The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 9, 2013

Steelers rookie facing former coach

PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers rookie Shamarko Thomas didn’t take it personally when the Buffalo Bills and new coach Doug Marrone skipped over the hard-hitting safety in the first four rounds of the NFL draft.

That’s despite Marrone coaching Thomas at Syracuse for four years.

“I know it’s a business,” Thomas said. “It probably wasn’t all his call anyway.”

That doesn’t mean Thomas wouldn’t mind a chance at showing Marrone what he missed out on when the Steelers (2-6) play the Bills (3-6) on Sunday.

“After the game, we’ll talk,” Thomas said. “Now, I just have to focus on my game and get myself better ... I know Coach Marrone is keeping them disciplined over there, so they’ll be tough.”

Something Thomas proved to Marrone over and over again during their time with the Orange. Thomas injured his shoulder during warm-ups before a game during his senior season, to the point where Marrone figured Thomas’ college career was over.

“I said, ‘Do you want to have surgery now or do you want to wait until after the season?’ ” Marrone said. “He said, ‘Coach, I’m finishing the season, and we’re going to a bowl.’ I was like ‘Whoa.’ ”

Thomas did finish the season. And the Orange did go to a bowl, crushing West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.

Ten months later, Thomas and Marrone will share a field once again, each trying to prove himself at football’s highest level.

The Bills have been competitive but erratic thanks to almost comical injury problems at quarterback. Meanwhile, Thomas has been nothing short of a revelation.

Pittsburgh took Thomas in the fourth round believing he could one day take over for Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu. While Thomas isn’t quite there yet, the early returns are encouraging.

Thomas has 22 total tackles, including 16 solo and four on special teams. He’s impressed defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau with his instincts and adapted quickly to working at Polamalu’s spot when the Steelers put in six – or sometimes seven – defensive backs.

“We obviously liked him when we drafted him, and he did a great job in the preseason for us,” LeBeau said. “So, we put him in there, and he’s done pretty well so far ... in terms of running and hitting. And, again, I think he’s got a really good future in the NFL.”

Notes: T Kelvin Beachum (knee), G David DeCastro (ankle), DE Cam Heyward (knee), TE Heath Miller (not injury related), CB Ike Taylor (concussion), C Fernando Velasco (thigh), WR Markus Wheaton (finger) and ILB Vince Williams (concussion) all practiced on Friday and are expected to play Sunday. T Marcus Gilbert (ankle) is questionable. So is T Mike Adams (ribs), who did not practice Friday.

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