Thomas: 'I had high expectations'

When Troy Polamalu retired last offseason, many thought Robert Golden would be the heir apparent at strong safety.

They were high expectations, but not too high in Thomas' mind.

The best photos of S Shamarko Thomas from the 2015 season.

"I don't think it was a lot to ask," said Thomas. "I had high expectations. I know Troy is going to be a Hall of Famer. He played a long time. I expect the same from myself. I don't think it was too high a standard to live up to. I just have to keep pushing on to do it."

Something happened along the way to living up to those standards. Thomas, who had started to blossom into one of the hardest hitters on defense, struggled last year and couldn't break his way into the starting lineup, instead veteran Will Allen held down the position all season.

"As a competitor there is more you want from yourself," said Thomas. "It's not what I wanted, but it was in God's plan. I just have to work to get better.

"It was disappointing. God puts you in journeys for a reason. I think it made me stronger."

Instead of being a starter, most of Thomas' snaps in 2015 were on special teams. It wasn't easy for him, because more than anything he had higher expectations for himself. But he stayed strong through it all.

"I grew a lot mentally this year," said Thomas. "It's a long season. You want to go out there and help your team any way you can. You expect to be a starter and fight for the position. When you lose it it's mentally and physically draining. I kept my spirits up. The mindset for me was to stay positive and keep fighting.

"It was the most challenging football season. I had high expectations for myself and others did too. It's a journey. God gives the tough road to the tough people. I am willing to fight and see what happens next year."

Thomas has kept in touch with Polamalu since his retirement, as the two always had a close bond. It's helped him get through the tougher times, with Polamalu's words of encouragement always hitting home.

"When I was going through everything, not playing like I wanted to, Troy would send me little things to stay positive, tell me to just be me," said Thomas. "He would tell me even though you are on special teams, work to be a Pro Bowl special teams player. I was working hard towards that too."

Thomas is wasting no time getting back in gear for 2016. He is continuing with his strong work ethic, one of the most dedicated players in the weight room, someone who never slacks for a second. He is also looking at game tapes, analyzing himself to see what was missing.

"I just finished watching all of the games, even the preseason games, and I didn't always look like myself," said Thomas. "I just need to get back to being myself. Replacing Troy, I wanted to be perfect. Working and focusing on being perfect, I wasn't playing up to my abilities. It showed on the field. I really think that is the biggest thing. I need to come back and play relaxed and play like the player they drafted.

"I just need to go back to the old ways. I was raised with a work ethic. I need to work my butt off until I get to the top. That is my mindset, getting back in the grind like I was in college trying to fight to get the NFL. That is my mentality."

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