Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to another edition of the Steelers’ mailbag. Slow week this time of year but whatever’s on your mind, drop it below in the comments. We’ll be here for the next hour.

To your questions!

Sdale: Alex, you’ve mentioned in the past that the Steelers D doesn’t have as distinct a difference in the roles between the FS and SS. I share your concerns about moving Sean Davis yet again and how it might set him back. However, given the fact that those roles aren’t so different in our defense, do you think he might not struggle that much to make the switch?

Alex: I’ve kinda gone back and forth on that. There are similarities and ask those guys and they’ll say it’s pretty much the same. But still, it is a different position and are used in a lot of different ways. The SS is in the box a lot of the time. The FS rarely ever is (and if he is, is usually due to an offense’s shift or motion). FS is playing the deep middle much more often, not matching up on the TE, the slot receiver, and not blitzing as much. Very much more of a space player than the SS.

Davis’ issue, like Burns, is a lack of consistency. And I just think continuing to put him in a new spot is going to lend itself to more of that inconsistency. Ever since his last year at Maryland, he’s been moved around. From safety to corner, to safety initially in Pittsburgh, to slot corner, then back to SS, while shifting some responsibilities in dime last year too. I think it’s just best for him to at least get two years doing the same thing, knowing where his role is at. That can’t hurt him, at least.


Alex, you don’t seem to think there will a significant increase in their usage of Dime. Is there anything specific that makes you feel this way?

2013 for the final 8 games the Steelers used the 3rd safety over 60% of the time in place of an ILB. Last year, teams such as the Patriots (averaged 2.76 safeties on the field) made extensive use of it. As do the Chiefs with Sorenson and Cards with Bucannon (who they call a LB, but was a safety in college and is virtually the same size as Edmunds).

Alex: Remember that a large part of the dime-heavy usage in 2013 was basically a desperate move by the Steelers. Larry Foote went down Week One and the only other option was a then-rookie and 6th round pick Vince Williams.

Now Williams is proven to be a solid two-down player. I don’t have a compelling reason to remove him from the field in a “normal” run/pass situation. Because that’s who is coming off the field in dime.

I say it probably won’t go up significantly because it’s mostly used as a response to down distance. 3rd and 5+, end of half, end of game. The numbers could rise based if the Steelers see more of those situations (also could fall) but I don’t see Butler expanding it to beyond those situations. Vince is a good player and deserves to be on the field.

But like I’ve said, I think dime will be much more effective. And that has me excited.

McBringleberry: Hey Alex, the overall sentiment seems to be that Burns, Davis, and Hargrave all either regressed or plateaued in their sophomore year. I think Burns and Davis made decent improvements last year. Both made plays but both also gave up some splash plays. While Hargrave was mainly invisible last year.

What are your thoughts on all 3 of their overall play last year? And how do you project each of them in their 3rd year?

Alex: Palmer has asked a similar question so I’m lumping the two together in one answer.

Like I mentioned above, for Burns and Davis, it’s all about consistency. I think Davis stayed around the same, a tad better, while Burns was essentially the same guy as his rookie year. Some highs, lot of lows. Football IQ, awareness, being able to adjust on the fly, those are his biggest problems. It certainly isn’t a lack of talent/physical ability.

I think you guys are being a little harsh on Hargrave. I saw improvement. I thought last year was a solid season for him, especially the impact he made as a pass rusher. Had a great Week One vs Cleveland, dominant showing against Detroit. Did flame out as the season ended but there was a back injury that probably isn’t acknowledged enough that hurt him, figuratively and literally. I’m still confident in him.

Grant Humphrey: Alex,
More of a personal question this week, but what got you into blogging and writing for this site?

Alex: Dave approached me. I followed Depot but really hadn’t had any contact with the site before. I was writing for another Steelers’ site, he saw one of my game breakdowns and the rest is history.

Keith Evans: Haley couldn’t get this Offense to play to its potential week in, week out,..Arians had this problem too, but with less talent admittedly, why should we believe that Fitner, a guy who is taking on his first Pro OC role will break the mould? We are blessed with Offensive talent – this team should be outscoring the likes of Jacksonville IMHO.

Alex: I mean, there’s really nothing I can say to “prove” it. It’s not like I am 100% sold on it either. We’ll see – proof is in the pudding. I do think Fichtner is a bright offensive mind who might be a little more malleable in his scheme than Haley was. And a better relationship between QB and OC, in theory, is going to produce better communication and improved results. Fichtner’s scheme will be tailored to what Ben does best and that’s what any good OC should do.

NickSteelerFan: Hey Alex!
Two people I’m curious to see what happens with next year. Do you think Ramon Foster and Vince Williams will be brought back after 2018?

Alex: Vince yes, I think he will be. Now, that isn’t a guarantee but I expect him to play well, he’ll be relatively cheap without much 3rd down value, and I don’t think he wants to go anywhere. He’s a pretty loyal dude. Foster is tougher to judge because he’s older, the decline will happen at some point (though hasn’t occurred yet) and there’s Finney waiting in the wings.

If Bell doesn’t come back though, that frees up a ton of money. And makes it more likely Foster could come back. If a long-term deal is done with Bell, that might force the Steelers to do some extra belt-tightening. We’ll see.

Jeremy: Alex, what do you see for Cam Sutton’s role on defense this year? I don’t think he takes over for Burns, Haden, or Hilton; and even in the dime I would have to assume the third safety role will be used by one of the 3 safeties. Barring injuries, is there a place for him on this defense this year?

Alex: That’s a good question, Jeremy. It could end up being depth. Before the slew of safeties who came here, I thought he was ticketed for dime. Now, I don’t think he’ll be in the mix, not to start at least.

But if he doesn’t beat out Burns for the RCB spot (I would like to see a competition but don’t think Sutton would win), he’ll basically be next man up. If there is any injury in the secondary, and there will of course be, Sutton will get reps. I think he’ll be the top backup at all three corner spots. And if a safety goes down, he probably sees time in dime as the dime linebacker. So he’ll get playing time. It’s just a question of when and where.

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