Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin always likes to talk about how the second year is often the year that coaches expect a player to show the greatest improvement.
This is the crucial second year for a large core of the Steelers’ roster, which will likely include four starters in Jarvis Jones, Le’Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton, and Vince Williams.
By the way, just take a moment to think about how the Steelers are projected to have a draft class that includes four starters by year two.
But there’s another player about whom the Steelers are also expecting significant growth in year two, even though they made sure through free agency that he would not be counted on to be a starter just yet.
That would be, of course, Shamarko Thomas, on whom the Steelers used their 2014 third-round draft pick (via trade) to acquire last season.
Thomas, a somewhat height-deprived strong safety, started out his rookie season seeing frequent action in sub-packages, playing well over 100 snaps by the time he injured his ankle later on in the year.
By that point, the Steelers had already re-signed Will Allen, who was more than ready, willing, and able to fill in as the dime back, and thanks to his performance, the team didn’t need to turn back to Thomas.
Like Wheaton, his rookie status hindered his playing time because injuries hindered his practice time, which, for players in their first season, is a direct correlation to actually getting on the field.
2014 is a new year, and I don’t expect Thomas to be playing behind Allen again. While Allen is by far the more veteran player, both in terms of accumulation and time spent in the Steelers’ system, Thomas is the more versatile option.
Which is why, even though he was already on the roster for a while, Allen didn’t take over for Thomas until he was injured and missed practice time, setting his development back and thus preventing him from playing, by the coaches’ standards.
That shouldn’t be the case anymore after a year under his belt. He should no doubt be at least the sixth defensive back, both the third safety and the fourth cornerback depending on the requirements of a given play. That’s quite a beneficial feature to have in one and the same player.
Remember that as you watch the third round of the upcoming draft pass into the compensatory section without the Steelers making a pick, because that pick is already on the roster with a season of polish under his belt.