Steelers rookie safety Thomas causing headaches


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Teammates call him "Headache," and, as Ike Taylor explained, there is a good reason for it.

"He's a monster," Taylor said of rookie safety Shamarko Thomas. "A lot of people are going to be catching headaches or he's going to be catching headaches, it's going to be one or the other."

That may be somewhat politically incorrect to say in the current touchy atmosphere surrounding concussions in the NFL. Yet, that is the style of this 5-foot-9 rookie from Syracuse, so prized by the Steelers in April that they traded a third-round pick in 2014 to the Cleveland Browns in order to draft him this year.

"My mentality is to go out there and hit," Thomas said.

He has caused headaches in training camp already, not by hitting anyone, but by peppering veteran safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu with questions.

"Shamarko has been asking RC and Troy questions from the time he steps on the field until meetings," Taylor said, "to the point that RC is like, 'Hey, man, this guy is getting on my nerves, he keeps asking me questions.'

"But from my perspective and RC's perspective, it's a good thing, coming from a rookie guy. Just seeing those guys wanting to get better is going to help our team out."

Thomas said he has to ask questions.

"If you ain't asking the questions and you mess up on the field, that's on you, so I ask lot of questions. [Clark] might have said it to Ike, but me, he answers every question I ask, and Troy is good with that, too."

Thomas is the heir apparent to one of the Steelers' two veteran safeties, and he could play in the nickel and/or dime defense this year. The plan also is to spot him for Polamalu and/or Clark for plays.

That's all right by Thomas, who has been among the hits of training camp in more ways than one.

"I have to get my feet wet, see what you can do in the NFL," said Thomas, who noted one difference between the pros and the old Big East. "You got bigger and stronger backs, so you got to bring more power and bring more explosiveness. But it's football at the end of the day ... I can handle it."

Wheaton on right track

Thomas finds himself defending another rookie on many pass plays in training camp, third-round draft pick Markus Wheaton.

Wheaton, from Oregon State, missed all the Steelers' spring practices except for rookie orientation because of the arcane NFL rule that does not permit rookies to join their new teams for drills unless they graduated or their classes were finished for the term.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said he never would know Wheaton missed anything because he has picked it up with the help of veteran receiver Jerricho Cotchery and receivers coach Richard Mann.

Wheaton has speed, which they lost when Mike Wallace headed to the Miami Dolphins in free agency. But, unlike Wallace, he does not look to be a one-trick pony and just run deep. Wheaton has shown a good ability to go over the middle in live contact in camp and hang onto the ball.

"It looks like he wants to get into the competition," Haley said of Wheaton. "We're all excited about him.

"He's in a good position because Jerricho is mentoring him. When you have situations like that where veterans are mentoring guys who might at some point take their job, usually you're on a good team.

"I can't say enough about how well Jerricho is doing on the field, No. 1, but also in bringing this kid along. For a guy who missed the whole offseason, you would not have any idea he did. That's a testament to him, to Richard Mann, to Jerricho. That's a good sign when you don't feel like he's behind."

Pirates thrill Taylor

Taylor has acknowledged that he has jumped on the Pirates' bandwagon and that crowds watching practices at Saint Vincent College these days might be thinner because of how the baseball team is playing.

"A shout out to everybody who has been with the Pirates since Day 1, but I guess I'm one of those people who jumped on the bandwagon," Taylor said.

"They're kind of taking away our crowds from training camp, to be honest with you, but, as long as they're doing good, it's good for the city -- us, Pirates, Penguins, keep things rolling from one sport to the other. It's just a good feeling, man, a good atmosphere, I'm happy for the Pirates."

Roster updates

The Steelers signed another cornerback, Devin Smith of Wisconsin, and running back Alvester Alexander of Wyoming.

Smith recently was cut by the Dallas Cowboys. Alexander spent time with Tennessee and Indianapolis in 2012.

To make room, the Steelers cut running back Curtis McNeal and defensive end Cordian Hagans, both undrafted rookies.

Smith is the third cornerback signed since training camp opened. The others are Ryan Steed and Buddy Jackson. The reason is Cortez Allen had minor knee surgery, Curtis Brown is out with an ankle injury that coach Mike Tomlin considers minor, DeMarcus Van Dyke has a hamstring injury and rookie Terry Hawthorne has a knee injury.

"We're dropping like flies," Taylor said, but seemed unconcerned because it is still a month before the season starts.

"No, no need to get worried, we'll be all right. That's just how it is sometimes. This is the most I've seen at the cornerback position as far as guys dropping. That's all part of the game. One guy's loss is an opportunity for the next guy to step up."

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For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published August 8, 2013 4:00 AM


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