able to carve out for himself.