Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

Welcome to our first chat since the 2016 NFL Draft. Lots of things to talk about so let’s not waste anytime. As usual, I’ll be around for the next hour.

Jared Gallagher: Which week can you realistically see each of the top 3 picks get significant playing time?

Alex: Obviously, it’s really hard to pin this down. And it depends on what you determine as “significant?” 20% of the snaps? 50%? 75%?

Hargrave cane give you snaps right away. Maybe I am getting a little too hyped over the idea, but I think he can overtake Daniel McCullers pretty quickly for nose tackle snaps. And Hargrave will definitely got work in the 2-4-5 immediately.

If the Steelers go into this year the way they ended last, dime personnel on third and long, Sean Davis should get 10-15 snaps a game.

Burns may have to cut his teeth on special teams for a year. Would have to beat out Ross Cockrell for playing time. Unless Senquez Golson looks lost, gets benched, and William Gay moves to the slot. Burns’ chance for PT might not come until late in the year or not at all.

CodeNameJerk: What the hell am I supposed to do between now and training camp? I don’t know if I can make it.

Alex: Play lots and lots of Madden. And also be sure to check out Steelers Depot every day. 🙂

Garrett Hunt: Bold prediction. Which 2016 draft picks/udfa’s will still be on the roster in 5 years?

Alex: Whew. Asking the big questions already. My very, very wild guess. Not even touching the UDFAs. Don’t know enough about those guys right now, either.


Jonas: Which technique (trail, press) or zone (flat, deep) is the strength of each Steelers CB?

Alex: Great question, Jonas. Burns is pretty obvious. Press man, punch, get his hips open. So you can see some trail coverage where he’s using his size to reroute the receiver and his length underneath. Same with a true Cover 2. Jam, sink, drive underneath.

Gay can pretty much do it all. You don’t last this long in the league without being able to do whatever is asked of you, especially when you aren’t blessed with A+ physical tools (though Gay ran step-for-step with Travis Benjamin last year, mind you). But I like Gay in zone, vision on the QB, making plays on the football.

Cockrell is a little better in man coverage. His tackling ability isn’t great and I don’t totally trust him to consistently tackle the catch underneath.

And Golson? Well that’s really hard to say. I guess we’ll find out.

srdan: Your predictions for sacks this year:

Alex: My meaningless attempt.

Tuitt: 7.5
Cam: 8
JJ: 3
92: 4.5
Shazier: 4
Hargraves: 2.5 (but plenty of pressures)

SkoolHouseRoxx: What up, Alex! Name a player that we’re not really talking about that could really shine for us this year!

Alex: Dang, that’s tough. On this site, we talk about everyone, haha. I know many people are down on him but Robert Golden will continue to prove he is a starter you can win with. Isn’t a special player but he’ll do well.

Caio Mello Oliveira Sobrinho: Alex, are the steelers gonna be able to resign Bell, DeCastro and Timmons next season?

Alex: Timmons could be extended to ease up the cap hit. I, frankly, thought it would’ve happened by now. But to answer the question, sure, they can sign both. It takes some work, that’s what Omar Khan is for, but the Steelers do a nice job of locking up the most important players.

Cap questions are Dave’s thing but they can restructure Ben and/or Heyward’s contracts to free up space. Plus, we know the cap will go up year-by-year.

Sdale: That said, how often do you think they Steelers could utilize Burns this year in press man? Would they run it more now because they have a guy that is more capable of it?

Alex: Again, it’s hard to pin down an exact number. But yes, as instincts would tell you, you can adapt your scheme to a player’s strengths. To do otherwise sets a player up to fail. You can mix and match coverages. The Steelers were still a Cover 3 team even with Ike Taylor shadowing the #1 and playing more press coverage.

Brian Tollini: Alex, taking Mr. Billings out of the equation, who do you pick if you are GM in the first round last Thursday?

Alex: Well, at the time, I would’ve said Billings, but seeing him drop, that would be a stupid answer to give. At corner, I liked Mackensie Alexander more. I would’ve given strong consideration to Noah Spence and Vernon Butler, too. But I don’t spend much energy thinking about those things anyway. It’s pretty silly to say, “it’s a bad pick because I would’ve rather taken ‘X.'” I evaluate the pick based on who the guy is. Not about everyone else.

Tim Drake: Who has the better year, Golson or Burns? Any chance Doran Grant gets in the rotation?

Alex: Golson by virtue that he’ll be seeing the field more than Burns. Hard to see Grant fill in anywhere. Burns is likely to be the next man up on the outside. Grant isn’t playing in the slot. He’s depth. Chance to fill Blake/Boykin’s role as a stud special teamer. Gunner, jammer, kicks, all that fun stuff.

falconsaftey43: Obviously a little crazy to get this into a 6th round pick that will likely have to earn his spot on ST, but do you see Feeney being able to fit at OLB?

