Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

AFC North Roundup: Steelers Bench Thomas

In this week's AFC North Roundup, the Pittsburgh Steelers benched safety Shamarko Thomas, the Baltimore Ravens will have to open the year without Round 1 draft pick Breshad Perriman and defensive tackle Devon Still doesn't make it through the Cincinnati Bengals' roster cuts.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been banking on safety Shamarko Thomas to replace the retired Troy Polamalu since before the veteran even hung up his cleats. It was seen, almost to a man, that the Steelers’ choice to not only draft but trade up for Thomas in Round 4 of the 2013 was a sign that the team had found the successor to Polamalu, whenever he determined his NFL career was over. And when Polamalu did retire this offseason, Thomas’ name was immediately penciled in as Pittsburgh’s new starting strong safety.

Well, it’s time to take the eraser to that pencil mark because the Steelers have decided to bench Thomas in place of veteran Will Allen, at least for the team’s Week 1 game against the New England Patriots. Dale Lolley of the Washington (PA) Observer-Reporter broke the news on Sunday, citing Allen’s familiarity with the Steelers’ new Cover-2 defensive system as the reason for the switch.

Thomas is remarkably inexperienced, it must be noted, and also has suffered a number of minor yet nagging injuries that have slowed his development. According to Pro Football Focus, Thomas played only two defensive snaps in 2014, and in the 2015 preseason, was tied for the team’s lowest-graded defensive player. It was also the worst grade at the safety position of the summer. It’s not surprising that the Steelers made the change, because they could.

Allen, entering his 12th season in the NFL, is 32 years old, the same as Polamalu. But with only 11 starts for the Steelers and 39 on his career, he certainly has less wear-and-tear. He knows the system and, for what it’s worth, is the preferred on-field partner of free safety Mike Mitchell. But this is a clear setback for Thomas, who anticipated starting and, because he’s simply not ready, has seen the rug pulled out from under him, at least for now.

Baltimore Ravens: No Breshad Perriman for Week 1

The Baltimore Ravens invested heavily in their offense in the 2015 offseason, re-signing running back Justin Forsett and drafting wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams in the first two rounds. But now, one component of that offense—Perriman—won’t be available for the team’s Week 1 contest against the Denver Broncos, and the timetable for his return is still unknown.

Head coach John Harbaugh said, via ESPN’s Jamison Hensley, that, “It’s probably not a real big chance [to play], because he hasn’t practiced. When he comes [back] ... I don’t have a time frame from the doctors. I don’t think it’s tremendously far down the road, or we would have done something else with him, as far as his status.”

In this case, “done something else,” means the injured reserve-recall list. But as Perriman was not placed on it, the Ravens do have some level of optimism that Perriman will be back on the field by October. Perriman injured his knee on the first day of Ravens training camp on July 30 and has been sidelined since; initially, the injury was thought to be minor but it’s managed to linger well into the season.

In the meantime, the Ravens will be relying on Kamar Aiken and Steve Smith to be their primary receivers to open the year, along with Williams, fellow tight end Crockett Gillmore and of course, Forsett. Baltimore won’t lack receiving options for quarterback Joe Flacco, but it is a hit to the offense to not have its Round 1 draft pick in the fold to start the season.

Cincinnati Bengals: Defensive Tackle Devon Still Doesn’t Make It Through Roster Cuts

One of the most inspiring stories of the 2014 NFL season was the battle that Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still's daughter, Leah, fought against pediatric cancer. The Bengals organization held fundraisers, including a jersey sale, to raise money for cancer research and awareness and the team gave Still all the time he needed to take care of his daughter, including keeping him on the practice squad in order to keep the paychecks and the health insurance coming during his family’s time of need.

Still isn’t bitter, though, saying just prior to his release (via the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Jim Owczarski) that, “My heart is still with the Bengals. First of all, they drafted me and gave me the opportunity to be in the NFL. Second of all they did everything they could to help me save my daughter's life and to raise awareness for pediatric cancer. There's nothing that can break that bond, can break that relationship, because my daughter is more important than this game any day. They stepped up and helped me take care of my daughter. There's nothing that can break that.”

Still played the past three seasons with the Bengals, notching 19 combined tackles in 2014 and 40 for his career. As a vested veteran, he now has health insurance through league for the next five years, good news for him and his daughter, who is currently in remission. The Bengals raised over $1 million through their fundraising efforts last year, and Leah was awarded ESPN’s Jimmy V. Perseverance Award during this year’s ESPYs.

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