A week ago, Pittsburgh Steelers free agent acquisition Cam Thomas was forced to start at nose tackle due to the concussion suffered by Steve McLendon. In the team’s last game, he was able to play at left defensive end, where he is projected to begin the season as the starter.
Because of the frequency in which the Steelers played their nickel defense against the New York Giants, Thomas got very little work with the first-team defense, as they rarely used a nose tackle.
As a defensive end against the Buffalo Bills, however, he got considerably more work this week. He also played some in the nickel along with Daniel McCullers as the second-string defensive line in sub-packages, but as was the case a week ago, he was unable to offer much as a pass rusher—particularly in the sub-package.
As a matter of fact, his performance overall was not quite as impressive as it was in the first preseason game, but it was still a more than adequate showing, which was more effective against the run.
Early in the game, the Bills gave former Steelers fullback Frank Summers a chance to carry the ball. This was one of the few occasions during which Ryan Shazier seemed unsure of himself. Instead of taking on the advancing Kraig Urbik, it seems that he planned on using his speed to run around him, but the result was simply a nice hole for the fullback to run through. Thomas did well just to disengage and reach behind him to pull the ball carrier down, even though the play gained eight yards.
After a quick two-play touchdown drive from the offense, the Steelers defense was right back on the field after enduring a sustained opening drive. E.J. Manuel handed off to C.J. Spiller as the right tackle and tight end tried to double team Thomas, but he was able to split the blocks and, together with Jason Worilds, who also beat his block, brought down the running back after just a short gain.
Midway through the second half, on the final drive of the game for the starting defense, however, Thomas had a little blunder. On a carry off left guard, Cameron Heyward got excellent penetration, which gave Thomas a shot at registering a big tackle for loss, but the ball carrier shook him off and was able to gain a yard on the play. This is not a tackle you want to see one of your defensive linemen miss.
Toward the end of the half, Thomas was on the field with McCullers with the second-team sub-package unit as the right defensive tackle. Following an excellent, instinctual play on first and goal from Shamarko Thomas to blow up a short pass for no gain, the Bills went back to the ground on second down. After first absorbing a double team, the center was partially tripped up by the skirmish behind him, and Thomas was able to make the tackle as a result.
Through two games so far, Thomas has shown that he can hold up well against the run, which was the main concern for most people regarding the Steelers bringing him in from San Diego. He has been successful in the past rushing the passer, so perhaps that will show itself in time.