A Look At The Impact Of The Mike Mitchell Signing On Shamarko Thomas

The signing of a starting-caliber free safety in free agency is not terribly surprising for the Pittsburgh Steelers, with Ryan Clark widely anticipated to find his time with the organization over.

It immediately reshapes the Steelers’ draft board, with Troy Polamalu still under contract for three more seasons and the newly acquired Mike Mitchell locked up for the next five seasons, assuming they play out their contracts.

A less obvious effect of the signing, however, is the impact that it has on the practical depth at the cornerback position, and, second-year safety Shamarko Thomas’ role in that for the 2014 season.

The Steelers are without question big fans of Thomas. They traded away their 2014 third-round draft pick in order to draft him last season in the fourth round. Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake spoke very highly of him after he was drafted.

Lakes comments were clearly about a player that he personally coveted, expressing the belief that he had first-round pedigree if not for his comparatively short stature—though, in reality, he is not much shorter than Polamalu.

But what separates Thomas from many safeties is that he also has strong coverage skills, which is something that he did fairly extensively in college, and was something that Lake focused on when talking about him.

His versatility is an extreme asset for the Steelers, who used him in the slot quite a bit in the early portions of the season when starting cornerback Cortez Allen suffered an ankle injury in the season opener.

When Allen came back, and Thomas came in as the dime back, he was used more in a safety role, but his 100+ overall snaps on defense last year will be of service to his ability to step in during this season.

With Mitchell locked up, the Steelers don’t have to worry about whether Thomas is ready to be a full-time start or not, let alone whether he can handle the free safety role. He is seen more as a strong safety who plays in the box, despite the fact that the roles in Pittsburgh and around the league are becoming increasingly incestuous.

Instead, he can focus on what he was doing last season, playing a sub-package role of around 10-20 snaps per game, depending on the opponent.

Because he can cover, he is essentially an extra cornerback, and now that he’s not required to start, the Steelers can actually use him as a cornerback. Behind Ike Taylor, William Gay, and Allen, there’s not much depth to speak of, so with just one injury, Thomas would already be the fifth defensive back.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • cp72

    I think this improves the overall speed in the secondary. With Mitchell, Shamarko, and Troy on the field you have guys that can run and hit. Throw Timmons in there and if I am a wide receiver I might decide to stay outside the hash marks.

  • Jim McCarley

    i trust the team to make the right decisions and I assume this is one of them. I like the speed and obvious skills and it appears like he had a great 2013. The team may have picked a budding rose here and if so, he will be here for the rest of his career, just like Clark. Good job .

  • srdan

    Why do you think we overpayed for mitchell, just wondering.

    I think its a very fair deal.

  • Tullydew

    Overplayed? Did you see what Byrd and Whitner got?

  • NW86

    Those are two of the top safeties in the league, what does that have to do with anything?

    Be honest, had you ever heard of Mitchell before yesterday? I understand that he spent most of his time in Oakland as a backup strong safety, and started this season as a backup in Carolina until their starting free safety went down for the season. I understand he played pretty well and he’s still young and improving, so the Steelers obviously view him as a starter. But it’s not like we are talking about a household name or even a well established starter.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Shark will get his share of plays in and you need to have good subs also because there are always injuries during a season. Whether it’s on special teams or in dime packages, whatever, I think Shark will earn that new nickname that Ike spoke about:

    “Headache!” is going to hammer some people.

  • steeltown

    He played a big role in what I believe was the best Defense in the NFL last season, next to Seattle of course. Mitchell was on MY wish list, size, speed, versatility, youth and play making ability in coverage.

  • steeltown

    Yes, we are always one injury away from shuffling up the starters, can never have enough quality depth with starting ability

  • cp72

    Relative to market it is a fair deal. I just think a lot of guys got over paid yesterday.

  • Douglas Andrews

    The signing gives us some flexibility with Shark along with some good depth. I can only see this as a positive for Shark. It should give him more valuable playing time something he missed out on with his injury last year. With him getting in about 20 plays per game along with his special teams I’m looking forward to more plays from Shark this year.

  • 243546

    DB is the deepest positional unit on the roster right now. The more pressing issue is the front 7, specifically the D line. If the season started today, we would mist likely be looking at a front 3 of Heyward, Fangupo, and McLendon. The FO can add all the talent they want to the secondary, unless they make an upgrade on the D line, the defense going to be mediocre at best.

  • AndyR34

    The singular key point in this article is that adding Mitchell adds to CB depth because of Thomas’s coverage skills and ability to play the nickel or dime! Steelers sort of got a two-fer with Mitchell!

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Actually I’m not concerned about Shamarko, I do see him being the best contributor on defense side from the whole class of 2013 but…

    Is it an indication that Steelers like him better as a cornerback? Is he in mold of charles woodson, a CB/FS? Many assumed Mitchell is a strictly FS (not all, some from other websites and blogs) he’s not, he’s a combo safety. Shamarko who is taller than Captain Munnerlyn and has much better athleticism. Right now, I’m just keeping an opened-mind because the signing got me aroused.

    No really…

  • Mike Amaro

    Now we just need to draft dennard and id say we can breath easy when it comes to the secondary.

  • Derick L Young

    This is all good but are we still having issues up front… I mean that is how this defense works right… We can have the best secondary in the league but if the pass rush sucks, the defense will fail. I would rather have Nix than Dennard JMO.

  • Derick L Young

    Shark ran a 4.38 at the combine. with out pads of course.


    Agree with Alexander…not concerned about Thomas…he has a role and overall I have to applaud Colbert’s efforts here…they got Ike back at a very reasonable price and improved the FS spot without breaking the bank. Still need to see a young CB in this draft, but they don’t have to go after Gilbert.

  • tim

    Only $5.25m of Mitchell’s contract is guaranteed and hes worth about that a year so we right on point with him…

  • shawn

    5 mil a year for an unproven guy … i call that overpaid as most people do … people blogging that its not much guaranteed doesnt make much sense … !

  • shawn

    Byrd is a difference maker !

  • shawn

    Steel .. i understand that u are high on the guy and i hope he pans out …. but a breakdown of his play last season can’t be seen as overly optimistic if u are judging him as a playmaker almost zilch over the last 10 games (1 int) take away the minn game and he looks very avg … also disappointing is that under further review it appears he got a lot more playing time than people are letting on in Oak … (look at his tackles) just shows that he wasn’t much of a playmaker with them … hope it turns out better for us … either way 5 mil was too much !

  • shawn

    how do u judge he’s worth 5 mil … just curious … his one yr production out of 5 … ? and yes he did get plenty of playing time in Oak !

  • shawn

    Hope this takes almost no playing time away from Thomas … he needs the development, experience and confidence of playing a lot this year !