Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

Welcome back everyone to our weekly chat. Officially two weeks out from camp. Just in case you didn’t notice, because it passed by so quickly, there were no players taken in today’s Supplemental Draft. Most people in the know anticipated that to be the case. Those seven players are all now free agents. If the Steelers make a move, we’ll let you know.

Question of the day. Favorite Steeler of all-time? Any era, any reason. You already know mine so I want to hear about yours.

To your questions!

Spencer Krick: At the end of this upcoming season, what positional group will be looked at as the strongest? How about the Weakest?

Alex: I think running back will be near the top, as it is now. Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams are going to be the same, talented guys and I think Fitzgerald Toussaint will again do well. More than adequate as a #3. And if we expand the definition to “backfield,” then you can toss in Roosevelt Nix, too.

Still worried about the OLBs. Big season for Bud Dupree. Need a substantial increase in production, not going to get that from anyone else on this roster. And if Ladarius Green struggles to get/stay healthy, we could be looking at a serious drop off at tight end.

7deez steel: Has anyone heard news about Burns or Davis? Do you think Burns will surprise us this year?

Alex: News in what way? How they’ve done? It’s all been in shorts so it’s hard to really gauge any of that. Talk to me in a month. We’ll know a little more.

We do know Marcus Tucker called Burns one of the toughest cornerbacks he faced in camp. As for if Burns will surprise, I think the only way he does is because the expectations are so low right now, any contribution might wind up seeing like a surprise. Kind of odd for a first rounder but I’m not sure a first round pick has been met with this much overall criticism as Burns.

Sam Clonch: Have any of the other players named in the Al Jazeera report made any kind of statement or taken any kind of stand?

Alex: Not that I’m aware of, no. They’ve let the union speak for them. Of course, none of those other guys are James Harrison either. He’s certainly one of a kind.

Bouncing off that, I wonder how the league will react to Harrison’s latest affidavit. I’m sure to the union and Harrison, that’s good enough. And on a personal level, I think it is. If the NFL can prove any of those things wrong (Harrison has offered himself no wiggle room here), then the league can have a case. If they can’t, case closed.

But I doubt that’ll work for the NFL. If they accept this, they know they set a precedent of how the union will respond to any future investigations. The league wants to be able to control its players, not let the union do it. So I’m sure Roger Goodell will still send his cronies to St. Vincent on July 28th. We’ll see what happens.

WeWantDaTruth: What’s your guess on #26 being ready to go by Game 1 in DC?

Alex: I think he’ll be ok. Will he see fewer snaps? That was probably going to happen, full health or not, because of how well DeAngelo Williams played last year. You don’t want to just stick him on the bench forever. But I personally believe Bell will be active and start. His recovery has been encouraging, you’ve probably seen the videos of him working out hard in Miami, and we still have what, six or seven weeks until the opener.

SkoolHouseRoxx: What up, Alex! Who is the best player that could potentially not make the 53 man roster?

Alex: Ross Ventrone is someone who could definitely help this roster but as I’ve said, if there’s a logjam somewhere else, he could be the first man thrown overboard. Definitely an expendable piece and if he makes it (also like I said), it’ll be as literally the 53rd guy. All depends on the type of depth this team has. Hopefully better than last years.

Xavier Grimble will make some big plays but I could see him not making it. You usually get more of a blocking type with that #3 tight end.

My mind also went to the wide receivers. A guy like Shakim Phillips, whose lack of return ability is going to really hurt him, losing out. I think he’ll have a nice camp, following up the good showing he put on in his rookie year.

Jesse Hernandez: Barring no injuries, who do you think will have the higher number of sacks at the end of the 17-18 season. Heyward or Tuitt??

Alex: It’s really a coin flip. I don’t think there is *that* much more of a compelling case for one or the other. I’ll go Tuitt just because he would’ve out-sacked him over a 16 game season (7.5 to 7) and he’ll keep getting better. Heyward is pretty much at his ceiling. Tuitt isn’t.

Tuitt is also the guy who hand fights more and more effectively. He’ll go around you. Cam Heyward will go through you. Heyward’s method will get more pressures but Tuitt will get more sacks because he’s already fought past the blocker.

RMSteeler: If the Steelers have a wealth of talent at one or more positions, can they trade a promising UDFA, or one of last year’s practice squad if some other team bites?

Alex: Eh, it’s pretty unlikely. I don’t want to say impossible because UDFAs can be traded. Nick Easton was dealt last year but typically, I think those end up being player-for-player deals instead of player-for-pick. Teams would rather trade away a player they know won’t make their roster as opposed to someone who theoretically could the next season.

So if it’s a numbers game issue, a player-for-player deal might not work if the team already feels like it has their 53 man roster set.

This is the easy position to take but I don’t expect the Steelers to trade any player, UDFA or veteran, in camp.

letownia: So who return punts this season ?

Alex: Ugh, I’m afraid to answer that question. You all know I want AB back there. But all the tea leaves, the drafting of Demarcus Ayers, the report of them wanting to take AB off, says it will be one of the young guys.

I dunno, it’s tough to say. My gut? AB has never been beaten out before and when he has, it’s proven to be a terrible decision. Danny Smith gets his way – you know he wants Brown back there – and Brown is your Week One returner. It shouldn’t be but it’s a fluid situation. So we’ll see.

Jeff McNeil: Do you think his numbers will increase again and what do you think his numbers will be this year?

Alex: Nothing would shock me with AB and we know that Brown still put up those video-game numbers without Ben Roethlisberger for a quarter of the season. So in theory, yeah, his numbers could go up again. At this point, would anyone really be surprised if he broke Marvin Harrison’s reception record or Calvin Johnson’s yards mark? I wouldn’t.

But the math person in me – which is a very small part – remembers about regression to the mean. Stats aren’t linear, even for great ones. There is a breaking point. The arc is more parabola shaped and Brown may have reached his peak, just for the sheer absurdity of how loud those numbers are.

So I think his numbers come down a tiny bit . Touchdowns could go up though. Actually, I’d expect them too now that Heath Miller and Martavis Bryant are gone. I think Brown can hit the 15 TD mark.

T3xassteelers: Is there anything I absolutely must do while I’m there?

Alex: Whew, that list could be pretty long. I don’t exactly make regular trips to Pittsburgh but go hit up Station Square. Some good places to eat and shop around. Or the Carnegie Science Center. It’s pretty cool.

Chat usually lasts just an hour but since it’s slow today, I’ll hang around and answer a couple more questions. We’re at six questions now. I’ll stick around until we reach ten.

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