Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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Wednesday edition of the mailbag with the game tomorrow and most of you too far gone in a turkey coma to want to do a Q&A in our usual timeslot.

Best places in the US to live in – your thoughts? What are your experiences, places you’ve traveled, moved to, passed through, whatever. I’m not really planning on venturing out of the friendly confines of my basement but if I do, I’m letting Steelers’ Nation be my travel agent. So lay it on me.

To your questions!

SteelerTony: Who’s caught your eye, player wise, with regard to the Steelers, this college football season?

Alex: I really haven’t paid much attention to the college landscape this season. Just haven’t had time and my Saturdays are for some casual watching without having to have a close eye on things.

But the fallback name I go to when I get asked about it is Auburn OLB Carl Lawson. He’s already being mocked to the Steelers and that’s the name I think you will see them connected with a ton this offseason.

@lake_21117: any reason to change the defensive game plan if Tolzien does indeed get the start?

Alex: I don’t think dramatically. He’s a lesser athlete than Luck which means you have to do a little less with some of the spying they’ll occasionally do. Maybe load up the box a bit more and really make sure you take away the run, force the ball into Tolzien’s hands, but I think they were going to make sure they stop the run anyway.

It’s a short week. It’s a guy who doesn’t have much recent tape. It’s more about playing your game, doing what you do well, then trying to go outside your comfort zone and get too cute and creative. Steelers have the favorable matchup. Just need to execute.

Michael Stickings: what do you think of Chickillo at this point? It’ll be Dupree and someone else next year, maybe a first-round pick, but I’ve been very impressed with Chickillo the past few games. Do you see him as a starter to begin 2017? Ultimately, is he no more than a rotation guy? Have we seen his upside or do you think he can continue to develop?

Alex: Thank you for the Boston recommendation. Someone I graduated college with got a job up in Boston. I don’t know if I can stomach the Patriots’ fans though.

To your question, I want to see how the rest of the year plays out. As he gets more comfortable, gets more reps/experience. Because I have gone back and forth on him. I don’t see a slam dunk starter, a diamond in the rough. But he has gotten better. He uses his hands well. He has length and creates space. A good athlete. They’re doing more with him now, he’s looking more comfortable. He’s versatile, smart, and if what he does in practice is reflective of camp, he should be succeeding in that environment. Got a knack for the football too. Two forced fumbles already.

But even though he was a former 3-4 DE, he seems a little undersized, a little underpowered, and I think he’s got to do a better job in contain on some of his pass rushes.

I think he can be a rotational guy who can give you snaps at either OLB spot. A full-time starter, I don’t think so, but we’ll go through the rest of the year.

Swiss Steel: What do you think of the possibility of moving Timmons to outside linebacker more often and let Vince do the inside stuff?

Alex: Nah, that won’t happen. You can get Timmons on the edge when you need to with some of the moving and shaking they do in sub-packages. It’s not like Timmons was beating Joe Thomas. It was running backs and coming in free. He was created by scheme, not as much by individual talent. Most LBs are going to succeed in the same matchup.

Sam Clonch: Do you think their could be any intriguing FA at OLB come the offseason?

Alex: Well, I haven’t really looked at a list yet. Those guys are so highly valued, they rarely hit the market and when they do, they are mighty expensive.

I clamored for Jabaal Sheard a couple years ago. Looks like he’s fallen out of favor in Belichick-land. Maybe someone worth looking at a second time around. Dude had 8.5 sacks a year ago on a 2 year, $11 million deal. That’s good value.

Steelers12: Do you think the Steelers will take a safety in the first 4 rounds of the NFL Draft and will we ever sign a Darren Sproles like scat back

Alex: No, I think they are content there. Mitchell, Golden, Davis. Unless it’s a hybrid type like Su’a Cravens, I think they are set.

To your second question, they had one – Dri Archer. And everyone pretty much hated him. Ditto with Chris Rainey.

ilamarca: Steelers haven’t played in a dome yet this season, how will the fast track affect this team, especially the young defenders?

Alex: That’s a good question. I guess I don’t have much of an answer for the young guys because like you said, it hasn’t happened this year. I don’t think it’ll ultimately make much of a difference. Artie is fast. He probably likes this field.

Peter MacDonald: Know the OLB depth in this year’s draft class? Any chance they move up to nab a true impact guy?

