I'm sure someone will say he's going to be both, and could be the team's reserve inside linebacker too.
So what's the true plan for the team's starting defensive end spot opposite Heyward? Are they banking on the return of Brett Keisel?
It's hard at this point to suggest otherwise, even if Thomas is made into both a starter at times and a back-up at times. They still need another defensive end, and considering they appear to be waiting until the offseason program is well underway until addressing either a key back-up role or a starting role, there's little time to prepare a player unfamiliar with the job to meet expectations.
Perhaps Keisel will be signed for a bit over the veteran minimum amount he said he wouldn't play for, but not given a guarantee of a starting position. It's a slippery slope, though, having a starter (Thomas at defensive end) be the team's primary back-up at another spot (nose tackle). That creates a situation in which there are two different ways your back-up gets in the game. Some would suggest that lessens the strength of a position group.
At the same time, Keisel is probably the team's best option at this point, with competition coming in the form of Nick Williams and Brian Arnfelt - two unproven players with less experience in their bodies than Keisel has in a few strands of his over-marketed beard.
The Steelers clear up around $8 million against the cap on June 2, which is enough to sign the team's draft class and have a few dollars remaining for a signing like this. It makes sense, although this shouldn't at all lessen the team's need to prepare for the future with a different defensive end.