When legendary Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu decided to call it a career after the 2014 season, fans were excited to see who would claim the safety position alongside Mike Mitchell in the team's secondary. The options were names most had become familiar with: Will Allen, Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden.
Allen was the veteran of the group, but Thomas was the player everyone thought was going to be the player to win this three horse race, and finally live up to the potential of a third round pick who the Steelers traded up to select. Needless to say, 2015 went from bad to worse for Thomas, and resulted in Allen becoming the starter, and Golden being the player to fill in when Allen was injured.
How does this demotion impact the psyche of a football player who prides himself on his preparation and work ethic?
"Some angry moments," Thomas told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com in regards to how his 2015 went.
After the Steelers re-signed Golden to a new 3-year contract prior to free agency, and drafted safety Sean Davis out of the University of Maryland, Thomas realizes his situation is dire, but spoke about getting out of the "depression" which was his entire 2015 season.
Thomas leans on his friend, and mentor, Troy Polamalu for guidance and assistance when it comes to his preparation and play on the field. Unfortunately, he never lived up to the hype.
"You look up to (Polamalu's) game and want to be that caliber," Thomas said. "I wasn't doing it.'
Thomas should't feel too bad about that, as not many could even come close to the caliber of player Polamalu was in his prime with the Steelers, but Thomas still possesses an extremely athletic skill set who could help the Steelers if he continues to improve this offseason.
One aspect of his game which he hopes to improve upon in 2016 is to just have fun, something he struggled with after his demotion in 2015.
"Definitely after a year like that, you want to come out here and make plays and show you can do the same (as before)," Thomas said. "Pay attention to detail, have fun out here like I used to."
Although Thomas is a long shot to see the field outside of special teams, his improvement could help the Steelers if Golden and Davis struggle to lock down the safety position. Thomas had a dismal season in 2015, but potential still resides in No. 29. Could he tap into said potential and show fans he is every bit the hard-hitting safety fans, and the Steelers, thought they drafted out of Syracuse University?
Thomas will get to show the coaching staff his improvement at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, PA in a few weeks when the team reports for their 51st training camp at the college. Most would consider Thomas a 'dark horse' in the safety race, but even the dark horse wins the race from time to time. In a contract year, Thomas has a lot to prove, and that could only benefit the Steelers organization.