Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Some random Thursday musing. Was thinking about friends who are still in college and how sometimes, they talk about how difficult it is. Thinking back on my own time in school, I realized that it wasn’t that difficult. It was kind of a joke.

Maybe it was the major. Communications major translates to “you don’t do squat.” I’m sure the biology and chemistry majors had a much different experience.

But it was the non-major courses that were easy. And this isn’t the self-aggrandizing, look at how smart I am hurr durr, I’m an idiot and always will be, but it was what the courses actually asked you do to that was the easy part.

Freshman year, fall semester. A computer class that was basically learning how to use Word and Excel. I was the bright-eyed freshman who went to every class on time but about a month in, I realized that this class was pointless to show up to. All the coursework was done online, out of class. In class, the teacher – who didn’t take attendance but threatened to call the police if he saw you out with your phone (seriously) – just made the same terrible jokes every time where you had to fake chuckle to stave off the intense awkwardness in the room.

So the class was just learning how to change the font size and clear cells. I didn’t end up going for the rest of the semester.

Sophomore year, Excursions Math, the look-you-took-a-math-course part of the curriculum. The final exam was a project. Any project. That’s literally what the teacher said. And you didn’t even have to turn it in. On the final day of class, he just went around the room and asked what you did. I had my paper with me (don’t remember what I wrote), but he never collected it and made it clear he didn’t want it. You just…told him what you studied. This was a class. We paid money for. And I don’t remember a thing he even taught.

I guess this doesn’t have much of a point to it. And I did eventually have some tougher classwork for my actual major and the stuff I did outside of the classroom actually had application. There’s no soapbox here but when people look at how bad the US performs in test scores with the rest of the world, maybe they should check out a 200 level college classroom. That’ll explain why.

Enough about me. To your Pittsburgh Steelers’ questions!

Alex Kuhn: Is it fair to suggest that the secondary is playing better than the linebackers as a unit (even when you consider how great Shazier has been)?

Alex: Sure, that’s a fair assessment, considering the one real bright spot at linebacker is Shazier. I have very little criticism for Gay/Cockrell/Mitchell/Golden so far.

It’s even more impressive when you consider the lack of pass rush this team has generated. I think most people would agree the secondary has been better than the linebackers.

@bocote311: if you were Keith Butler, what would be the gameplan against Carson Wentz?

Alex: Get these guys into 3rd and long. I mean, that’s obvious, but it’s key. The Steelers have one of the best 3rd down defenses through two weeks, the Eagles, one of the worst third down offenses. So it all begins with shutting down the run game and putting the game in his hands.

I would mix in some blitzes but not go full throttle because he’s shown he can handle the blitz. Did a great job on the opening drive last week.

Other than that, nothing different than the way you prepped for Kirk Cousins. Force long drives. Challenge the rookie to march down the field on 8-12 play drives, see if he can be consistent, not make a mistake. I don’t know if there’s anything a whole lot different or magical than what has been done the first two weeks. Especially when a guy like Wentz isn’t playing anything like a rookie.

Jared Gallagher: Do you see Keith butler sticking to his strategy of making the qb beat the defense, or do you think he’ll bring the house to rattle the rookie. Becuase I can see him doing both

Alex: Generally, a mix of both is important. It’s hard to run the same thing every single game and expect not to get beat. Going back to last week’s game, Butler blitzed more than what I originally thought. I’d expect it to be in that 25-30% range this week against Wentz.

But like I wrote, yeah, you want him to go 8-12 plays down the field. Don’t want chunk plays. Because the Eagles will take their shots.

JohnB: i know its only been two games, against stiff competition I might add, but has AV needed as much TE help as he had last year or is he getting better?

Alex: Nah, he hasn’t gotten a lot of it. I think he’s been more consistent. His recovery is really nice when he does get beat. Has the strength and feet to makeup for bad technique. It’s been far from perfect but he just gets better every team. Plays very clean too. The whole line has. Just one penalty, a false start, in some 130+ snaps. Might be the only team in the league who can say that.

In 11 personnel, with the TE usually to the other side, he doesn’t have much help available anyway.

srdan: What do you make of their lack of interest in guys like Paul Kruger and other other vets that pop up. Do they think higher of the group and people not in the meeting rooms?

Alex: I don’t make much of it and I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it. The Steelers not being active in free agency is nothing that surprises me so when they don’t sign someone – even a guy like – you just shrug your shoulders and move on.

For better or worse, their OLBs are home-grown. Harrison (not a draft pick but basically home-grown), Jarvis, Dupree, Worilds, Porter, Gildon, Haggans, Woodley. They want to get their guys, not someone else’s.

The last time the Steelers had a season sack leader who was not drafted/in rookie camp by them? Kimo von Oelhoffen in 2003.

James Cowen: Do you think the secondary played as well as people are making out?

Alex: Yup, they are. I’m not looking to take credit away from them, especially as so many people have trashed this group over the last two seasons. They’ve still faced two potent offenses who have great schemes and can present some difficult matchups.

