One Step To Take: Shamarko Thomas

New series we’re kicking off here to get us through the upcoming dog days of the offseason. Every player wants to improve, to elevate his game in all areas from one season to the next. Understanding that, we’re going to isolate just one area, one faction of a player’s game. The biggest area for improvement.

Shamarko Thomas – Learn from Darrius Heyward-Bey

Shamarko Thomas, where to improve. Whew. That’s a difficult one. Clearly, he’s had some issues being able to make good decisions, fulfill his responsibility, avoid the mental mistakes that sent him to the bench before he’s started. We all know that.

But how do you fix that? Hey Shark, study more. Really get your nose in that playbook, buddy. That’s painfully obvious and incredibly unhelpful advice. Thomas has the reputation as a hard worker. He isn’t an underachiever dogging it out there.

Advising Thomas to study more is telling someone training for a marathon to just run faster.

So we’re going to be more specific and constructive than that.

I do want to preface by saying I don’t know what the relationship between Shark and DHB is. Maybe they’re BFFs. But just assuming they’re not, I’d love for Thomas to soak up all he can learn from Heyward-Bey this season.

DHB’s path is not that dissimilar from Thomas. He was the 7th pick of the 2009 draft, his blazing speed giving equally high expectations. He flamed out in Oakland, only once in four seasons surpassing 650 receiving yards. He was cut, spent a year in Indianapolis, before carving out a role in Pittsburgh as a special teamer and last year, a legitimate role in the Steelers’ offense.

Thomas wasn’t drafted that high but entered with similar expectations. The heir to Troy Polamalu. His chance came last year and he fell flat, benched for Will Allen and Robert Golden.

Though his career may look bleak right now, it isn’t over. The harsh truth is that Thomas is almost certain to never be the full-time, long-term starter he – and we – hoped he’d be. I’m sure that’s a gut punch to him and not an easy thought to wrestle with.

So talk to Heyward-Bey. Learn how he dealt with it mentally and emotionally. You have to clear that mental hurdle and come to grips with it before anything else.

Beyond that, Heyward-Bey is a perfect example of someone who has able to rejuvenate his career, even if it didn’t come in the way expected. He became a fantastic special teamer. It allowed him stick to the roster, always have a helmet, and naturally, when you play in the league for this long, it opened up some opportunities on your side of the ball. Heyward-Bey got his chance to play during the first month after Martavis Bryant’s suspension and again in the Divisional Game after Antonio Brown’s concussion. Unfortunate that chance came at other player’s expense but still, it’s a chance.

And now DHB has carved out that niche offensive player to go with his top notch special teams ability. He’ll never have the career he dreamed of. It sucks but it isn’t the end of the world. You’re still in the NFL, a league where 1% of hopefuls make it. The fact you’re here is incredible. Make the most of those few short years left.

That’s the best path for Thomas moving forward. And he’s already a four-phase, solid player on the teams unit. I just want to make sure he keeps his head up, his morale high, while still keeping that goal of doing something even greater.

Shamarko Thomas and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Be the Dri Archer/Brad Wing camp friendship of this season. It’ll be good for you. And fun for us.

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