Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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Finally getting around to another one of these now that camp has passed and I can remember what day it is. But back to chat with you guys and talk some football before tonight’s game versus the Eagles. I’ll stick around for an hour like usual.

I’ve also spent the last 24 hours dealing with a new cable box after the old one fried. Picked up another yesterday…and it was defective. Drove over again today, stood in line for 11 years, and hopefully, this one works.

The only silver lining here? Ok, this is super dorky so stop reading if you don’t want to think less of me. But the best part of the phone call is the part when you read off the serial number on the cable box. I pretend like I’m reading nuclear launch codes. Six-Zero-Alpha go go go! SO COOL.

Like I said, dork.

Onto your questions!


Alex: It’s always hard to say why a team isn’t signing a player and I certainly don’t have any great explanations. Perhaps Saunders’ past mistakes left a sour taste in his mouth. And when they have a player like Xavier Grimble, generally cut from the same cloth, there isn’t a dying need to another player like that. If they sign a TE to replace Ladarius Green, I expect it to be a pure-blocker.


Alex: I’d give you the same answers I’ve said recently: somewhere in the secondary and tight end. Maybe quarterback if there’s someone they really like who emerges but I currently have no clue who that guy might be. But probably going to be another year where you get a lot of upheaval at the end of the preseason, especially as the injuries continue to mount and some of the nice depth you came in with loses its luster.


Alex: Offense: B.J. Finney – Want to see if he picks up where he left off last week. I think he will and his camp has really been solid. If he puts on two consecutive plus games, it’s really going to be tough for the Steelers to justify cutting this guy loose. Especially if he does it against an interior-line needy team like the Eagles, who may just try to snatch him up on waivers.

Defense: Travis Feeney – It’s just good to get eyes on him again, instead of simply noting that he was missing another practice. He was the typical high-energy rookie the last two practices but in stadium is a different story. He doesn’t have a ton of reps under his belt, his conditioning might not be great, so his first NFL experience is going to test him more than it does the typical rookie. His snap count may be down because of those facts but let’s see how he responds to those snaps. Especially setting the edge against the run.

Special Teams: Demarcus Ayers – I hope he gets at least two cracks on punt returns tonight. His lone attempt against Detroit wasn’t great from a detail standpoint and he needs to do something to separate himself from Eli Rogers. It’s not going to happen as a receiver so it needs to be as a return man.

Rene Gonzalez: Do you think the killer bees will play at all this preseason?

Alex: I’d like for them to get some play in the third preseason game. And I imagine they will since that’s traditionally the tune-up contest where there’s more gameplanning and it has more of a regular-season feel. Some may play more than others but I think all three will in some capacity.


Alex: It’s hard for me to say. I’m not expert on the Titans. But yeah, I think the Steelers defense will be better. Pittsburgh forces more turnovers, gets more pressure. I think Tennessee is really only remembered for Jurrell Casey trying to play make-shift cornerback last season.


Alex: That possibility certainly exists. Vaughan’s job is not secured by any stretch. I just don’t know who. I don’t think it’ll be an eight year vet. Landry Jones already serves that purpose. So someone younger you can try to work at and develop. I really don’t know who though. Maybe someone like Connor Shaw out in Chicago.

Had Kellen Moore stayed healthy, I would’ve been interested in the Cowboys’ Jameill Showers.

srdan: Knowing what we know now, was Hargrave a worthy first round selection?

Alex: I get what you mean by that first part of the question but obviously, we still “know” very little. My pre-draft opinions compared to now are basically the same with the exception of Jerald Hawkins (who I had pretty much no opinion of).

Like I said before the draft, I viewed him as a second round talent. And I still believe he would’ve been a worthy pick there.


Alex: I’m not sure if there will be any major surprises. Most of the veterans have already been chopped (Suisham, Spaeth). I know some are suggesting Cody Wallace and I mean maybe, but I don’t think it’s worth it when you can just keep Finney/Hubbard as a 10th OL and cut a guy like Dangerfield.

