LATROBE, Pa. -- The opportunity that Troy Polamalu has rarely if ever offered one of his younger teammates can be traced to a text message.
Shamarko Thomas sent one to his mentor, telling Polamalu that he wanted to be great. That led to Polamalu talking to the second-year man about how he carries himself off the field. And the eight-time Pro Bowler eventually extended an invitation to Thomas to work out with him in California.
Thomas took Polamalu up on the offer and the two safeties trained together for a week between the end of offseason practices and the start of training camp.
“It felt like a month because he trains so hard,” Thomas said. “For a guy like that who’s going to be a Hall of Famer to take me out there and show me the ropes, it was an amazing experience.”
The player whom cornerback Ike Taylor nicknamed “Headache” around this time last year because of his hitting ability is expected to make a big jump in 2014.
Thomas has shown how serious he is about emerging in his second NFL season by doing things such as traveling across the country to train with one of the game’s premier safeties. What also bodes well for Thomas is that Polamalu apparently thinks the 5-foot-9, 217-pounder has as much promise as the Steelers do.
Hence, the extra attention he has paid to Thomas since the Steelers took the Syracuse product in the fourth round of the 2013 draft.
“I was the first person ever to work out with him [in California],” Thomas said. “I changed a lot from my first year to my second year and that’s from Troy talking to me every day or staying in my ear about God or the way I train and carry myself.”
Thomas played a significant number of snaps in the first half of last season. He barely saw the field in the season half of the season -- except for special teams -- after spraining his ankle and falling behind veteran Will Allen on the depth chart.
Thomas will be given every opportunity to become the Steelers’ primary backup at safety this season, and he will get extra work through the first week of camp with starting free safety Mike Mitchell sidelined by a groin injury.
“Everything’s slowed down and I’m confident and I’m just ready to play," Thomas said. "Last year it was a fast game and there were a lot of things going through your head. It’s calming down and I’m just ready for everything. I’ve matured a lot.”
The training sessions with Polamalu have been a part of the maturation process and they left a lasting impression on Thomas for several reasons.
“They were like a karate movie,” Thomas said. “It’s like some ninja stuff, but it works for him and I felt like it worked for me, too.”