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One of the positions the Pittsburgh Steelers needed to address in this year's draft was safety, and they did so in the fourth round when they selected Shamarko Thomas, moving up to do so.
Thomas has little chance to surpass current starters Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu at either free or strong safety, respectively. However, that does not mean he won't have a role to play in his rookie season. In fact, he'll have two.
The Steelers are very traditional when it comes to the usage of their defensive rookies, requiring them to make an impact on special teams in their first year rather than getting significant snaps on defense. That suits the hard-hitting, good-tackling Thomas perfectly. It will give him a chance to showcase the talent that convinced the Steelers to draft him in the first place while he learns the intricacies of Dick LeBeau's defense.
The other important role Thomas will play this year is as depth—and this, too, is not a minor one. The Steelers don't have much depth at safety presently, and the possibility of injury to either Clark or Polamalu will mean Thomas will have to step up.
Thomas may be young, but his promise is greater than the two safeties who once backed up Clark and Polamalu—Will Allen and Ryan Mundy, who both left in free agency—so the insurance policy that is Thomas' presence on the roster has far greater value than the one the Steelers had last year.
ROLE: Coverage Team Ace; Crucial Safety Depth