Troy Polamalu may be gone but he'll never be forgotten, especially by Shamarko Thomas.
"I still talk to Troy because he's a great mentor," Thomas maintained. "He's always going to be a great mentor, even a father role in my life and a big brother role."
It remains to be seen whether Thomas can become Polamalu's successor at strong safety in return. Polamalu's retirement has opened the door for someone at the position. Thomas was next in line on the final depth chart of the 2014 season.
"I'll take it one step at a time," he said. "I've been here before. I'm not a rookie any more.
"I'm going to camp with a focused mind-set and whatever happens, happens."
The Top photos of safety Shamarko Thomas.
Things began to happen for Thomas (5-foot-9, 217 pounds) relatively quickly after the Steelers made him a fourth-round pick out of Syracuse in 2013.
He appeared in 14 games that season, including two starts. Thomas was seeing significant sub-package snaps on defense – a rare accomplishment for a Steelers' rookie defensive back and one that suggested progress and promise – until his campaign was interrupted by a left ankle injury in early November.
Last season Thomas' games played total dropped to 11 and his starts slipped to zero as he battled Achilles' and hamstring injuries.
He remains a player of great potential, but also one with a less-than-established track record beyond special teams, where he had a forced fumble and a blocked punt in 2014.
"Everybody has questions about me, my health, my ability," Thomas acknowledged. "But at the end of the day their opinion doesn't matter. It's what I do on the field that matters.
"I know what I'm capable of. I know what I've put toward this position. There's no anxiety, no anxiousness; it's just straight focus, focus on my path and just working hard every day."
As he does so Thomas said he'll continue to rely upon lessons learned while working out with Polamalu last summer in California prior to training camp.
"It wasn't about lifting the weights," Thomas insisted. "It was learning how to be a man."
What he learned most from Polamalu, Thomas maintained, was the value of sacrifice and will.
"When you have sacrifice, will, and focus and ambitions for this game and ambitions for your family and God, nothing can stop you."