Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag. I imagine you have a couple of things on your mind. We’ll be here for the next hour.

To your questions!

MattHat121: What can the offense NOT do with Conner that it CAN do with Bell? And vice versa.

Alex: I agree with Tomlin that the offense will no longer be limited schematically by having Conner in the game, as they were last year. So short answer is nothing.

Effectiveness is another question, however. While Conner has made big strides as a receiver and blocker, he isn’t nearly as natural, fluid, or talented as Bell in any of those areas. That’s just a fact.

And Conner is unlikely to play 90% of the snaps like Bell was capable of. So now you are relying on more than just one guy. That’s where Jaylen Samuels and/or Stevan Ridley come into play. And those guys could limit you a bit when they see the field.

falconsaftey43: Why do you think Grimble made it over Hodges? Not that Hodges was great, but he did some nice things and Grimble was hurt and hardly any established player.

Alex: Because he’s the beter player. I know that’s a lame answer. Hodges had a couple of catches in space. Worth keeping on the practice squad but not a guy ready for the 53. There’s still a lot of potential and talent with Grimble. He’s a bigger, stouter frame and definitely a better blocker. That’s going to be the key role of your #3 tight end.

Plus, cutting Hodges means you get to keep both. If you cut Grimble, you’re not keeping both. So that makes it an easier choice. It’s not like Hodges can’t get a call-up at some point if (when, given this group) gets hurt.

[email protected]Hey Alex!! Lotsa positive vibes around the Browns.
Are they justified? Should we worry about Sunday?

Alex: They should be worried. Browns are a much better team than last year. And last year’s version only lost by three points Week 1 and held the Steelers offense to just 14 points. AB had to go off just to squeak out the win. This will be a close game.

We’ll have a full scouting report, as we do every week, on the Browns tomorrow with Dan Vasko, Josh Carney, and myself. So stay tuned for that.

jger15: Thoughts on the team waiting to sign John Simon or another LB next week due to vested veteran guarantees after week one?

Alex: Possible. Makes financial sense. And guys like Simon are vested veterans. So they can choose where to go. They can take their time, visit places, wait for an injury to happen that might lead to a better opportunity. So even if the Steelers want Simon – and to be clear, there’s been no reports they do – Simon maybe doesn’t feel the same way. Obviously if he comes to Pittsburgh, he’s the #3 in a system that gives the starters all the snaps they can handle. I’m sure Simon feels he can start for some team in the league.

falconsaftey43: Do you think this team would benefit from working Ola or Adams in on pass rush situations in place of Bud (assume either were on the roster and had a hard for ST anyway)?

Alex: I hear what you’re saying. But I mean, if you want to figure out what you have in Dupree, if you want him to earn that 5th year option, you gotta play him in those situations. Let him show you what he’s got. If by Week 4 you aren’t getting the production, then you can open up that conversation.

I know you asked my opinion but we know generally speaking, the Steelers don’t split the workload like that. The edge guys get spelled for a series, not during the drive, unless there’s a clean break in the action on like, play seven or eight where guys are gassed.

And there’s the unintended consequences of trying to rotate new – and young – guys on the field. If you’re on the road, if your sideline is far away from the line of scrimmage, if you’re facing a team who sees that and hits you with tempo, there could be some issues. So lots to consider.

Paul Garvin Kuhns: If bell doesn’t report until week 10, doesn’t this only further complicate things? Seems to be a lose/lose scenario…
Either Conner and the Steelers are doing well, and it would be ridiculous to strip the starter title away from James Conner
Or Conner and the Steelers struggle and it may be to little to late?
How would you handle it if bell came back week 10? And how do you think it would effect team moral?

Alex: I dunno, let’s see how things look by Week 10. That answer, to steal a Tomlin line, will reveal itself to us. By Week 10, we’re talking about some terrible loss, or crazy win, that key player who is hurt, the backup player who came out of nowhere, and god knows whatever other drama hits this team. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, let alone 10 weeks from now.

One question I have, and I don’t know the answer to it is this: Let’s say Bell shows up Week 9. The Steelers, hypothetically, apply for the two week roster exemption and sit him both those weeks. So now it’s Week 11 and Bell finishes out the year.

Does the season accrue? How does the roster exemption work in relation to that? Not really an important question for now, I know, but that’s still on my mind. I think he shows up by Week 8 to avoid any sort of issue like that.

