Steelers rookie safety Thomas learning from Polamalu, Clark
On the way into the locker room following a recent workout, safety Shamarko Thomas wasn't quite grasping what Troy Polamalu was trying to get across to him.
So, Polamalu stopped, turned to the brick wall leading into the facility and started to diagram it with his finger for the rookie fourth-round pick.
“I have always been willing to teach anybody if they are willing to learn,” Polamalu said. “But a lot of times I pour out too much too soon to a lot of players. It is trying to teach algebra to basic math.”
It's OK, because Polamalu has a teaching assistant to bridge the gaps: Ryan Clark.
Polamalu and Clark, veterans of 10-plus years in the NFL, are thrilled to finally be able to pass their knowledge onto a young, talented and receptive safety and are taking advantage of the situation.
“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.”
It's an 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. It's possible that the development of Thomas will make Clark expendable next year. Same goes for Polamalu, who has two years left on the four-year, $36.5 million deal that he signed in 2011.
Even so, it hasn't stopped the teaching.
“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.”
Clark said that Thomas' personality and thirst for knowledge have made it enjoyable to pass along tips.
“Obviously, you want to help a guy, but when it is a guy who truly wants to be a sponge ... he is not coming in here with a threatening personality or an attitude like that,” Clark said. “It is about learning and getting better.”
There's a pretty good reason for Thomas' determination to make it.
During his sophomore season at Syracuse, Thomas' mother, Ebeth Shabazz, died suddenly at 36 of an undiagnosed heart condition nine months after his stepfather, Abdul Shabazz, was killed in a motorcycle crash.
Thomas was just 20 at the time and was thrust into becoming a de facto parent for five younger siblings from 6-16 years old in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Va.
Thomas was forced to grow up quickly.
“We couldn't have asked for a more humble student of the game,” Clark said. “He is constantly asking us questions and is very respectful of what we accomplished in this league. I am excited to see what this kid can do once he learns.”
Thomas showed during spring practice that he is in line to become a contributor on special teams immediately but knows he is only an injury to either one of his 30-plus-year-old mentors before more will be asked of him.
And he wants to make sure if that time comes that he is ready.
“This defense is hard; I am not going to lie,” Thomas said. “I ask them about something, and they break it down from the nickel position to the dime position to the safety and corner position. They know it all.”