Last year, the narrative was that Pittsburgh Steelers safety Shamarko Thomas had been ‘waiting’ for his opportunity to play after long-time strong safety Troy Polamalu retired following the 2014 season. Thomas was expected to enter the starting lineup, but a loss of confidence from the coaching staff reduced him to fourth on the depth chart.
Now, the narrative is the same, only the name is different, and the wait has been longer. Fifth-year safety Robert Golden, a former undrafted free agent, is anticipated to lineup with the starting defense when the 2016 regular season commences in September. Unlike Thomas, however, he has already shown capable of starting.
Golden started three games last season in place of Will Allen, who replaced Thomas in the starting lineup once the regular season started, and played in all but eight snaps in the game in which Allen was injured. He also later saw time as a quarter package safety, playing the most snaps of his career and recording his first interception.
“I have been here five years, and my opportunity is finally coming around”, he told reporters yesterday according to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I just want to take full advantage of it. I kind of know it will [be a seamless transition]”.
Last year’s transition from Polamalu to Thomas was anything but, of course, which is precisely why the question of the transition from Allen to Golden is being asked of him now, even if he already logged a few hundred snaps lining up alongside Mike Mitchell at the back end.
“I haven’t just been here because of what I did on special teams”, said the two-years-running special teams captain. “The coaches saw something in me to keep me around”. That must indeed be true considering that he leapfrogged Thomas on the depth chart last season.
Thomas was a fourth-round draft pick during the 2013 NFL Draft, for whom the Steelers traded a 2014 third-round draft pick in order to have the opportunity to draft. Golden had already been on the roster at the time, though Allen had signed with Dallas.
The way Thomas had been spoken of, it seemed obvious that the plan from the get-go was for him to succeed Polamalu. He even trained with Polamalu during the 2014 offseason, a unique experience in the veteran’s 12-year tenure in the league.
It does indeed appear to be Golden’s time, even if Allen does end up being re-signed in training camp for depth purposes, even if that might seem unlikely by now. One does have to wonder, however, how long his time might last after the team drafted Sean Davis in the second round at his position.
The Steelers re-signed Golden to a three-year contract. Mitchell also has three years left on a five-year, $25 million contract that he signed with Pittsburgh in 2014. The plan seems to be for him to be a bridge starter, but he is hopeful, and perhaps, capable, of proving to be more than that.