Why Pittsburgh Steelers Safety Shamarko Thomas Won't Be the Next Bob Sanders

Mike StangerCorrespondent IMay 24, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 3:  Shamarko Thomas #29 of the Pittsburgh Steelers participates in drills during Rookie Camp on May 3, 2013 at UPMC Sports Complex in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The comparisons to Bob Sanders were inevitable for Pittsburgh Steelers rookie safety Shamarko Thomas. In fact, Thomas is basically Sanders' doppelganger.

They share many traits—the most obvious among them is size. Sanders stands at 5'8", 206 pounds, while Thomas is slightly larger at 5'9", 213 pounds

Both men had impressive NFL combine numbers. Sanders ran a 4.35 40-yard dash and jumped 41.5" vertically. Thomas ran a 4.42 and jumped 40.5".

And both men are known as hard hitters who play with a reckless abandon well above their weight class. 

But one trait that the Steelers hope Thomas doesn't share with Sanders is longevity, or lack thereof.

Indeed, Sanders has never played an entire 16-game season and has played in more than 10 games twice in his career. Since 2008, he has started in only 11 games. At 32 years old, he is out of football.

Is Thomas so inextricably linked to Sanders that he is destined for the same fate?



The new safety-conscious NFL won't allow it.

You see, now that the NFL is ultra-obsessed with player safety, particularly when it comes to traumatic brain injury, a player like Thomas must adapt or suffer obsolescence.

He can no longer flail his body around like a rogue torpedo. If he does, the risk of injuries and suspensions will make him a liability.

One would think that general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin are well aware of this. They have likely charged defensive backs coach Carnell Lake, as well as veteran safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, with indoctrinating Thomas into the NFL's new group think.

Furthermore, Thomas doesn't need to be a one-trick pony. He possesses the speed and athleticism to be more than just a wrecking ball in the secondary.

His excellent cover skills give him the flexibility to line up in the slot, and his football acumen make him valuable at the free safety position where he can call out the plays.

Yes, it is possible for Thomas to be like Sanders without becoming like Sanders. It's just up to him to decide on the path that he wants to follow.

Here's hoping that he chooses the long, successful one.