Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag.

To your questions!


Hey Alex, being the professional that you are your articles are often objective and impartial, your comments often are as well.

But I’d love to hear your personal opinion on the JuJu Suspension and how it compares to the other disciplinary or lack thereof handed down this weekend and in the past.

Prayers to our brother, Ryan Shazier.

Alex: Obviously, the NFL is being inconsistent. Like always. The Steelers have a gripe. No one knows the rules. No one knows what a catch is. No one knows what a punishment entails anymore. Gronk gets a game, JuJu gets a game, Iloka gets his overturned, Richard Rodgers last week doesn’t get suspended for a similar hit he put on Sean Davis.

Like I said, it’s all optics-driven by the NFL. So that’s naturally going to create inconsistency because the league isn’t looking at the actual play itself. Just the reaction. I get Mike Mitchell’s frustration. He’s done a great job of evolving his game to play within the rules. But you’re always trying to catch up and figure things out.

The Tony: Now that Shazier is probably done for the season, what are the Steelers options at middle linebacker? Is Moats an actual contender? Could we see more Randal Gay there?

Alex: Maybe we’ll see Jo-Jo Smith-Schooster….

We’ll see if Spence gets the job this week, assuming Matakevich is out. But I assume that if/when Dirty Red gets healthy, he’ll be given his job back. Moats is more of an emergency because of how thin they are at the moment. It’s not something I would expect to see long-term.

Grant Humphrey: Hey Alex,
Do you think that eventually that Sean Spence could overtake L.J. Fort on the depth chart at some point this season?

Alex: Based on reports yesterday, it sounds like he already has.

Michael Stickings: The Daves have talked about this on the podcast now and then, but I was wondering, as a younger person yourself, and obviously as a huge football/Steelers fan, what do you see as the future of the sport, and of the NFL in particular? What are your main concerns about the game now, and do you see any remedies. We heard what Mitchell said, and he’s right — it’s a violent game, and the players know it. But the future seems bleaker than ever before, and probably for good reason.

Alex: I think those are all very good and important questions and points you raise, Michael. Honestly, I just haven’t thought about it a lot. I’m very much an “in the moment” guy. I don’t like thinking about stuff five or ten years down the road in anything really, even my own life. My outlook is that sometimes, people who focus too much on the long-term don’t spend time on the short-term so they can reach those “down the road” goals.

That doesn’t totally apply to something like the future of football but like I said, just my mindset of not thinking too much about it. I don’t see the sport going away. It’s like a bank. Too big to fail.

I guess my biggest concern, in terms of how well support the sport will be, is how the youth level will be affected. Because it well be. Fewer parents will let their kids play. You’re going to have small high schools that don’t have enough players and end up cutting their programs (especially with budget crunches being felt throughout the country in public schools. PA has been hit pretty hard). And that’s going to have a, I guess, trickle-up effect.

I don’t know of a remedy. I guess just information and knowledge. That’s why the info on concussions is so valuable. You can’t stop them from happening. But you can be a lot smarter about how to handle them when they do. It’s a changing of the culture, which takes time. But it for the greater good.

Don’t know if any of that really helps. Just sorta typing out whatever is immediately jumping to my mind.

Brian Tollini: Martavius Bryant looks like a completely different player than what we saw in 2015. I thought he was one of the more talented players in the NFL that season, but this season has been (mostly) a mess for him. Is this more mental than physical?

Alex: It’s hard for me to assess where he’s at mentally. Like I’ve always said, he seems engaged in the games. He’s doing the dirty work. His blocking this year has been as good as it’s ever been. The effort shows. It’s not like he’s checked out and going through the motions. He knows he needs to play well, get paid, make some serious money in this league.

I’ll just wait for the year to end. For all we know, he has one great regular season game, lights it up in the playoffs, and the conversation shifts.

PghDSF: Do foresee Spence the starter this week and the rest of the year?

Alex: This week. Probably. We’ll see what happens when Matakevich returns. It’s probably his spot but if Spence plays well…

ThatGuy: Reports are that Harrison is dressing this week, how much of a factor do you think he will have the rest of the year, if any?

Alex: Limited. Think of Moats’ role on defense. Couple of snaps.

Will say this week could be different. Baltimore, so if there’s ever a time you want to unleash Deebo, this is it. And on a short week, like the Titans game, you tend to get more of a rotation. So Deebo probably sees 10-15 snaps this week. Beyond that, yeah, limited.

Beaver Falls Hosiery: Hi Alex; sad news about Ryan Shazier; hope he has a full recovery; time for others to step up.
Assuming Ryan is out for rest of season; how do you see the defense playing out – will it alter the schemes?

Alex: No, I don’t think it alters the schemes. Unless Ben gets hurt, the scheme isn’t going to change a whole lot. It’s December. What you do is basically what you do at this point. Can’t overhaul things.

CP72: Alex,
Win or lose to New England do you start monitoring Le’Veon’s usage after that game for a fresh playoff run?

Alex: Well I think you’re always monitoring his usage but yeah, I get what you mean. I would do it whenever there isn’t anything else to play for. When you’ve locked up all you can lock up. The goal is homefield throughout so if that’s still on the table, you operate like normal. If you have gone as far as you can go by Week 16, then you adjust. Keep the philosophy simple. That’s my approach.

Michael: Having said this, the Steelers as a professional organization obviously have to think about the future, too. Did the need for a high-round ILB in the next draft just skyrocket?

Alex: There’s a lot of time to figure that stuff out. We’ll see where his recovery is at in a couple of months. I don’t think anyone knows that answer right now.

stan: Neither Matakevich nor Fort looked ready for prime time on Monday. If Moats is good enough to be in the mix for a starter this week, why didn’t he get a shot on Monday?

Alex: Mostly because he hadn’t taken any reps there. Even as a vet, you can’t just start playing the position on the fly. You play the guys who practiced there. So Fort was the next man up.

Bryant Eng: What is up with the over look!!! And, does it make sense to take a look at FA S Calvin Pryor as a move LB?

Alex: No to Pryor. Over look….yeah, not my favorite Butler scrapped it for a few weeks after Jacksonville. Brought it back and he simplified it (only Heyward lines up as the 3T now) with some better results. But I hear ya, Bryant.

Lambert58: Hey Alex, any chance they try Bud at the Mack? He has the size, speed and explosiveness to be effective, maybe even more effective than on the outside. What say you?

Alex: I hear what you’re saying but I think you want to try to see him at OLB through. He isn’t Jarvis Jones-bad. And for this year, you don’t want to keep shifting around key pieces to fill one spot.

Darth Blount 47: Hey, Alex! I’ve seen the idea of moving Watt inside and playing Deebo/Chick at his spot. Instead of telling me why it won’t happen, can you tell me if you think it is a good idea or not. And therefore what would be the net-positives or negatives of making such a move. I always kinda lean towards getting the best players all on the field, while also enhancing the versatility of a player who can handle such roles. Thanks!

Alex: I don’t think it’s a good idea. Let Watt stay where he’s at. Flourish there. Sean Davis got screwed up when the Steelers asked him to play corner and safety last season. Watt can be a really special OLB. I don’t want to risk or delay that.

Thanks for the chat, guys. Talk soon.

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