2013 fourth-round pick Shamarko Thomas is facing some pretty tough expectations. Since Troy Polamalu announced his retirement, it could be up to Thomas to elevate the secondary from mediocre and worrisome to a contributing force in the resurgence of the Steelers defense.
DE Cam Heyward had some wise words about Thomas, per ESPN: "He knows he's not going to be Troy, but he can be a heckuva Shamarko Thomas."
That's not to say the legendary Polamalu isn't a role model and mentor to his successor. Thomas revealed to the Associated Press earlier in the month, "I am definitely closer to (Troy) than I am to anybody. My second year, I went to him in the offseason and said that I want to be great, and he just told me that being great isn't just about being a football player. It's about putting God first and your family, and everything else will fall into place." He continued, "I'm definitely sorry that Troy's gone, and I can't replace him."
According to ESPN, Cam Heyward is very impressed with what he sees so far from Thomas who also agrees he has benefitted from playing under his mentor Polamalu: "I'm definitely a better player, and a better man. I learned from Troy Polamalu that it's not all about being a better football player, it's about being a better man. You have to have a sense of focus."
Hopefully that sense of focus will play a part in catapulting Thomas to the forefront of the secondary and make him a force that opposing offenses dread. Thomas certainly has a tough act to follow, but in reality, Polamalu's last few seasons were marred by injury. The speed and magic (Almost literal sometimes. Some of his plays defied explanation.) that made him one of the best safeties in the league was not as evident during his last few seasons, and he was unable to deliver the productivity and big plays fans had once taken for granted.
So, while it will be hard not to draw comparisons to Polamalu, Cam Heyward is right. Sharmarko Thomas need to be a helluva Shamarko Thomas, not Troy 2.0.