The career of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Shamarko Thomas certainly hasn’t gone like the team probably hoped it would as the Syracuse product has mainly been used as a core special teams player over the course of the last two seasons. With the 2016 season quickly approaching, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked Tuesday during his weekly press conference what he needs to see out of Thomas in every area of his game as he enters the final year of his rookie contract.
“We talked openly a few nights ago in a team meeting, a guy like him that’s trying to expand his role as a defender,” said Tomlin of the team’s former fourth round draft pick. “I’m for that, I never put guys in a box, but there’s certain expectations that comes with the things that he does well and I don’t want to see any waning in that performance,”
While Tomlin isn’t ready to put Thomas in a box, from a defensive standpoint, that’s exactly where he seems to have played his best football at times, which has unfortunately mostly come during the preseason the last two years as he’s been less than stellar when forced to play deep and in open areas of the field. Thomas, however, for the most part, has been a solid special teams player during his career in Pittsburgh outside of a few mental lapses and penalties and Tomlin was quick to praise that area of his play on Tuesday.
“He’s been a solid special teams contributor here for a number of years, that’s always been a strong component of his game,” said Tomlin. “He’s been arguably one of the best in the world in that area and we expect him to continue to be that as he works and tries to take advantage of the defensive opportunities that he’s getting.”
In the Steelers preseason opener against the Detroit Lions, Thomas was credited with two total tackles and a pass defensed in the game. He did, however, miss some open-field tackles and that’s an area that he has struggled in previously during his young career. With rookie second round draft pick Sean Davis attempting to play both nickel cornerback and safety during training camp and the preseason, Thomas figures to currently be one snap away from starting at strong safety on defense. Because of that, expect him to continue to see considerable playing time at the position for the remainder of the preseason when starters Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden exit the field.
“He just needs to continue to get better,” said Tomlin of Thomas.