Fresh off a diving red-zone interception during a sun-kissed Pittsburgh Steelers offseason workout, Shamarko Thomas was beaming.
"Read and react," the Steelers safety said after the session. "God blessed me with a pick."
This sunny optimism was absent for much of 2015.
Once branded the Steelers' next great safety, Thomas planned to follow the blueprint drawn up by his idol and friend, Troy Polamalu. With Polamalu retiring in the 2015 offseason, Thomas, a former third-round pick the Steelers moved up to acquire in 2013, was eager to replace him.
Then training camp happened. Thomas' play was erratic. He'd find himself out of position. Then Will Allen happened. The Steelers chose Allen, the steady 12-year veteran, to start alongside Mike Mitchell. Thomas was relegated to special-teams duty.
He had the inside track. Now he was out.
The decision hit Thomas like an avalanche.
"Some angry moments," Thomas said.
This year, Thomas feels like even more of a long shot after the team drafted safety Sean Davis in the second round and re-signed Robert Golden to a three-year deal. But at least Thomas has emerged from the haze of last year, which he called "a depression."
Thomas wasn't sure if he was clinically depressed, but he knows he suppressed his appetite for weeks and had a difficult time shaking the frustration all season. He came to work and didn't say much most days. He rarely smiled, he said.
He was mad at himself, not others.
"You look up to (Polamalu's) game and want to be that caliber," Thomas said. "I wasn't doing it.'
Looking back, Thomas said he was pressing to make plays and overplaying the ball too much as a result. He's made efforts to "let it come to me." The fruits of that plan won't be realized until camp, but Thomas saw improvements in passing drills this spring, particularly with anticipation.
"Definitely after a year like that, you want to come out here and make plays and show you can do the same (as before)," Thomas said. "Pay attention to detail, have fun out here like I used to."
Thomas knows he isn't promised anything in 2016, but he believes coach Mike Tomlin still cares about his place on the team because he encourages him on the "little things" such as footwork and patience watching plays develop.
Texts from Polamalu have helped Thomas clear the fog, including one in particular: "God will take you through the storm before the sunshine."
"He kept me positive throughout the whole season," Thomas said.
Perhaps Thomas will get a few more chances to validate his friend's faith.