Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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Obviously moving the time of this to earlier in the day with camp happening later this afternoon. But didn’t want to skip my mailbag entirely. Let’s hop to it.

To your questions!


Great job on the training camp coverage Alex!!

I know it’s early, but is TJ Watt seems to be exceeding all reasonable expectations….agree?

Alex: Thanks! I think Watt is about in line with where I thought he’d be. Knew he wouldn’t experience the struggles other EDGE guys do because of his experience standing up and the football family which surrounds him. Was going to come into camp prepared mentally and physically. But still, it’s been a rock solid camp for him five practices in.

Doctor Noah: 

1. Is the seeming focus on Justin Hunter in 7 shots reflective of a growing rapport with Big Ben or more a function of just play calling and who’s available? Do you think he’s doing well or just a placeholder until Bryant is back?

2. Looks like McCullers has already written himself out of the picture, with poor performance against even third strings. What happened?

Alex: Hunter has been the first read several times so I don’t think it’s just Roethlisberger finding him on his fourth read. He genuinely likes throwing to Hunter and hey, who wouldn’t. Dude is 6’4. You would too if your top two targets last year were under six foot and you watched Ladarius Green do laps around the field for most of the season.

I don’t think it’s fair to call him a place holder. But as I’ve said, Hunter was going to look good in practice. I’m sure he always has.

On McCullers, I dunno. Just a guy who knows he’s at the end of the line. It’s not like the intensity was ever really there. Maybe he just sees the writing on the wall.

RickM: It may be a naive question, but how much do the current practises simulate real games? I assume, other than not hitting the QB, a fair amount but is that correct? I guess I’m wondering how much less physical these drills are and whether there are other obvious differences.

Alex: It’s a good question, Rick. I would venture to guess Pittsburgh is a better simulation than most camps because they are regarded as the most physical. But when you can’t hit the QB, when you still have half the sessions of thud or non-tackling, it is hard to replicate it. Especially for special teams, which is so crucial for many of these guys to get it. There isn’t really any replication there.

Phil Rippke: 1. Davis or Toussaint?
2. Safe to say the TE and CB groups are the biggest areas of concern on offense and defense?

Alex: Still too early to call on that spot. Davis was brought in to be the kick returner and it’s hard to gauge that ability in practice. Going to come down to what he does in the preseason. But before camp, would have definitely had Davis as the third back so I’ll stick with that until there’s reason not to.

I am more comfortable at CB with Burns’ progression. Tight end, yes, there’s still some concern, especially with James and Ben seemingly having issues getting on the same page.

Jakob M: How concerned are you about the CB position if Golson can’t stay healthy/doesn’t play well and Sutton misses an extended amount of camp/preseason time?

Alex: Answered the Davis/Toussaint question above. At corner, as I hinted above, I think there is a level of comfort about the position as a whole. Gay may not be ideal but for what it’s worth, he did grade out well in the slot last year. It’s better than him being on the outside.

Wreckless: Which players have been your biggest winners and losers so far? Also, who has surprised you?

Alex: I guess I haven’t really collected my thoughts on that yet. We are just through three padded practices yet. James Conner looked really good before getting hurt. Dobbs has been mostly impressive. Much better than Landry when he was a rookie.

Chickillo continues to do well. I think Dirty Red would be at the top of my list though. Tyson Alualu solid as well.

Cobi Hamilton is having a pretty bad camp at a position that won’t allow for it. Brian Allen has been rough, too.

Surprises…maybe some more specific things. Like how well Conner does in pass pro and how cleanly he catches the football. Or how much Artie Burns has progressed. Embracing the challenge.


There is usually at least 1 guy who looks like he just doesn’t belong athletically, is there a guy like that this year?

Any player surprising you with how athletic they are looking?

Alex: I think it’s a good group. No RB who looks like a plodder, no corner who looks just way too slow. Maybe some real end of the roster guys like Christian Brown but those guys have barely played. Nelson Adams not a great athlete either. But there is no Emmanuel McCray in this camp, the tackle from a few years back who was hopelessly lost.

Gotta go back to Alualu on the more athletic guys I didn’t expect. He moves well for how big and built he is. Farrington Huguenin is an easy mover too, guy I kinda like.

Boots: Who would you say has been your biggest surprise so far?

Alex: Positively, gotta say Alualu. I knew he was a good pickup but even still surprised by how good he’s looked as an all-around player. Top backup at both end spots.

Sam Clonch: So you’re saying Brian Allen WOULDN’T get immediately poached off the practice squad?? SHOCKING!!!

Alex: *mind explodes*

Justin: If Bryant is still suspended and prevented from participating with the team… how is he able to be doing stretches and interacting with the coaching staff on the field?

Alex: Your guess as good as mine. I have no idea how this works. The NFL has so much red tape. I can’t wrap my mind around it.

That’s all for this week. Gotta head out to camp. Thanks guys!

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