I’m sure there will be a slew of players Steelers’ fans want to see make the roster, starting with Tyler Matakevich, and freak out if he’s cut.


Alex: If you have to explain it to her, you might not have found the right one…


Alex: Sure, I think that’s always been a strength of the secondary. It starts with coaching and what gets preached. You got it coming from Butler, Lake, and Tomlin. Supporting the run, limiting YAC have always been tenets of this defense. It’s an aggressive, physical bunch and they take a provide in those details. There aren’t any Asante Samuels on this roster. That’s the least of my concerns in the secondary.


Alex: I mean if we’re talking about Heyward and Tuitt eclipsing double-digits, then yeah, I guess the OLB production can be masked. But those are some lofty goals.

Obviously, the total data suggests the Steelers had no problem getting sacks last season. Most fans wouldn’t complain a lick about finishing with 48 of them. But we know, when we turn on the tape, that a lot of that was induced by sending every fire zone Keith Butler could carve up. And for the Steelers defense to truly succeed, to become dominate, it’s about winning with a four man rush.

Blitzing when you want to, not when you need to. And we saw games last year (second Ravens’ game) when Butler played conservatively, the Steelers couldn’t buy a stop. That’s why I place so much emphasis on the OLBs having a big year and getting into the 20 sack club.


Alex: My (surely to be incorrect) guesses.

Offense: Ben Roethlisberger – Finally stays healthy for all 16 games.
Defense: Ryan Shazier – Ditto on the health thing and if he does, there will be lots of splash plays. He’ll also play close to 100% of the time which creates more opportunity to boost the box score.
Special Teams: L.J. Fort – He becomes the new Terence Garvin.

Milliken Steeler: It sounds like so far anyway, the are intrigued enough about Hargrave that they are trying him at end also? That would keep him on the field more and spell Tuitt or Cam sometimes maybe?

Alex: It was for only a couple plays in camp after some injuries crept up so I don’t want to make a huge deal out of it. I just think they have a general sense of the type of player he is along the interior and want to start exploring to see how he responds out of that comfort zone. If they find out he can be an asset as a base end, then you have that in your back pocket. If not, no big deal and you move on with what you already had (Walton, Mathews).


Alex: Oh that’s easy. Daniel McCullers. Go to a buffer and just see how many plates he can stack up. What’s the over/under? Ten?


Alex: I’m going to give a sort-of cop out answer so sorry in advance. But it depends on why the QB play is poor. Is it directly reflective of them or the circumstance? What happened last week was difficult to fault the quarterbacks. Is the run game going? Or are you in a lot of third and longs? Do penalties negate plays? Drops? Were there issues with personnel getting onto the field? Yadda yadda.

But if a guy like Dustin Vaughan truly struggles then yeah, it’s going to make a stronger case for picking someone else up.


Alex: I dunno, I’d be kinda surprised. Had he at least practiced in some fashion on Tuesday, I would have been much more optimistic. But after slowing things down again, I don’t think they’re going to rush him. Hopefully next week…

Mister E: Alex, any way team would let Cody Wallace go?

Alex: Maybe but the chances still seem slim. Having that NFL, been-there, done-that experienced player is valuable, even if we recognize the obvious limitations in his game. Though Hubbard has hung around the league, he doesn’t have extensive Sunday experience and Finney has none. So you’re pretty young depth wise.

Has Ben ever taken a snap from Chris Hubbard before? You’d hate to see something silly like a botched snap if Hubbard was pressed into action because you canned Wallace.

Michael James: What’s up with Dupree? Did he at least do some running ore individual drills and do you think he will be back soon?

Alex: Don’t know when he’ll be back but yes, he’s been pretty active working on the side each day. I’d like to think he’ll be back for the third preseason game.


Alex: I’d sure love to think so. But we won’t know until we get a larger sample size of in-game action.

Thanks for the chat this week. Good to be back!

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