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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Now that camp is over and done with, going to try to be better with my scheduling and consistency. Goal is to have my mailbag twice a week now. Once on Monday, once on Thursdays, both at 2:30 PM/ET for an hour. Lot to talk about as the preseason begins to wind down. Let me know what’s on your mind.

To your questions!

Andrew Black: 

Hi Alex,

Any chance Matthew Thomas gets some first team reps anytime soon to see if he can be molded into a starter? With a little work, he might be able to develop. Bostic and Matakevich both have just been, meh (more Tyler than Bostic).

Alex: I don’t think so. Gotta crawl before you run. He has to make the 53, earn trust on special teams. And remember, that Mack spot is supposed to be the key communicator, the guy who everyone relies on to get the calls and communicate without fault. Is that trust going to a UDFA Day One? I wouldn’t want that unless he was really special. Thomas has promise but he’s not there. Bostic is starting Week One, unless the team does something crazy via trade.

MattHat21: In the past you’ve identified some potential FA acquisitions (for ex, Douzable). Do you have insight or have done any analysis about who may be available at cutdowns and who the Steelers should be interested in? Anything in mind for ILB, TE?

Alex: I’ve started to look some names up the last couple days. Still can be hard to tell who is/isn’t going to get cut.

For the ILBs, it’s hard to find anyone who really fits. If you’re Pittsburgh, no point in trading for/acquiring a backup. You have plenty of those. You want a starter and most teams aren’t parting ways with those guys so easily. OLB, even a backup, is a little tricky too.

I do think if the team wants to bring in a TE, they will have plenty of candidates to choose from. Lot of good depth out there. I don’t know if he’s going to be cut, seems like a toss-up, but watch out for the Jets’ Jordan Leggett. Steelers reportedly were going to consider taking him last year. That’s one name I’ll toss out there for now. Will have a full list in the near-ish future.

SteelerSuperFanDad: Other than LeVeon Bell, what is the maximum number of spots you could see being used on the initial 53-man roster of players that were NOT at Steelers training camp (either by trade, waivers, or FA)?

Alex: That’s a good question. Really depends on what talent is out there. If there’s guys they like, the number could go up. If not, could be low. That’s a very obvious answer but that’s just how it works. You don’t take a guy just to take a guy. It goes back to your evaluation of him coming out of college and what your pro scouts are saying.

But to give an answer: three. An ILB, an OLB, and some other position (most likely either a TE or OT).

falconsaftey43: I realize we focus in on the Steelers, so context can be hard sometimes. But it seems the Steelers edge rushers get run up the arc WAY more than they should. I’m talking further, not frequency. I realize edge rushers won’t win all the time to the outside, but you see the Steelers OLBs actually run past the QB quite a bit, so that they end up on the other side of the QB (left or right) leaving gaping lanes for the QB to escape. Why do they hardly ever stop rushing upfield once they fail to win the edge so they at least keep contain (not to mention potential catch the OT with their momentum carrying them upfield and actually winning the rep)? Is this more common than I think, or are Steelers OLBs particularly bad at knowing when to stop going upfield?

Alex: You hit on the key word there, falcon. Context. I don’t study enough of other teams to have a perfect answer for you. The Steelers definitely don’t have the “bendiest” edge rushers (drafting Harold Landry would’ve been nice) so that is one factor.

I actually think it’s more of a frequency issue than it is distance. Post-Jarvis Jones, I think the OLBs don’t get run upfield too far but it happens too often. Dupree has had problems converting speed to power (injury may have played a factor) and Chickillo isn’t as physical a player as you’d like for someone of his size and background. They just have a lot of guys who try to win the edge. So it is evident more often.

Ian Suttie:

Hypothetical question… Belichick calls and offers Gronk for Bell, straight up. Do you say yes? Seems like Gronk would be a bigger plus over what we’ve got now than Bell to Conner would subtract.

Same question for Gruden offering us Mack. I know he wants HUGE money but we might be able to pay him with Bell gone? Any ILB you would trade Bell for?

Alex: Ah, sorry Ian, I’m the worst at these hypotheticals. Not anything I ever think about so I can’t even point to something relevant I watched or thought about to give you anything worthy of an interesting answer. Obviously, I’m a lot more willing to deal Bell knowing it’s his final year. So if I could get Mack back and on a long-term deal already worked out, yes, I would do it. Ditto for any of the top ILBs. Any elite player on a long-term deal, I would strongly consider, QB aside, of course.

Anthony Palmerston: Is Dupree good enough for this defense?

Alex: Guess we’re going to get our answer after this year is wrapped up.

Last year, I was in the camp of “I’m confident he can be a successful pass rusher, this is his year!” Then…2017 happened.

This year, I’ve shifted to “I’m hopeful he can turn it around but I’m not particularly confident in it.”

If he struggles again to say, a 6-7 sack season, then I’ll be in “time to find someone else” camp.

Moving him to ROLB and Watt to LOLB makes sense from a run defense standpoint. But I don’t believe the idea it’s going to transform him into a stud of a pass rusher. Steelers are trying to sell you a bill of goods on that one.

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