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Shamarko Thomas Can Bring Swagger Back to Pittsburgh Steelers Defense

Shamarko is already making his mark.

Pittsburgh Steelers rookie safety Shamarko Thomas, drafted in the fourth round, told Tom Robinson of the Virginian-Pilot that he expects to be fined in the NFL because of the way he plays football.

Believe or not, that should be music to the Steelers’ ears.

When the Steelers cut James Harrison, their defense lost its menacing persona. Not only did Harrison sack the quarterback 64 times in his career and win the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, but he just looks like someone you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. He wears his game face 365 days a year.

Troy Polamalu also has a Defensive Player of the Year honor on his resume, but unlike Harrison he seems like a pleasant person to run into off the field.

Ryan Clark has written his share of checks to the NFL, but he’s got one foot in the broadcast booth. He’s becoming very comfortable in a suit and tie.

Lawrence Timmons is probably the best player on the Steelers defense, but he keeps such a low profile that a lot of fans might not even recognize him on the street.

Thomas, from Virginia Beach, Va., has raised his profile by talking to his hometown newspaper.

So much for rookies being seen and not heard.

Both Robinson and NFL.com use the term “missile” to describe Thomas’ style of play. If that means he leads with his head, then his wallet could be lighter.

The 5’9”, 213-pound Thomas hasn’t practiced in pads yet as a Steeler and probably won’t start as a rookie. With so much to prove, some might say he should keep his mouth shut. After all, some of those fines could start out as 15-yard penalties. If that happens, Thomas’ bank account will shrink while opponent’s numbers on the scoreboard grow.

But by saying that a fine here or there is the cost of doing business, Thomas at least shows potential to bring the swagger back to the Steelers’ defense.

The Steelers might have been the No. 1 defense in the NFL in 2011 and 2012, but it didn’t translate into any playoff victories.

One of the reasons for that is because the Steelers combined to force just 35 turnovers in 2011 and 2012, and that was before Harrison’s departure. They forced 35 turnovers in 2010 alone and made it to the Super Bowl.

Turnovers are game changers. No offense can be expected to drive 80 yards for every touchdown.

Thomas might be able to help with that when he learns the NFL ropes.

He forced three fumbles in his senior year at Syracuse, according to NFL.com, and led the Orange with 85 tackles.

CBSSports.com didn’t use the word “missile” in its scouting report on Thomas, but instead chose the expression “reckless abandon.” As the type of player who flies all over the field, he could be the heir to Polamalu.

It also doesn’t hurt that Thomas has played cornerback and linebacker as well as safety. He knows his way around the defense and could show characteristics of a coach on the field.

He’ll need to cut his teeth on special teams, but don’t be surprised to see Thomas get plenty of defensive snaps as a rookie.

Polamalu, 32, and Clark, 34 in October, are the likely starters at safety. Behind them are Robert Golden, Ross Ventrone, Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith and Thomas.

Among those four players, only Golden has played any defensive snaps for the Steelers. Thomas is the only one who was drafted.

The Steelers would love to see Polamalu and Clark remain healthy for the entire season, but it might not be realistic to expect both of them to play all 16 games.

An injury to either of those players could lead to Thomas not only hitting some receivers and running backs, but also his piggy bank.

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1 comment

  1. charles maftin

    Troy played sith reckless abandon. But, he also had extraordinary instincts. Thomas has a long way to go to replace him. Might as well get started.

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