Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Shamarko Thomas' Mentors - Safety In Numbers


Mentor. We hear the word used all the time, be it in youth, at school or in the workplace. It refers to someone we can look up to for guidance and advice.

If we look deeper into the origin of the word, though, we'll find an interesting parallel to the subject of the article today.

In the epic ancient Greek poem The Odyssey (the sequel to The Iliad), Homer chronicles the adventurous journeys of Greek hero Odysseus. When Odysseus left for the Trojan War, he placed his son Telemachus in the charge of his foster-brother Eumaeus and his friend - Mentor.

Now, 2,800 years later, we have a bit of life imitating art as Shamarko Thomas, the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2013 fourth-round draft pick, has also been brought under the charge of two men who are virtually brothers as well as friends. They are also Pro Bowlers, All-Pros (Polamalu) and Super Bowl winners. Few other safeties could be considered as qualified to mentor the young man.

Not many aging veterans are so willing to help teach those who are brought in to replace them. But, once again, the nature of the Steelers' family-like organization shined through, and from the very beginning.

“It all started the same day I got drafted,” Thomas said. “Troy and Ryan called me and left a message and told me they were going to teach me everything they’ve learned. I came in here ready to learn. They’ve made me comfortable.” - http://tinyurl.com/ljjkolk

Class. It shows how special Clark and Polamalu are, not only as players, but as people. It's also what many simply know as the "Steeler way."

As the article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review went on to highlight, it's an especially "unselfish act on Clark's part knowing that he's in the final year of a four-year, $14 million contract that he signed in 2010." The same goes for Polamalu "who has two years left on the four-year, $36.5 million deal that he signed in 2011."

Clark has made it clear that he wishes to play beyond the 2013 season. He wants to retire a Steeler. The question, naturally, is whether or not the Steelers consider it a wise decision to sign him beyond 2013. They could extend a deal to him in the framework of the one signed by Steelers linebacker Larry Foote.

Foote signed a three-year deal worth $5.5 million. He received a $1 million signing bonus and $2.5 million is guaranteed. But after the 2013 season, Foote could be released with the Steelers only taking an a $666,666 dead money hit in 2014, according to SportTrac.com.

Knowing that he would never see the end of such a contract, as Foote won't, could Clark sign something similar?

There is no doubt that Clark has been an integral part of the Steelers top-ranked defenses. He shows no signs of slowing down, either, as he was finally named to the Pro Bowl after the 2011 season and followed that up with a career-high 102 tackles, seven pass defenses, two forced fumbles and two interceptions in 2012.

So it is possible, though it's hard to say at present how probable it is. Because it's possible that the development of Thomas will make Clark expendable next year. But Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette recently touched on the flip side of that coin.

"Even with Shamarko Thomas, the Steelers are not prepared to lose both Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark in 2014, although plenty can happen between now and then. Clark has had some of his best seasons lately and it’s reasonable to think that he could play at a good level another few years." - http://t.co/mTrlRD0gzF

The chemistry Clark has with strong safety Polamalu can't be denied. As Bouchette stated, the Steelers aren't prepared to part ways with both. Plus, the uncanny connection Clark has with Polamalu frees him to take many of the gambles and accomplish many of the big plays Polamalu has become known for making.

It is that chemistry, that level of comfort with the feel of the game, that the two of them will look to instill within Thomas. Can that be done in one year?

Clark is a very football smart player who rarely gets caught out of position, while Polamalu's instincts are the stuff of legend. But, how much money does general manager Kevin Colbert want to sink into two safeties on the wrong side of 30 whose hard-hitting styles mean that their next could end someone's season? Specifically theirs.

Regardless, both mentors want to dispense their wisdom "when it is a guy who truly wants to be a sponge." Thomas' determination to learn is just what was needed and comes at the right time.

“Troy and I have asked for years for a guy to mentor,” Clark said. “Some players feel like they can play forever. We understand it is not going to be that way. We want to see somebody take it over and do well.”

Thomas is 5'9", 213 pounds, ran a 4.42 in the 40-yard dash and jumped 40.5" at the NFL Combine, so he has the physical skills. He possesses both speed and athleticism, and has excellent coverage skills. He has the flexibility to line up in the slot or outside, and has the football aptitude to be able to be indoctrinated by one of the NFL's better safety combinations.

Two true mentors.