Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

Hey everyone. Good to be back, though unfortunately, the first mailbag with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ season officially over. But still so much to talk about.

Couple things to note. No mailbag next week because I will be in Mobile, Alabama for the Senior Bowl. We’ll have our next one in two weeks.

Speaking of the Senior Bowl, I am flying out on Sunday afternoon. I haven’t been on a plane since 1996 so lots of things have changed. I figured I’d watch Die Hard 2 to pick up on some flying tips, but if you have any advice on flying etiquette and things a newbie and general idiot (read: me) should know about an airport, let me know in the comments below. I have a half-hour layover in Charlotte and am changing planes and I feel like that is going to be a tremendously stressful experience.

Anyway, to your questions.

@JoshGuckert: What’s the likely plan at the third QB spot?

Alex: Tomlin seemed pretty open to ideas at his press conference yesterday, but my guess is the team re-signs Bruce Gradkowski and lets him battle with Landry Jones for the #2 spot. Loser obviously becomes the #3.

@ToddSwoope: What do you see the first round pick looking like, relative to expected players available at 25?

Alex: It’s still so far out and I’m just trying to roll through as many players as I can. Like I’ve said before, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go back to the OLB well, as much as some fans wouldn’t like that. Strong safety is also going to be a possibility. Those are the two positions I’ve circled, along with DE and OT, though those won’t be addressed in the first round.

Spencer Krick: Just like the question posed on the terrible podcast yesterday, would you trade Le’veon Bell for a mid first rounder?

Alex: It was an interesting question, and I side towards David Todd in the sense of what it will cost to sign Bell (closer to 10 million than 8) but no, I wouldn’t trade Bell. You’re hoping to get a better player, or close to comparable, to Bell, and the odds of that are so slim. You’re asking that pick to basically wind up being the best player at his position in the NFL. For all the investments on offense this team has made, it’s counter-productive to then get rid of that investment just as quickly.

BONUS: Strong safety.

Brian Tollini: Alex, do you see it as a possibility the Steelers decide to keep Villanueva at LT, let Ramon hit FA, and move Beachum back to guard?

Alex: No. I see two options at play here. The Steelers bring Beachum back to play LT and let Foster go or – and this I believe is more likely – the Steelers let Beachum go and bring Foster back.

For starters, we figure Beachum is going to take a one-year deal to rebuild his value off his ACL. Why would he want to move to a position he hasn’t excelled at and one that typically garners less many than left tackle? That’s not a smart decision for a man who wants to get that long-term, big money deal, he’s been angling for.

I want to keep the continuity between Villanueva and Foster. You should’ve seen them early in the year. They were never on the same page. I even read a quote a couple days ago that Foster was basically telling Villanueva who to block each play, per Villanueva’s own admission. It got better, though wasn’t perfect, throughout the year. To get rid of Foster would force Villanueva to start all over. And I want to keep these guys ascending, not starting over.

jimhalyo: What are your thoughts on the Bell situation? Try to extend him this offseason or wait?

Alex: I’m all for doing it now if the numbers are right. Don’t have a compelling reason to wait. His value isn’t going to be lower because of the injury, that would be a lame excuse to use, but the longer you wait, the more the cap goes up, the more big-money deals other running backs get, and it naturally drives up Bell’s price tag.

PittsburghSports: Not sure you’re ready for offseason questions yet, so how about your top 5 plays that propelled the Broncos to victory in the divisional game?

Alex: Whew. Trying to think back. In no order.

– C.J. Anderson’s long run at the end of the second quarter (set up McManus’ 51 yarder)
– Incompletion on 4th and 1 to Wheaton
– Roethlisberger sack/Gilbert facemask at end of the third quarter (went from 1st and 10 on Broncos’ 24 to 1st and 25 on their 39, Steelers wind up punting, Berry touchback)
– Toussaint fumble (duh)
– 31 yard completion to Fowler on 3rd and 12 on Broncos’ game-winning drive

James Cowan: 

Hey Alex,

How would you grade Butler’s first season as DC?

Alex: I will go through in-depth breakdowns on all three coordinators at some point, after the Senior Bowl, once I get my thoughts really sorted out. But overall, I was happy with him. Didn’t reinvent Dick LeBeau’s playbook but was more aggressive and used some extra wrinkles and concepts in his pressure and coverages to add his own spin. Scrapped stuff that didn’t work (remember the Steelers’ over front we saw in the preseason that everyone predicted was the foreshadow of the 4-3?) simplified things when he had to, and implemented some of Tomlin’s Cover 2 concepts.

@steelman58: Alex will this be the year for a 1st round CB or maybe a playmaking safety?????

Alex: No to a CB. Bet one doesn’t even get taken until the 3rd or 4th round, if not later. Safety, possibly. The Steelers invest in safeties in the secondary. Not CBs.

Tom Jackson: The 3 players your most excited for seeing at the senior bowl? And why?

Alex: Leonte Carroo, the wide receiver out of Rutgers. Underrated guy who can separate with excellent hands. He’ll look good in the one-on-ones. Josh Garnett out of Stanford is a throwback guard who can maul in the run game and plays with a nasty streak. Want to see him in space in individual work but I like him a lot. Carl Nassib, DE out of Penn State, is raw, and has to play in control, but explosive and an excellent athlete for his size (6’7 272). Smart guy too, biology major. Can’t wait to get to talk to him.

Bill Sechrengost: Who do you see as the most likely person to get cut in the offseason that still has a contract for next year: James Harrison; Matt Spaeth; Lawrence Timmons; Cortez Allen; Shaun Suisham?

Alex: Harrison could just wind up retiring. Wouldn’t surprise me at all. Spaeth stays because he’s still a good blocker and the Steelers ask their TEs to be a proficient blocker maybe more than anyone else in the NFL. Timmons is likely to return but on a restructured deal to lower that cap number.

Cortez and Suisham are the two most likely to be outright cut. Obviously, Tomlin’s response to Allen yesterday was less than encouraging. Suisham is also pretty obvious though I caution not to call Chris Boswell the kicker of the decade. I like him too but kickers are the most fickle people. Look good one year, implode the next. You never know how a guy will look year to year.

Jefferson_St_Joe: Did you see anything during camp last year while he was healthy that makes you think Cortez Allen could be a $5M corner? Was he on the verge of losing his job prior to his injuries?

Alex: It’s not about camp as it is the totality of his tape. We’ve seen him make big plays before. We know the measurables are there. The size, the speed, the ability to matchup against most receivers on paper. That’s attractive. It was weird though that he wasn’t the starter in Week One against New England, though maybe the team was trying to limit his snaps to preserve his knee. It’s really hard to say.

The Notorious TOM: Alex, how encouraged are you by Coach Mike’s encouraging words about Pittsburgh’s favorite son: Shamarko Thomas?

Alex: I’m not sure if I would call them encouraging words. And the actions speak more than anything he can say. He had a chance and he couldn’t handle it. That’s all I think about when it comes to Shamarko Thomas.

58Steel: Alex, what are your feelings on Grant getting more playing time in 2016?

Alex: Eh, on the surface, it’s hard to envision it. Assuming Gay/Blake/Cockrell comes back plus Golson and whoever they odd in the offseason, the cornerback room is fairly crowded. Maybe they try him at safety like been suggested. But really, for any 2nd year guy who rarely saw the field at all, it’s about him making an impact on special teams. That’s where Grant is going to need to make his mark first.

That’s all for this week. Talk to you all in two weeks!

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