Steelers safety Shamarko Thomas should be himself, not Troy Polamalu

The Pittsburgh Steelers' minicamp session is underway, but earlier Tuesday defensive end Cam Heyward told me something interesting about safety Shamarko Thomas, who is eyeing a starting spot in his third NFL season.

"He knows he's not going to be Troy (Polamalu), but he can be a heckuva Shamarko Thomas," Heyward said.

Heyward brought up Thomas when I asked him which players have caught his eye in workouts. Heyward "loves" what he's seen from Thomas so far because Thomas is soaking up every aspect of coordinator Keith Butler's defense.

As a fourth-round pick in 2013, Thomas has faced unrealistic expectations about replacing Polamalu, who retired in the offseason. But teammates see a player who's better than his 34 tackles in two NFL seasons suggest.

"I'm definitely a better player, and a better man," Thomas said about the difference from last year to this. "I learned from Troy Polamalu that it's not all about being a better football player, it's about being a better man. You have to have a sense of focus."

Growth from Thomas would ease concerns with a Steelers secondary that lacks star power.