Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag. The last one before players report. The end is near.

To your questions!

falconsaftey43: Camp is quickly approaching. We know the big stories (Bell/AV reporting, WR battle, CB battle). Any underrated storylines to keep an eye on?

Alex: I’ll have an article on that sometime next week and sorta flesh out all my thoughts. I think when you get specific, I look at the growth of guys like Burns and Davis. That sorta fits into the “CB” battle but we know they have to have big years for this defense to reach their full potential. And in camp last year, we hardly got to see Burns practice because of his injury. So I’m excited for that.

Of course, you love getting a look at the rookies. Guys coming in with a totally clean slate, no bias involved on them. Someone like Josh Dobbs, who consistent does he look? Or does he look like early Landry Jones, who was incredibly hit-and-miss.

Paul Mcguffey: What does the back up QB look like. Who going to fill the spot?

Alex: Easiest question I’ll probably get all day. Here’s your depth chart.

1. Ben Roethlisberger
2. Landry Jones
3. Josh Dobbs

Set in stone.

Darth Blount 47: Alright, Alex… I teased this the other day. What are the chances that we could see Le’Veon Bell traded? In many other sports, a trade is often the best outcome, if a team feels that a star player is going to ultimately choose to walk away. Could we tag him again, and then potentially decide to move Bell? I know that some sort of a transition tag would be another option.

Alex: Are you talking this year or next year? This year? None.

Next year? Still highly unlikely. You just don’t see sign and trade deals like you do in the NBA. Can the Steelers even trade Bell if his contract is expiring? Even if they put the tag on him, he still could not sign it. So I don’t totally know how that works. It’s not like the NBA where a sign and trade allows a player to get the most money and go somewhere else. The systems work pretty differently. So I don’t see dealing Bell much of an option.

StolenUpVotes: Will you be watching Hawkins closely this camp?

Alex: Absolutely. Looking forward to seeing him build on what he was able to do last year before getting hurt. Especially if he winds up with first team reps if Villanueva holds out.

Bob Francis: Would you give Bell $15m/season if you were the Steelers?

Alex: I love Bell. He deserves a massive pay day. I would NOT though, give him $15 million s year. That’s nearly double the next guy. Other backs catch passes, too. All for Bell resetting the market. But he wants to burn the whole market down.

CP72: Do You think think the Steelers were forced to “run the wheels off Bell’ last year due to the pieces missing in the passing game (Bryant, Wheaton, Green, and Coates)?

Alex: There might have been a little of that in play but when Bell is out there, he’s getting worked harder than any other back in the league. Regardless of who else is on the field. He’s so good at everything there’s no one else you’re comfortable replacing him with. And he is such incredible shape that he can handle such a workload and play 90% of the time.

It’s funny when I see fans talk about “running the wheels off” of him this year. As opposed to…what they were doing before? That wasn’t coddling. Bell’s usage will remain the same which is to say it’ll be the highest in the league.

Paul Kuhns: The Steelers under tomlin win over 65% of week1-3 games…
Do you think this can be attributed to Tomlins more physical type of training camp? Could the more intense preparation give them a leg up on opponents?

Alex: My first question would be how that stacks up to other top teams. Is it better? Worse? That, I don’t think we know. I think of Tomlin’s teams being generally slow out of the gate, strong to finish. We know his record in the second half of seasons. He’s gone I think 6-2 or 7-1 in the last three or four years from the 9th game on? It’s pretty remarkable.

I think that is a product of Tomlin’s constant harping on conditioning. Being in the best shape possible. Gets you through the season as other teams begin to wear down.

ilamarca: 10 Ryan Shaziers vs. 10 Le’veon Bells. Ben is permanent QB. Game to 21. Who wins?

Alex: Definitely the ten Shaziers. It’s a lot more fun for the defenders to not have to tackle as opposed to running backs who now have to try it.

Of course, those ten Le’Veon Bells may not even show up to camp either…


Since it’s a slow day I will ask another question.

I’ve watched 4 games of Dobbs and he’s an excellent runner. Any chance he could have a zone read package in short yardage? Be an interesting wrinkle.

Alex: Oh man, I really hope not. I like my franchise QB to stay on the field every time, especially in critical situations like that. Not trusting a rookie for that.

I’ll say this though. If you see anyone else not named Ben under center in a “specialty” package, it’d be Demarcus Ayers. Took a couple wildcat snaps vs Cleveland Week 17. Former QB. If he makes the team, I assume he’ll have a hat on gamedays to be the starting punt returner.

NickSteelerFan: Training camp is finally upon us!
Assuming the Steelers draft a few Quarterbacks in the coming years to fill the need we will soon have, do you thing we will go for more of a traditional pocket passer (Big Ben, Andrew Luck, Sam Darnold style) or more of an athletic passer/runner (Josh Dobbs, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson style)? Thanks!

Alex: I think that’s impossible to say. Don’t mean to dodge your question but I don’t – or at least hope – think the team will view it that general. You know their theme: hearts and smarts. That doesn’t come down to whether you are a pocket or mobile QB. It’s about evaluating the traits of the position: accuracy, football IQ, ability to deal with pressure, work in situational football, that creates the grade. Not just how mobile they are.

Whoever gets drafted, you tailor the system to them. Every QB is a system quarterback; any offensive coordinator worth their weight is going to do what’s best for his quarterback’s skillset. And the Steelers do a good job of adapting.

Whoever is highest on their board, that’s who they draft. A lame answer, I know. But it’s the true one.

Jeff Najjar: 

Over or Under…Shazier plays 12 games this year.

How about for MB?

Alex: Over for both. Let me dream!

Jeff McNeil: What are the biggest areas of that Burns, Davis, and Hargrave need to improve this year and if they make those stride do you think our D, barring injury, can be a to point three D?

Alex: I’ve written about Burns and Davis in my “one step to take” series. Here’s the link to Burns, and the one to Davis.

For Burns, it’s about being stronger and my physical at the top of routes. Not getting bumped off at the top and showing the ability to play through hands at the catch point.

Davis needs to come to balance and play with better technique as a tackler. Now healthy, I am hoping/expecting that to be a lot better.

Hargrave has the fewest areas of improvement. But staying on his feet and not getting washed by down blocks will be helpful.

Matt Manzo: 

Hey Alex! Hope I’m not too late!

Do you think Butler will add some more wrinkles into the D, now that the youngin’s have some experience? I expected more last year, but I understand why it wasn’t too exotic.

Alex: Based on his comments, I think he wants to scale things back. He said he wants to play more conventional and has professed wanting to get home with four so he blitzes less often. Hopefully you see some new stuff in the secondary but from a blitz standpoint, you’ll probably see less of it.

That’s all for this week. Thanks guys! Camp in seven days.

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