Free Agent Pickup Cam Thomas Keeping Ahead Of His DL Competition

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”.

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.

About the Author

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

    If Cam Thomas legitimately wins the job then fine, but I just can’t help but feel there is some prejudice against Tuitt because he’s a rookie. They deserve an equal number of 1st team snaps in the pre-season games and let’s see who wants it more.

  • 20Stoney

    If they manage to take a nose tackle who was benched, and turn him into a starting caliber DE, that’s quite a signing.

  • JohnB

    You know I was going to say that, but then I thought I should hold off till at least we see some preseason games.

  • Lil Smitty

    Remember Kimo was signed when a bad Bengals team didn’t want him. Sometimes it takes a change or better coaching to show how good a player truly is.

  • IndianaSteelerfan

    Based on your comment, it will be interesting to see how Ziggy Hood and Al Woods pan out this year.

  • William Weaver

    I know it sounds crazy, but since ziggy didn’t cut it at what they was asking him to do I wish they would have tried to flip him instead of letting him go. Turn him into a pulling left guard? Monster of a man super strong and mobile. Would love to see him pull and smash someone.

  • Madi

    LOTS of time between now and the opener. 4 preseason games. If Tuitt deserves it, he will have his chance to show it. If they still don’t give it to him, I’ll complain then. Right now it’d be just silly to hand it to him.

  • pittsburghjoe

    I think Ziggy is going to be a great fit in Jax. He is not a 34 end. I think he can be a good 43 DT. He is in a system that better fits his abilities. He always put forth the effort and appeared to be a good clubhouse guy in Pitt. I hope he does well.

  • joed32

    I think Pat’s wrong. A rotation can be a good thing in keeping everyone fresh and getting Tuitt some valuable experience.

  • Big White

    The only person who has kept Cam Thomas from being a solid NFL player is Cam Thomas. Hope the former Heel can get his priorities straight. If not, Tuitt to me baby.

  • Milliken Steeler

    Agreed, Ziggy was a quick. strong and team guy. Very durable also.

    Jacksonville didn’t hesitate to give him 16 million over four years to play their 4-3.

  • Brendon Glad

    I disagree with the Pat Kirwan comment. The Steelers 3-4 DL has consistently used “rotation”, if I’m not mistaken. maybe not 50-50 rotation, but definitely “rotation”. To me if Tuitt is “in the rotation” as a rookie, it’s a tremendous statement to him. John mitchell raved about Steve mcClendon as a rookie, and wasn’t comfortable putting him “in the rotation” for about 2 years. So let’s trust our DL coach. And trust that he can develop DL. If u put on a Steelers DL number, and take the field, odds are very high that u earned it, and will perform at a high-level.

  • Brendon Glad

    Agreed. I wanted Tuitt, so I have the emotional investment of “liking to be right” involved…but I trust John mitchell more than I trust myself on DL play….by quite a lot. Perhaps he makes his DL “earn their stripes” in practice a little more than some coaches. But his D-lines in the last 21 years speak for themselves. The right guys will be on the field.

  • keth Naab

    Ziggy makes sense as a penetrating 3-technique. He made no sense as a 5-technique in our system because he doesn’t really have the length. He’s more of an explosive, stocky bowling ball type. I think tuitt is ideal for our DE. Cam Thomas? Guy got fired for being pretty cruddy on a pretty cruddy SD defense. I hope Tuitt gets a real chance to win the job. I’m still a bit…eh…”gun shy” regarding younger players and our defensive line after seeing Heyward sit for far too long

  • CrazyTerry

    If Cam Thomas is doing well in camp, I sure hope that is not a reflection of our OL playing poorly.