Happy to have you back for another weekly edition of Ask Alex. It’s Combine week and things really kick off tomorrow. Stick with us the whole week for official times/measurements (which you can access here) and commentary after each day’s events.
If you need a refresher, a schedule of on-field workouts.
Four days of non-stop draft coverage? What a time to be alive.
To your questions.
@SteelersGal86: Do you think Steelers go TE in draft, free agency, or go with what they have w/Spaeth, JJ, & PS Grimble?
Alex: It’s still difficult to figure out their plan. I think they attack in multiple ways. You’re never going to replicate Heath but it’ll take more than one player to try and get close. Jesse James should very much be in the cards, I’m sure they were encouraged by the steps he took last year as a really young guy, but he still played only 200 snaps, and it’s a big jump to be summoned into that role. I realize James has more experience but it’s almost like saying to let William Gay go because you have Doran Grant. Experience matters.
I look for them to make a low-key signing in free agency, a Jermaine Gresham type, someone who can block. Matt Spaeth functions as a 6th lineman but he’s starting to deal with injuries and hasn’t played all 16 games since 2012 when he was with the Bears. The team has been giving him rest in training camp (they did the same with Heath, to be fair) but you gotta wonder how much left he has.
So in short, adding more pieces is a good thing, and I can see them doing so in free agency and a mid-round draft pick.
falconsaftey43: Thoughts on Dwayne Allen?
Alex: I’m onboard with the idea, though I think the main point of Dave’s contention is the money, which I get. I’ve been a big fan of Allen and felt he was underutilized in Indianapolis, especially this past season. He’s a guy that can come in and start right away. Just not so sure the team will look to spend that amount on the position. Especially if they like this draft class.
@Chadprince72: Heyward, DeCastro, and Dupree fell out of the top 20. What player could be a surprise fall this year?
Alex: I haven’t explored a lot of those guys because frankly, most won’t be in play for Pittsburgh. But I still think Noah Spence could in a very Dupree like move. With his off the field issues, the dude was hooked on ecstasy, and some questions about him ability to hold up against the run, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him fall. It’s not fun to draft a guy, put him at the podium, and have him be asked about the hardcore drugs he did.
Jared Gallagher: Why are so many fans infatuated with drafting a NT in round one?
Alex: Maybe I’m just tuning it out, but I don’t think that many are. Some, sure, but there is a faction of fans in every camp. Fire Tomlin? You have that group? Antonio Brown is overrated? It exists. Antwon Blake can be a good player? Yep (hello!).
Part of it is exaggerated, misplaced hate on Steve McLendon. Part of it is nostalgia for a Casey Hampton. And part of it, has a little bit of truth. If the team had a dominant nose tackle, maybe the team can find more ways to use him and be in base a little bit more. But that’s true of any dominant, elite player, and those are awfully hard to find.
Phil Brenneman II: Who do you like better between Vernon Butler and Kevin Dodd? How do you feel about Adolphus Washington? Assuming they do draft a DL early can you see it being the case of like a 60-40 snap split between these guys
Alex: Should start by prefacing I don’t know all of these guys yet. I have seen more from Butler than Dodd and think Butler is a better fit. A guy of that size who moves as quickly and fluidly as he does it pretty remarkable.
Need to see more physicality out of Washington. Too finesse. Convert speed to power and show me a strong bull rush. But he sure has the length (34 inch arms) and pedigree, Ohio State, that will have the Steelers interested.
When I proposed the idea of trading for a DE during the year, I asked him to play about 40% of the time. But that doesn’t mean a 60/40 split. It means asking Heyward and Tuitt to play 48/60 snaps, 80%, instead of being close to 90-95%. And give the third guy the ability to spell those two. So sure, if they draft someone, it’s with the intent to get them involved, but we’re only looking to take away a small piece of the pie from 91 and 97.
taztroy43: What are your thoughts on RB Kenyan Drake from Alabama?
Alex: Hard to project. Just wasn’t used a ton at Alabama and saw as much work as a receiver as he did a runner. But he’s explosive and a big dude, the way the Crimson Tide likes ’em. A project with the tools to succeed but the Steelers aren’t burning that kind of pick on the position.
Dom: If you could add only one of these now ex-Steelers in their primes to the current squad which do you think helps the team out most? Heath Miller, Ike Taylor, LaMarr Woodley or Ryan Clark?
Alex: Can’t really go wrong with any of them but give me Ike. I don’t care if he drops 20 passes. He can match up against any receiver, and did every week during his prime. The Steelers, as optimistic as I am on their situation, don’t have that guy.
Nicholas Arnold: What are the top things you look to clarify in watching the combine? Many talk about confirming what you see on tape. How does that work?
Alex: That’s the general thing you’ll hear from most people, including me. But metrically, there are a lot of people doing cool stuff with the numbers. And numbers matter. The draft is an art, not a science, but it doesn’t mean we can’t do our best to look at trends that give us the best chance for success, even if there is no guarantee. To say that because numbers aren’t invincible is a logical fallacy. Few things are perfect but it doesn’t mean we can justify ignoring it.
And while the “confirm on tape” has its place in theory, how much practice does it really get? If a guy runs faster or slower, do you see the speed any differently on tape? Are you too biased in one direction (not wanting to change your opinion or eager to change it because of the time) that your view is clouded? I dunno, I don’t think anyone has really ever checked the tape and “saw” a totally different player. If that makes any sense. My draft philosophy is in its infancy because I am 22 and very dumb. Like all 22 year olds.
58Steel: Alex, is there one guy you are high on, that you’re hoping “doesn’t show well” at the combine, so he can slide to the Steelers (ok, there might be many, but realistically)?
Alex: Nah, not really. There aren’t a lot of guys I’m rooting to slide. The team will have options at 25. Call me too much of an ideologist, but I want these guys to do well. And what happens, happens.
Jonathan Ferullo: I think we all know the Steelers have a major question at the Safety position in 2016, so which safety in this year’s draft seems to fit the Steelers best?
Alex: If we throw schools out the window, there are some guys I really like. Darian Thompson from Boise State and Kevin Byard from Middle Tennessee State. There are a ton of other guys in a pretty strong safety class and some ones I still need to look at, including Joseph. But Deon Bush from Miami (FL), Keanu Neal from Florida, and AJ Stamps from Kentucky. It’s a good year to need a safety.
Aj Gentile: Alex any recently released player you would want as a free agent?
Alex: Need to give a long look to CB Jerraud Powers tonight. I bet the Steelers have interest.
PittsburghSports: What do you think of our first interviewee, Stanford TE, Austin Hooper?
Alex: I haven’t watched him but I know Kevin Hogan leaned on him a ton in big situations. Believe Luc or Josh is doing the report on him.
That’s all the time for this week. I’ll try to answer a couple from the people who asked multiple questions in the comments below. Talk to you next week. Enjoy the combine!