Alex: Yes, I initially thought he’d play inside in Pittsburgh and think he could still wind up playing there, in the same way Ryan Shazier is right now. Not sure Feeney is an accomplished enough pass rusher with enough bend around the edge to be someone you want there.

taztroy43: Which tryout defensive player has the best chance to sign a deal with the team?

Alex: Throw a dart. Has about the same percentage of success as my answer. But Cheatham Norrils had a nice year for Toledo and showed explosion at his Pro Day. Plenty of futures guys at corner who could quickly be cut.

ilamarca: Who’s the starting LT week 1?

Alex: Villanueva. Feel pretty confident in saying that right now.

Spencer Krick: Take your best guess as to who in the 2016 draft class has the highest cieling. Feels kind of more like an order than a question, but pretend it was a question written much, much nicer.

Alex: Lol. What a nice question! But are we talking Steelers or NFL? If it’s NFL, I really love Corey Coleman. Pair him with Hue Jackson, an ultra-creative guy who is going to get him one-on-one in space, and he’s going to be tough to stop. One of the most explosive guys in this year’s draft.

If it’s Pittsburgh, give me Sean Davis. I think he checks everything I’m looking for. Even if his coverage wasn’t great, a lot of that can be attributed to getting used to playing corner. He’ll be better at safety and in general, better because he can stay in one spot to hone his craft.

ginn: Alex, do you think that NFL teams pay much heed to the following year’s draft class when making their selections?

Alex: If it does, it plays a very minor role. If the NFL Draft was a Brodway production, next year’s draft class would be Solider #7.

Unless you’re picking in the top 5 or a high-prize position like a QB, you’re not focused on that. Judge the players for themselves. You never know how next year will go. Shawn Oakman was a first round pick a year ago. Now, he hasn’t even gotten a phone call.

Juniors declaring always throws a wrench into things anyway. Adds more talent. So saying a class is projected to be weak can change if 5 of the top underclassmen there decide to come out. Or a strong class is weaker if someone returns.

JohnB: more a request than a question. Can you please watch Lakes coaching closely and make sure he’s not just getting by on his name?

Alex: I’m not watching him on a daily basis nor am I qualified to grade him. Results will speak for themselves, anyway.

Tom Jackson: How would you rate the chances of Burns being one of the top 3 CBs come the regular season? And which CB do you liked better overall as a prospect? Burns or Golson?

Alex: Burns has a chance but like I said, he’ll have to surpass Cockrell. With how well he played considering how new he was, I like his chances to keep that spot locked up. Maybe there will be a rotation of some sort. Steelers weren’t shy about that last year.

I did like Burns a lot more than Golson. Was not crazy about the Golson pick at the time.

58Steel: Any chance Ayers makes the 53 as 5th receiver (AB, Wheat, Hey-Bey, Coates) over Rogers/Phillips, or is he strictly as a returner?

Alex: Yes, he would function as both. The 5th WR, active to be a PR obviously, and the emergency #5. The team is likely only to carry 5 WRs and certainly will only have that many active on Sundays. So he’ll default as the #5 but wouldn’t see the field. Gadget guy but when you put him on the field, you’re sending up red flags to the defense.

Matt Manzo: Who are our top Kick Return candidates? And did we ignore that position this off season?

Alex: I know Danny Smith and the gang said Ayers would start as a PR but you gotta think he gets a look at kicks too, especially if he performs well in punts. It’s not like Ayers has never returned kicks before. He has more experience there than punts.

But him aside, Markus Wheaton would be the leading man. Maybe Sammie Coates, too. Mike Tomlin seems to prefer offensive players, no defender has returned kicks/punts with any sort of regularity since 2008, so our options are limited.

Darth Blount 47: Do you believe that Pittsburgh could pull off a 3-3-5 base? Would it be prudent? And if not, should would just concede that our base defense is the one we play 65-75% of the time, which is the Nickel?

Alex: Yeah, it’s pretty clear the Steelers are evolving, just as they always have. Just as every team does. I could see some 3-3-5 wrinkles. You get it as a base in college (like WVU). Not in the NFL but I have seen some teams use it. Cleveland comes to mind. I think Baltimore and Denver have used it as well.

But you’re not going to see it a lot. The coaching staff is built around 3-4, 2-4-5 guys. Butler, Porter, Jerry O, Mitchell, that’s what they’ve been coaching for so many years. Playing a two down front gives you more coverage and blitz flexibility and that’s really attractive. So much of the pressure last year was scheme-related more than individual talent.

And yes, the majority of the time, the Steelers are in nickel. So feel free to think of it as base. I still refer to the 3-4 as “base” just because that’s what we have always called it.

That’s all for this week. Great chat, everyone! Enjoy your week.

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