Gay is playing as well as ever, Mitchell is an enforcer, Golden is the best tackler on the entire team, and Cockrell stepped up in a big way Sunday. Hard to fault or overrate them. It won’t be roses all year long but for now, enjoy it.

Lambert58: Hey Alex, what do you see as the ceiling of this TE group of James, Johnson and Grimble relative to last year’s group.

Alex: Hmm..about the same, maybe? Perhaps a little better, as a group, in the red zone, and obviously you saw that on display Sunday.

Heath, as good as he was, still only caught two touchdowns last season. The position as a whole caught only three (James had the other). They had two Sunday.

And probably a touch worse as blockers. Johnson is their best guy, James is worse than Heath, and Grimble is still learning technique.

Gluebucket: I know it’s still way to early to give a definitive answer, but given how Golden has played thus far, do you see a long term future for him as the starting SS in Pittsburgh?

Alex: It’s definitely a good problem to have. With all the dime the Steelers want to play, there will be ways for all those guys to consistently see the field. You saw it Sunday. Davis/Mitchell as the deep safeties, Golden in the box. There may be a time where designating someone as a starting safety is meaningless, kind of like realizing the #3 WR is practically a starter, or the way Sean Davis is a starter in the slot.

Could happen next year. A predominant defense of…

LDT: Tuitt
RDT: Heyward
LOLB: Dupree
ROLB: Draft Pick
ILB: Shazier
ILB: Golden
LCB: Cockrell
RCB: Burns
NCB: Gay
SS: Davis
FS: Mitchell

When you start to invest heavily in one group, as the Steelers have done the last two years, you, ideally get a gluttony of talent at the position. And then you work to find ways to get them onto the field.

walter: Is Golden on a one year contact or two?

Alex: Golden signed a three year deal in the offseason. It runs through the 2018 season.

Steelers12: Alex with Rogers now playing snaps and Bryant coming back next do you fell this is Markus Wheaton’s last season as a steeler

Alex: It’s a really good question to ask. Definitely fair to wonder. I’m probably one of the few to think he has a chance to return. Especially if his stats aren’t great this year because of injury/rotation. He isn’t getting Sanu type money.

Bryant’s future is still a total crapshoot. I hope he gets back, I hope he reaches his ceiling, and having his first kid ideally gives him new perspective/motivation. But you can’t count on him for anything. You don’t even know when he’s getting back into the league.

It isn’t simply that he gets to walk back into the locker room in March. It’s a one year suspension and then he’s eligible to be reinstated by Roger Goodell. You saw what happened with Josh Gordon (slightly different circumstances, I know). Took him forever to finally get a decision made and he was still out the first month of this year. The NFL makes this way more complicated than it should.

We have a lot of time to see how Wheaton does and how the rest of the receivers evolve. The bottom line is Wheaton is a good, consistent player with speed and a high football IQ. He’ll be cheap too, and those are package deals I like to target.

Michael James: Given our glaring need and with Dupree as our only real hope, do you think they may double-dip on edge rushers in next years draft?

Alex: Sure, wouldn’t surprise me one bit. You can put me down for having money on the team taking an OLB within the first two rounds. I’ll risk a couple packets of Ramen Noodles on it. Can’t think of a position that is a higher priority than that.

Petherson Silveria: When L. Green come back from PUP, do you think the Steelers will stick with 4 TEs and drop some player from another position?

Alex: I really can’t give you a great answer. That’s still several weeks away, if he comes back at all, and the landscape of the roster will look a lot different. Injuries are obviously going to play a big factor.

But generally speaking, it is hard to imagine them cutting any of these guys, especially after the positive things Grimble has done. If anyone is the odd man out, it’s him, but I don’t really see it happening. He’d have to be inactive, though. Can’t keep four TEs up.

CP72: Do the Steelers blitz more than usual against Wentz?

Alex: More I watch him, the less Wentz looks like a rookie. So I would treat him like any QB. Which means mixing in some of Butler’s fire zones, but not at a 50% clip like the Cleveland game last year. The 25-30% range is about the norm and if I had to guess, about what you’ll see from him.

It’s less about how much you blitz but how you blitz and in what situations you choose to.

T3xassteelers: What do you think of Patrick Mahomes?

Alex: Ha, I appreciate your transparency. I haven’t studied him close. I know he’s the backyard kid, running around like crazy until something opens up. The “second phase” quarterback to its extreme. Watched him in the bowl game against LSU (mainly to see how bad Fournette would light up the TTU’s defense) and Mahomes had a great game.

But as an NFL prospect? Obviously, you can’t win in just that way. So color me lukewarm on him. But super fun to watch.

Bill Sechrengost: When Bell comes back next week, what is your guess at who is cut from the 53-man roster?

Alex: Probably Richardson unless, again, other injuries creep up. He’s only had one carry and barley played on special teams. No need to keep 4 RBs.

Good talking to you all this week. Remember to look for our live stream chat sometime tomorrow afternoon. Probably around 3:30/ET.

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