Alex: I think it’s pretty good but we’re a ways off from determining all that. I think Myles Garrett and Carl Lawson will be the top two guys. Garrett is going like, top five, so Steelers aren’t trading up. Lawson is sorta in that 20-25 range right now, so possible for Pittsburgh, but if his stock “rises,” the Steelers could make a move. Not impossible though history says it’s rare.

Simon Cutts: Do you agree with constantly going for two instead of taking the extra point?

Alex: Hi Simon! UK a good place to visit? I have a friend who lives in Chester in England, I’ll have to make a trip.

I don’t think they’ve “constantly” done it. It was pretty much invisible for most of the season. But Tomlin is aggressive and mathematically, the idea has a lot of backing to it.

The only downside is Tomlin doesn’t always seem to do it when it makes mathematical sense. Only when it feels right. He’s an embodiment of “truthiness.” But he’s an aggressive guy, makes no bones about it, believes in his guys, and sticks to it. At the least, gotta respect it.

Justin Wilcox: Since it looks like the colts are gonna be without Luck, do you think this will be what seems to be a typical steelers game against a backup QB? Or do you think we actually play the way we should and win easily?

Alex: I think it’ll be kinda close. Short week, road game, it’s usually not a blowout win for Pittsburgh.

Jefferson_St_Joe: Is the Steelers defense playing any overages more or less frequently this year? Has there been less cover 2 with more man this year with cover 3 still being predominant?

Alex: That’s a good question. It isn’t something we chart so I can’t answer it with tangible evidence.

I think they have done less of some of their aggressive coverage. Some of their pattern reading, some trap coverage, because of the youth in the secondary. Cover 3 is still their staple. Cover 2 seems to be a game-by-game thing. Sometimes they don’t do it a lot, others they do. Game circumstance has a lot to do with that, I think.

Been some more press coverage with a guy like Artie Burns coming into the fold. Been a good bit of Cover 6, too. Feels like more this year than last.

Da Bus Driver: Why do we seem to be developing a pattern of trading for CB’s and then NOT playing them? And which is the biggest “worry game” left on the schedule from a “trap” point of view?

Alex: Well the Brandon Boykin situation was just weird. Carnell Lake seems to think a lot of it was injury-related. Gilbert is a different situation. He isn’t a rental. He has more than a year left on his contract. I don’t know what his future is, I still don’t think it’ll be much on defense, but there is a lot more time to develop and figure all that stuff up.

I worry about them all, haha. Sorry if that’s a copout. With how up and down this team can be, it’s hard to feel comfortable about anything.

Sonny Saks: Will Bell and Brown both be on this team next year? Would you trade one of them for a #1 pick to help the defense?

Alex: Yes, I think they will. Brown on a new deal, Bell under the tag. Nope, nope, nope, wouldn’t trade either. What if you wind up trading AB for the next Jarvis Jones? That’s how you lose your job.

TJ Solomon: Why doesn’t Mike Tomlin realize that he isn’t playing Madden with fatigue and injuries off? I think it is more than a coincidence that our players seem to be hurt more than others. Heyward, Tuitt, Shazier, Bell, Pouncey all seem to play the entire game when they could easily be subbed for when the game is in hand.

Alex: I’m with you – to an extent, TJ. I’ve expressed concern about some of the DL rotations, or lack thereof, and the wear and tear they create.

But when they are ahead, they have subbed guys out. Look at the Jets or Chiefs game, some of those guys have sat. Especially the trench players.

Another idea, and I’m just spitballing it out there, is for the reps. Some of those guys are young. And with how limited the CBA is on teams to practice during the season, it’s nearly impossible to replicate anything you’re going to do in-game during the week. So the more reps during the actual games, the better teaching moments they are, in a seese.

srdan: Which one of our Olinemen took a step backwards this year and why? Sure seems like they played better last year with an inferior center to this years group.

Alex: I’m not sure if there is one who has taken a step back as a blanket statement. There’s been some inconsistency. There are too many penalties. David DeCastro would be the obvious answer for most everyone and that’s probably accurate.

But they’ve had tough matchups. To go against the Eagles, Ravens, Jets, Dolphins, all really good fronts. So you have to give those guys credit, too.

Great talking to you all. Have a fun and safe Thanksgiving!

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