As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for a very important offseason, they very well could target a safety in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft or via free agency.
If they don’t, all eyes will be on second-year pro Shamarko Thomas, who will be looking at a big role in the Steelers defense next season.
The only question to ask is whether he is ready?
Thomas could be a serious candidate to have a breakout season in 2014. With Ryan Clark not likely to return, Thomas is more than likely going to have to step up in a major fashion.
In Thomas’ rookie year, the Steelers’ coaching staff wanted to get the 2013 fourth-round pick on the field as much as they could, but really didn’t find a way to put him into positions to succeed.
However, he is a guy the franchise gave up a 2014 third-round pick for so the Steelers are very high on the Syracuse product.
As a rookie, Thomas displayed the speed and physicality that give you hope that he will be a competent NFL safety for a long time to come.
Unfortunately he had to play as a nickel corner for most of his rookie campaign and was often beat in man coverage by bigger wide receivers and tight ends. That shouldn’t be an issue in 2014 for Thomas as he should be stepping into a starting role at safety, which is much more in his comfort zone as he showed the knack to be very good at reading plays and getting to the ball during camp.
If he does emerge as a starting safety, there will be a lot of pressure on the youngster as often it will be in a single-high look with Troy Polamalu playing around the line of scrimmage.
That’s also not an ideal situation for Thomas, but it is something he is much more suited for as he should be able to use that hard-hitting ability far more often.
The biggest reason to get excited about Thomas is his ability to tackle, something he was very good at in college.
That didn’t parlay to his freshman NFL campaign as Thomas recorded only 29 stops, but that is an area I feel he can excel at next season – which will be a big bonus for the Steelers defense.
If Thomas can show he is ready for a major role, I look at him to be a candidate for a major breakout in 2014. If he’s not ready, the Steelers defense could be in major trouble.