Meet Cam Thomas, the newest addition to the Steelers roster

Thearon W. Henderson

It's a question of motivation with Thomas. One of several former North Carolina players who were suspended by the team, he has earned a starting spot and lost it previously while gaining little attention on the free agency market. He basically has a Prove It contract with the Steelers.

Cam Thomas, the Steelers' newest free agent acquisition, is more Al Woods than Cam Thomas.

Except it seemed Al Woods could play for a longer stretch of time.

If the Steelers were looking to add a two-down player, Thomas is a great fit. He's big and powerful, but it doesn't take long for him to tire and his technique gets sloppy after that. He started through the first half of the season for the Chargers, but eventually became a back-up, although his playing time didn't decrease much.

He did stand out against the Kansas City Chiefs, in the infamous Ryan Succop/Officials Gaffe game in Week 17, when the Chargers defeated Kansas City in overtime, eliminating the Steelers from the postseason.

Thomas attended the University of North Carolina, and like a large portion of their roster, found himself mired in the academic and eligibility issues and scandal that followed many  players on that pro-loaded roster. Former Steelers tight end Weslye Saunders was embattled in the same controversy, and ended up losing his entire senior year at the University of South Carolina.

Thomas and former Tar Heels teammate Marvin Austin (a high-end prospect who was dismissed by North Carolina) traveled to California in 2009 to work out at a facility, with the entire trip being paid for by former Tar Heels teammate and first-round pick Kentwan BalmerThomas admitted to that in 2010 which was the main point behind his eventual suspension.

Neither Austin (who was a second-round pick by the Giants in 2011) nor Balmer (a first round pick by the 49ers in 2008) are in the NFL anymore. Both suffered injuries, but Austin simply never panned out as his freakish athleticism suggested he would. Balmer just up and left training camp with the Washington Redskins in 2012, and little has been said of him since then.

Thomas wasn't quite the prospect Austin, or Balmer, or future All Pro defensive end Robert Quinn (also involved with all of this) were. Early scouting reports on him suggest the same thing his pro tape does; he's a strong guy, not all that laterally quick but effective as a 0-technique nose tackle. His effort is questionable, which may be the result of conditioning.

Thomas eventually became a fifth round pick by the Chargers in 2010, and earned the starting role in San Diego, indicating he did something right. In a contract year, though, he lost that starting spot and the Chargers made no effort to re-sign him. He didn't visit anywhere else in free agency.

So what does Thomas bring to the table, exactly? Not a whole lot more than back-up NT Loni Fangupo, except experience. That may be what the Steelers are seeking, or perhaps they're looking for a sub package nose tackle, allowing McLendon to move outside on passing downs.

The easy route to take here is to suggest his short, back-loaded contract can provide him the motivation to stay in the NFL. He would get a 100 percent raise on his $1 million salary in 2015 if he stays on the roster. He can be cut for a $2 million cap savings next year if it doesn't work out.

So Thomas has plenty of reason to show his value to the Steelers, because he's basically getting another contract year.

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