Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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Welcome back to the second mailbag of the week. Know much hasn’t happened since Monday’s chat but if you have anything on your mind, let me know.

To your questions!

nikgreene: In Dave Bryan’s article earlier today he notes PFF recently rated Bud Dupree the Steelers’ worst starter. Who would you rank as he weakest starting player on both the offense and defensive side of the ball? I hope I’m not skewing too negative, just interested in where you think the team might be vulnerable to being exposed by the opposition.

Alex: I think Dupree got ranked that way because he is still unproven. We can really only go off his rookie year, which I mean, was his rookie year, and they don’t generally grade well. I would probably rank Artie Burns as the weakest starter. A lot of progress made last year but he was still so high and so low. We’re expecting him to improve of course, but I have more confidence in Dupree right now.

falconsaftey43: Is there currently on the Steelers roster, a player that WILL win one of the big awards sometime during their future Steelers’ career? MVP, DPOY, OPOY, DROY, OROY.

Alex: Hmm…that’s a tough one. I’ll be optimistic and say yes. I think Shazier will get DPOY one of these years where he can play the entire season. The freedom he has to blitz, his interception numbers and improving ability in coverage, he’ll rack up a lot of tackles.

Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt: Alex if it was up to YOU who would BE our starting CBS and starting WRS?

Alex: I don’t think I’d rock the boat too much. Outside corners are a no-brainer; Burns and Cockrell. I wish Sutton was kicked inside to compete with Gay now and have a high chance of, at worst, being the starter in 2018. At WR, Brown/Bryant as the X and Z. And I’d just let Rogers/Ayers/Smith-Schuster battle it out in the slot.

I know I’ve been high on Smith-Schuster and have pushed hard for the idea of him being the slot starter. But there’s no guarantee. Guy has to prove it and it’s a tough position to play. Wouldn’t make anyone the starter; whoever earns it.

Steeler4Ever: Hi Alex, what are the odds that David Todd has another meltdown(warranted), over bad clock management this season. Im betting 50 50…ha

Alex: Ha, I’m sure it’s high. And he won’t be alone. Tomlin will have one or two gaffes this season. That’s the downside to working with your gut and not looking at the numbers. Sometimes it works, other times you fall flat on your face.

Jeff McNeill: Would you be in favor of signing Zack Orr and what would he bring to the Steelers? Do you think they would be looking at him to possible bring in to look at?

Alex: That’s a REALLY tough question for me to answer, Jeff.  It’s all about his medical of that spine injury. He’s going to have to pass a scrutinized physical in order for any team to feel comfortable with him. On talent, on the field, he was obviously a good player for the Ravens and considering the depth at the position, especially at Mack linebacker, it makes sense. But it’s all about his health. And I have no idea what direction it’s trending in.

Culdesac Bill: Thanks Alex for keeping us interested during this downtime of the season. Do you think that the Steelers will keep only 8 OL due to the depth of the WR and CB positions? If so, who does that leave out?

Alex: Thank YOU all for sticking around during the deadest weeks of the season. We certainly do appreciate it.

Here are the OL who are making the roster:

OT: Villanueva, Gilbert, Hawkins
OG: Foster, DeCastro, Finney
C: Pouncey
Swing: Hubbard

That’s eight there. The next two up are Brian Mihalik and Ethan Cooper. They are definitely going to have to play their way onto the roster; they were regardless of what the other positions looked like. They’re going to be depth, not dressing on gameday, and still have practice squad eligibility. Mihalik has the better chance of the two to make it but I don’t think the odds for either are terribly high when you look at the depth of, as you said, WR and CB. And with the Steelers adding another competent safety like Daimion Stafford, it only creates more competition.

But put Mihalik and Cooper on the PS? Top to bottom, one of the best looking lines in the league.


We often talk about the bad calls coaches make, but what’s your favorite “call” by coach?

Mine was handing it off to Bell down 3 vs. the Chargers last year with 5 seconds left. Gutsy call to secure the victory, rather than risk going into OT with your terrible backup QBs.

Alex: Oh man, that’s a good question. I’d probably need some time to think about it. Your answer is a really good one. I’d probably go with the same. But I can’t think of a lot of others off the top of my head.

NickSteelerFan: Do you think that the Steelers have a place for a more traditions 4-3 DE in the future (maybe after this year) because of the use of 4 down linemen. Or do you think that with the size of Bud and TJ that you wouldn’t see that as necessary?

Alex: Hi Nick! Thanks for sticking with us. No, I don’t think they do and don’t see a need to make any switch. The fact they keep drafting 3-4 edge rushers is a testament to staying with their scheme. Tomlin may have more influence but it’s still Butler’s defense.

It’s not just about the talent. On paper, schematically, I like the 3-4. I like its flexibility, the ability to drop and rush whoever you want. Keep offenses guessing, doesn’t allow your defense to get predictable (in theory at least. In practice, we’ve seen it happen to the Steelers).

You could see a little more of their 3-4 over front, which functions as a 4-3, and as I’ve mentioned before, staying in base vs 11 personnel more often. Keeps Hargrave on the field and boosts the run defense. Rarely going to be outnumbered in the box. Those are my solutions and answers to the “switch to 4-3” crowd.

Steeler12: Hey Alex off topic but with the 2pac biopic movie out i was wondering was you a fan of his music. Also why do you think people always say Ed Reed was better than Troy P.?

Alex: Nah, I never listened to much of him. If I ever go to Cuba though, I’ll be sure to visit him…I love me a good conspiracy theory.

Reed did have more interceptions and on paper looked like the better player. I think it’s such an unfair comparison to make for either guy. Reed was a centerfielding free safety, Troy the box run stuffer. It’s like comparing a Ferrari to a Mercedes. Both excel at what they do. But what they excel at are two different things, even if they’re both considered cars.

JohnB: In what area do you believe Tomlin, Haley, and Butler(other than obvious) each need to improve upon this year?…what do you hope each carries over from last year?

Alex: To be clear, coaches are tougher to evaluate than players (who are extremely tough to do so themselves). Much of what a coach does happens Monday through Saturday out of the public eye.

For Tomlin, I do wish he lend more credibility to analytics. At best, he casually endorses it but most of the time, he seems more than happy to ignore such things. Sometimes it works, his gut instinct, and sometimes it gets him into trouble. From a fan view, it can be frustrating because you have no idea how he’ll approach a situation. I’m sure Tomlin enjoys that level of unpredictability.

Haley…I think he’s done a good job. There are times where I feel the route concepts are too vertical minded and Ben doesn’t have an underneath checkdown option or something to spread the defense out horizontally. That’s caused problems. I want him to keep moving Antonio Brown around. New splits, stacks, alignments. We saw what happened in the worst game Haley has called as a Steeler, Miami last year. He didn’t touch Brown. It was very, very dumb.

Butler…this one is probably obvious. But he has to self-scout more effectively. New England is a perfect example. It wasn’t just all the zone coverage/spot dropping. It was the calls and responses to shifts/motions were predictable. If I am figuring out when he’s going to run his Storm Blitz (vs Pro Sets), then you can bet Tom Brady/Bill Belichick have his number. More variety and not being, and I normally dislike this cliche, predictable, would be nice.

That’s all for this week. Great chat, talk to you all very soon. Have a safe and Happy 4th of July.

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