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Steelers defensive end Thomas is finding success on the field

| Monday, Aug. 18, 2014, 9:30 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers defensive end Cam Thomas plays against the Bills on Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, at Heinz Field.

It didn't take Steelers defensive end Cam Thomas long to adjust to a scheme that demands he sacrifice numbers for results.

“We're not thinking in terms of making plays but be the reason why others make plays,” Thomas said Monday. “If you take care of your responsibilities, the play will come to you.

“I can't be thinking about making a play. I have to be patient because coach (Dick) LeBeau's defensive philosophy has worked here for a long time.”

Thomas appears increasingly confident and comfortable in the Steelers' 3-4 defense.

He proved too much to handle for the Buffalo Bills in a 19-16 preseason win Saturday at Heinz Field.

“He played mostly nose tackle in San Diego, but seeing how quickly he moves, he's in the perfect position at defensive end,” said offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert. “He brings different dimensions to the defensive line because of his athleticism, which makes the defense better.”

Thomas, who starts opposite right defensive end Cameron Heyward, tallied four total tackles against the Bills. He also helped the Steelers control the line of scrimmage and funneled the Bills running backs into the arms of linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier, who combined for 14 tackles.

That, of course, is what the Steelers were hoping to get out of the 6-foot-4, 330-pound Thomas when they inked him to a two-year, $4 million deal earlier this year. Thomas wasn't much of a pass-rusher in San Diego's 3-4 set, but he was solid against the run.

“I'm not going to limit myself,” Thomas said. “If they want me to stop the run, I'll do that. If they want me to apply pressure on the quarterback, I'll do it. It doesn't matter to me.”

The Steelers' AFC North rivals made moves to improve their ground games. Thomas could be the right fit for a defense that finished 21st against the run in 2013.

“I played against (AFC North teams) when I was in San Diego, so it's about not going outside your scheme,” he said. “You have to do what you're supposed to do. You can't play at their tempo.

“Everything is smash-mouth football in the AFC North compared to the West Coast offenses that rely heavily on the pass. It basically comes down to assignment football.”

Thomas handled his assignments without much difficulty against the Bills, who totaled only 64 of their 150 rushing yards in the first half. Thomas is likely to face a different challenge Thursday when the Steelers face the more explosive Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com.

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