Remember back in April, not long after the Pittsburgh Steelers failed to sign Alex Carrington? Back then, I wrote about free agent signing Cam Thomas and speculated that he could be a contingency plan to start at defensive end, if the Steelers weren’t able to find an alternative answer on the left side soon enough. It seemed hard for many to believe at the time.
The team did draft the exciting underclassman Stephon Tuitt in the second round, but it doesn’t necessarily appear as though the coaching staff views him as the answer at left defensive end for opening day.
And that may be as much about Thomas as it is about Tuitt. Steel City Insider writer Jim Wexell recently Tweeted that he asked a member of the coaching staff if he thought Tuitt could “find a way into the starting lineup by the opener”, to which the coach replied, “I doubt it. Cam [Thomas] is playing pretty well”.
I asked one of the coaches if Tuitt could find a way into starting lineup by the opener: “I doubt it. Cam (Thomas) is playing pretty well.”
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) August 1, 2014
Thomas has, in fact, been consistently lining up as the first-team left defensive end in practice all throughout the offseason when the Steelers are in their base defense, though other players have gotten their opportunities when the defense goes into their sub-packages, which, based on last season, could be frequently.
It hasn’t just been Steelers fans wondering about Pittsburgh’s defensive front, or at least the left defensive end position, considering that fourth-year end Cameron Heyward and nose tackle Steve McLendon are already in place from last year.
During the Movin’ the Chains show on SiriusXM Radio last night, co-host Pat Kirwan said that the defensive line was the main area for the Steelers that he himself would be watching during the team’s Friday Night Lights scrimmage.
“I’m watching Cam Thomas, I’m watching Stephon Tuitt. Who’s going to win that job? And it can’t just be a rotation. You know what the rotation tells me? They’re both average. Which one of these guys jumps up and shows me they should be the starter?”
Coincidentally, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau also happened to be on air earlier that day talking about his defense and all the changes that it has undergone since the end of last year, which of course includes a lot of turnover along the defensive line.
“I think we’re growing a young front, really”, LeBeau said about the new-look unit. “Steve McLendon’s in his second year, really, of playing a lot of football. Cam Heyward has really come on. He’s going to be the lead dog of that group”.
He also talked about the addition of Thomas through free agency and what he’s been able to add on the line working with the first-team defense. “He’s a very stout, solid, veteran, professional player”, said LeBeau about the former San Diego Chargers nose tackle and defensive end.
We may never know exactly what the front office’s plans were when they first signed Thomas. Presumably, his long-term role will be the one that was originally assumed when he joined, which would be the fourth man role, playing both defensive end and nose tackle. But for now, it sounds like he’s doing well enough to hold off his competition for the starting job.