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Orange in the NFL: #SHAMARKO Thomas' Make or Break Season with Pittsburgh Steelers

Everyone's favorite #SHAMARKO is entering his third year with the Pittsburgh Steelers and if this isn't the definition of a make or break year, I don't know what is.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Many NFL teams opened the OTA camps yesterday and with a 99 days until the NFL season begins, Training Camp battles are beginning to take shape. One of the biggest ones is in Pittsburgh, where Pretty Surefire Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu announced his retirement almost two months ago. The Steelers also parted ways with Hall of Fame defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau in what was definitely not so mutual. This means a team that finished 18th in total defensive last year is going into this year with a new DC and new on-field leadership with expectations quickly escalating based off last year's division crown.

Enter Syracuse's own #SHAMARKO Thomas.

#SHAMARKO has been labeled by Steelers' coaches as the replacement for Polamalu even though Thomas has missed seven games in the last two years due to injury, leading him to take only one defensive snap all last season. Already, expectations are high and while some more level-headed fans are being supportive, the bottom line is that fans and management expect another division crown, a deep playoff run and that burden lies squarely on a defense that couldn't stop most big plays last season.

As a Steelers fan, I have two very distinct paths of thought. The first is that this is the perfect opportunity for #SHAMARKO to do what many Steelers defensive players have done. There have been very few players to step into the starting roles and succeed in the zone blitz system and even Polamalu looked lost his first starting snaps out there. With the new DC tweaking the old system, #SHAMARKO won't be expected to be an exact replica of the Hall of Fame player he's replacing. He'll be able to help shape the role to his skill set.

The flip side is that this is a classic one-and-done chance that #SHAMARKO has found himself in. There's no guarantees when a new coach comes in and we at Syracuse know all too well what happens if the results don't lead to wins or even a respectable performance. Will Allen is a more than safe backup to hold the gates for a season or two until a new safety is drafted should #SHAMRKO fail to perform or worse, get hurt again and be labeled as "injury prone."

All in all, I'm honestly excited for #SHAMARKO, His success story has inspired many in Syracuse and Pittsburgh and he seems to be a shining example of what Syracuse can do for a student athlete when given a chance. Here's hoping that he can add to the legacy of Syracuse Football success stories in the NFL.