Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

Mail time! Thanks for coming back to the chat week after week, Steelers’ Nation. Very little new happening, as you can tell, but we’re almost through to the other side.

A question to all of you. Earlier today, we learned – not that we were ever unsure about it – that Darrius Heyward-Bey is the fastest receiver on the team, clocking in at a top speed of 25 miles per hour.

But who is the slowest? And what would their speed be? Let me know what you think in the comments below. Is it Daniel McCullers? Can he reach 10 miles per hour? Or someone else?

Anyway, to your questions.

SkoolHouseRoxx: What up, Alex! What player are you most focused on watching this training camp and why?

Alex: Hmm, that’s a good question. I’m excited to see the guys who are expected to take a step and have a big role in the offense. So guys like Alejandro Villanueva, Bud Dupree, and Sammie Coates. Like I said on the podcast the other day, Dupree is arguably the most critical member of the defense this season. Not that he’s the best but that if the Steelers want to get more pressure from their OLBs, he’s the best source. Harrison/Jones/Moats have limited ceilings for sacks. Dupree is still sky high.

Bill Sechrengost: Besides quarterback, what position on the team do you feel they can least afford to lose a starter to injury?

Alex: Corner, for sure. Especially William Gay. The corner depth is so young. Imagine having Burns and Golson on the field at the same time. Sure, they might make some impact plays but the miscommunications would prove too costly. Ditto with Mike Mitchell at FS, though you can “hide” Davis a little better than you can a corner.

Also, Gilbert at right tackle. Ryan Harris does bring a level of comfort but he’s not shutting down Khalil Mack the way Gilbert did.

JohnB: Do you think, with the limited snaps involved for a NT/DT, that Hargrave will be fast tracked his rookie year? Also do you see him taking any/many snaps at DE?

Alex: Being able to play in nickel, the one and the three with a more aggressive mindset, will be the most natural to him. And that’s where you’ll definitely see him get snaps early. At the nose in base is a different story and it’s quickly become obvious Daniel McCullers is going to be given every chance to prove he’s the guy.

No, I don’t see Hargrave playing DE in base. Too short, too stubby. Only time he might is in some of the Steelers’ subpackages. Where they stack the OLBs to one side, shift the stacked side DE head up over center, and the away end to the five tech (outside shoulder of the tackle). Helps balance out the pass rush, keep contain.

falconsaftey43: Who is the player who fans will be convinced is a star, but ends up being cut and clearing waivers?

Alex: Ah yes, the training camp darling of this year. There’s always one. I could see another safety make noise, just like Alden Darby and Ian Wild did a year ago. Jacob Hagen seems like a ballhawk. He could pick off some passes and get fans excited.

Tyler Matakevich is probably the most popular – and easiest – answer. He will be called Zach Thomas. A lot. They will all be wrong.

Darkhorse? Brandon Brown-Dukes. He’s a little dude, barely over 5’8. That’s fun to watch him disappear and reappear behind blockers. Same goes true for Issac Blakeney. 6’4, 229 pound dude. Fans love their big receivers.

srdan: Do you agree with Josh at ranking Pouncey at #14 of “ranking the steelers”. Do you think he is right withing 1 or two spots?

Alex: Keep in mind I have not made a list – nor thought about it – but to answer the question: no and no. Pouncey, if back to form, is the best linemen the Steelers have. And they have some pretty good ones already.

Matt Manzo: Alex! How concerned are you with Golson and his “tissue damage”, going into camp? Any new news on it?

Alex: It sounded like he was back, in some capacity at least, for minicamp. Think it was Kaboly who had a video of him going through drills. So sounds like he’s ok and will be fine for camp. Thank goodness.

D.j. Hoy: My question- What do you think of DeMarcus Ayers? No joke, to me he seems like a young, (very) unpolished Antonio Brown. I’m just talking about the way he runs and it seems like he has great hands as well as body control.

Alex: I dunno, I don’t think Ted Washington ever got past the speed of smell.

But to your question, yeah, I get the comparison you’re trying to make. Ayers can make tough catches, has nice body control, and can win in space. But obviously, they are worlds apart. The bottom line for him is that he’s going to have to really excel as a punt returner. Not just in making big plays but in making smart decisions. Taking care of the football – that goes above all else – making smart decisions, and just being someone Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith can trust.

Like I’ve said, it’s tough for me to imagine him winning the job over AB if we’re being 100% fair about it. We know AB is great at it, checks all the boxes. We know Danny Smith wanted to keep AB over Jacoby Jones, a proven guy. Is some rookie going to come in and take his job? I’m skeptical. But the team could force it and bench Brown over their fears.

@tgbegreen: What do you think the Ravens’ ceiling is this year? How far are they from the team that almost beat Pats in 2014?

Alex: Obviously, a Ravens’ fan is more equipped to answer that, but they’ll be competitive. A lot more than last year, clearly. They’ll be healthier, Flacco, Forsett, maybe even Dennis Pitta back. Even if you don’t like the guy, and statistically, you don’t, Mike Wallace was a good signing and great fit for that offense, especially now that Perriman is iffy (though will play this season).

Defensively, they got better with the pickups of Eric Weddle and Jerraud Powers. That interior line is still tough, Jernigan and Williams one of my favorite combos in the NFL. And their draft was one of the better ones. Stanley, Kaufusi, Young, Moore were all guys I liked. I even get the Correa pick.

To the idea of being one of the best teams in the league, though? Far ways away from that. Let’s just see if they can make a push to win the North.

Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt: Alex in your opinion who if you could name one player on defense and one on offense who do you believe may be the weakest link

Alex: The offense is harder to come up with, for obvious reasons. I’d have to pick Ladarius Green, at the moment, just because of the time missed and his injury history. Look, I really dug the signing when it happened, and still do, but understand transitions aren’t always seamless. Some of the things they did in San Diego will be done in Pittsburgh but it’ll happen with more frequency here.

The Steelers have never have a super athletic, stretch the field type at tight end. At least, not for a long time. Eric Green might have been the last one. So they gotta figure out a way to use that. There will be growing pains at first and the time missed in the spring was pretty valuable.

Defensively, if I had to pick just one name (otherwise, I might go the OLB group), I’d say whoever the #3 CB is. Artie Burns or Senquez Golson. Just because they’re complete unknowns. And that makes you uneasy. As I said earlier, you can hide a safety. You can’t hide a corner.

Thanks guys. Talk to you next Thursday.

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