Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag, the first of two we’ll do this week. As always, we’re keeping our regularly scheduled Thursday chat but adding in this Monday session as well.

Two weeks from now, we’ll know what Le’Veon Bell’s future in Pittsburgh holds. Do you think a deal gets done?

To your questions!

Sam Clonch: Everyone’s focused on Bell’s contact, what contracts this year our next are people overlooking? I’m thinking Vince and Foster being on their last year’s is falling through the cracks from fan perspective. I’ll assume Colbert and Khan ate on to of it!

Alex: Yup, those are two key ones, Williams and Foster. Williams could get an extension before the start of the year but I don’t think the odds are super high. Foster probably won’t get one. Chris Boswell has a good chance to receive an extension before this year too. Those are arguably the top three to focus on right now.

Spencer Krick: 

Hey Alex,

I know you’re pumped for the supplemental draft, do you think the Steelers are actually interested in any of the available prospects?

Alex: I think they are but I think that’s true of most of the teams in the NFL. It’s an unusually talented supplemental draft, there hasn’t been a player taken here since 2015.

I’m sure they like Sam Beal but if he’s going to cost a 3rd, I can’t see the Steelers pulling the trigger. It’s not like their corner depth is terrible.

If I had to guess, and it’s just a guess, if they take anyone (and the odds, naturally, aren’t high) is Brandon Bryant from Mississippi State. He’ll be much cheaper, maybe even costing a 7th (possible undrafted too) and the Steelers attended his workout.

Had the Steelers felt better about getting a comp pick for 2019, right now, I don’t think they’re expected to, I could see them being more aggressive.

Bill Sechrengost: Good afternoon Alex. I believe that most people would agree that the Steelers are the best team in the AFC North. What team do you think is the biggest challenge to the Steelers in winning the AFC North Division and why?

Alex: Hey Bill! I guess it’d be Baltimore. They still have a tough defense and if the Ravens wise up and play Lamar Jackson sooner than later, I think they can push for a Wild Card spot. But if the Steelers can’t win the AFC North by at least two games, it’d be a surprise and disappointment. It’s a bad division.

Brian Miller: Good afternoon Alex..I am wondering what your take is on how the ILB Corp and Safety Corp will eventually look like. Not necessarily specific players, but it sounds to me like the staff intends to have lots of situational substitutions and players going in and out constantly. Do you think this will be the case, or do you think it will be specific players playing the majority of the time with few subs? I am worried about the constant subbing since we seem to lack effective communication skills with full time starters. I’m afraid this could turn into Keystone Cops, pun intended.

Alex: Sure, the NFL is becoming increasingly niche and I don’t see that changing. It’s too hard to find players who can do it all. That usually means you gotta get an early pick for a top talent and in Pittsburgh, that hasn’t happened in a long time. So you have to find those niche players to compensate.

It’s really a reflection of the college game. It’s becoming more specialized, more niche, and they have much larger rosters to work with. So they can easily get away with having those rotational/situational players (not to mention how hard it is for a school to recruit those all-stars, unless they are one of the top teams).

You’re also right there are unintended consequences of that, like communication breakdowns, or offenses being able to counter with no-huddle/no subs that keeps your guys on the field. But it’s better than having Vince Williams cover a #4 WR or elite TE on 3rd and 12. Pros outweigh the cons.

CP72: Alex,
People seem to be worried about wide receiver depth. I personally look at it like we switched out Washington for Bryant and Rogers will be back when healthy. I actually think it’s a stronger overall group this year. Your thoughts on the group?

Alex: That’s the goal. In the short-term, Bryant probably would’ve been better, especially knowing how things clicked for him over the month of the year (shaking off all the rust). But you have Washington long-term (I don’t think the Steelers had any expectation of bringing Bryant back) and there’s a lot to like about him. But they have to bring Rogers back, Washington has to play well, etc.

So yes, the group can be stronger, but I think there’s a lot more uncertainty this year than last.

Darth Blount 47: Hey, Alex! Injuries happen every year. Some years, the Steelers get pretty lucky and they either don’t come nearly as much, or they come at positions we can withstand. But some years, we get hit in some pretty bad areas. This whole off-season, (because of the loss of Shazier most likely), all of the focus has been on ILB. But is it time to acknowledge that the OLB group that we have, is terrifyingly low on quality depth? I mean, are we really happy with Chickillo and Adams as the primary backups? What happens if Bud Dupree doesn’t finally take that step? We currently do NOT have another plan as far as I can see. What say you?

Alex: I’m not sure if there are many fans who think the Steelers have good depth at OLB. But it’s stuff I’ve written about throughout the offseason. Entertaining the idea of Shane Ray, John Simon, and especially after my Chickillo breakdown where I sat there and went “wow, the Steelers are really in trouble here” after seeing how much he struggled.

Hopefully the young guys like Keion Adams and whoever else step up. But you’re right, they aren’t in a good place right now.

Jeremy: Hi Alex. It is so slow now. Could you tell me something surprising about previous training camps? Maybe a guy who had an unexpected sense of humor or something?

Alex: Hmm…I don’t know if have anything like that. One oddity I remember is Alden Darby, a safety from a couple years ago, had a legit QB arm. He was throwing with someone after practice and the dude could spin it.

The Dri Archer/Brad Wing BFF story was always fun too. I wonder how that friendship sparked but almost every day, they’d walk down the St. Vincent stairs together and onto the field.

hdogg48: Alex who are your top candidates for MIP (most improved player)?

Alex: Vance McDonald has to be at the top of my list. Talked him up pretty highly during the offseason. The comfort he now has being in the city/system for a year, his health, and I think Randy Fichtner will be a positive for the tight ends in this offense. He won’t be a focal point of the offense with so much talent around him but he’ll make plenty of impact plays. The true #1 TE on this team.

Hopefully Tuitt puts it together too. The bicep injury suffered Week One last year clearly hampered him and his ability to finish sacks. Left a lot out on the table. He needs to have a near-Heyward like season, the one that ends with 7-10 sacks. I’m confident he is capable of doing that though.

The Tony: Alex,
What is your ideal food scenario for the 4th of July?

Alex: Nothing too fancy. Give me a hot dog, burger, potato salad, and chips. And as long as I don’t blow up my hand with a firework, it’s a good day.

St. BlackenGold: Hi Alex! In the battle for the 6th D-line spot currently held by Daniel McCullers, what are the Steelers expectations? To actually find a run-stopping NT, or to find the most versatile depth player (basically the ‘swing’ D-lineman), and have Alualu or Walton be the backup at NT?

Alex: They drafted Joshua Frazier because they wanted a big body up front and Keith Butler has repeatedly talked about wanting to get better versus the run. Not that you would hope/expect the 6th DL to see much time this year but that’s the theme of what they want to see in camp/preseason. Someone capable of eventually filling that sort of role.

But just like reserves for the OL, DL need to be versatile too. Especially because you know one injury is all it takes for that 6th DL to dress and there’s no telling where that will open up a spot. Will it be a DE or NT that goes down? What if it’s Walton, who can play both? Can the next man up seamlessly fill that spot or does the team have to get creative.

That’s why I have had Greg Gilmore included on my 53 man roster. Because I think he will be able to play DE and NT with his length and strength. And that’s going to give him more value.

Under Karl Dunbar, his key coaching points are running to the ball, defeating blocks in the run game, and being a good teammate. So guys who are capable of doing those things consistently are going to have better odds. But truthfully, as lame of an answer as it is, it’s just about finding talent. Someone who has potential and some upside.

That’s all for today. See you Thursday!

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