Brian Tollini: If Vance McDoanld suffers a significant injury this year, do the Steelers simply replace him with Jesse James and bring up Bucky Hodges as the #3, or do they look outside the organization? A healthy McDonald for a full season would put up some impressive numbers, but I feel this is becoming pretty unlikely given that he sprains his ankle every time he brushes his teeth.

Alex: Depends who all is out there. Could go either way. But if McDonald goes down, Jesse James is the guy. That much I can tell you.

steeltown: Surprised after Ola was placed on IR that they didnt promote Adams from the squad team, your thoughts?

Alex: Well they still could. Can make moves until 4 PM Saturday and we’ve seen them do it before. Like we wrote about a couple days ago, the fact Matthew Thomas can play on the edge makes him a de facto #4 OLB.

Bryant Eng: Do you expect to see more no huddle this season? Bell’s absence has me thinking Ben will move the rock on his own more, potentially set up an MVP type season.

Alex: Yes, Ben said so. It’s his offense. He’s running da show.

But it’s also a bit of a gameflow thing. Sometimes that’s just based on needing to spark the offense, a defense that wants to make a lot of subs, so it can vary week to week. Roethlisberger could have his best year ever, to be honest.

Hardy Steeler: Predict a stat line for J. Conner, rushing and receiving vs the Browns? Final Score?

Alex: I’m pretty bad at these things but…

Conner: 19 carries, 79 yards, 1 TD. 3 receptions, 28 yards.

I’ll have my score prediction for my usual “keys to win/lose” post Sunday morning.

Jeff McNeill: What second year player do you expect the biggest jump from?

Alex: Conner is a pretty easy answer. But I’m excited about Cam Sutton. Think he had a good camp and preseason. How versatile he is for how young/inexperienced he is…that’s pretty rare.

Kyle Chrise: did we get any indication during the pre-season how much man coverage we’ll use in the secondary?

Alex: Nah, too hard to tell for two reasons.

1. TV broadcast angle sucks. I miss you, All-22.

2. Not enough gameplanning, things so vanilla. Can’t get a good read into things.

The Tony: Alex,
I traded Bell from my fantasy team for Fournette in a full point ppr league. Would you have made this trade?

Alex: Absolutely. Unless Bell gets points for sitting on his couch in this league, having Fournette for an entire season is better than Bell for maybe half of it.

Jesse Hernandez: Hey Alex what is your realistic statistical Conner season over 16 games if Bell sat out all year?

Alex: Wild guesses at it.

265 carries 1139 yards (4.3 YPC) and 8 rushing TDs. With 40 receptions and another 2 TDs.

A.j. Gentile: If Burnett is not starting, do you expect him to be the 6th DB on the field or do you think it will be Sutton?

Alex: Man, I hope it’s Burnett. Or you’re spending some decent dough on a guy to keep the seat warm.

I think it’ll be Burnett. He definitely fits well as that box/hybrid LB role, who can tackle in space and play man coverage on tight ends. They’ve had him there in camp so that isn’t a new spot for him and obviously, he played a ton there in Green Bay too.

NickSteelerFan: Hey Alex, football is here!!! If you’re going with your gut, what do the Steelers have up their sleeves in regards to signing or trading for a player after the recent contract extension, and the roster construction?

Alex: My gut/crystal ball says to check back later. I really don’t know what he plan is. If it is just some financial flexibility in case something happens or there are angling to do something. Kind of at the 11th hour for that stuff. So sorry to say, I don’t have a clue.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: 

Hey Alex,

If Bell sits out til week 10 what would expect the Steelers record to be without him? Mainly, are they capable of staying in the playoff hunt til he shows up?

Alex: Oh they can still not only be in the playoff hunt but in the drivers or passenger’s seat. Said it yesterday. The team is talented enough to overcome not having him for that time, just as they did when he tore his MCL back in 2015.

It’s sorta like Vance McDonald. As frustrating as it is that McDonald is hurt, or that Bell will be out, you don’t need those guys for the regular season. Just need them for the playoff push. That can put you over the top. So if they are there for the playoffs, then there’s really no excuse. Steelers still a Super Bowl contender.

Chris: Hi Alex, do you feel like The Rooneys finally let Tomlin have the coaches that he wanted since day one. And how do you think Fitner will do?

Alex: I don’t know what that means. This isn’t the first time Tomlin hired assistants. Butler is still from pre-Tomlin and Fichtner was really the only choice to replace Haley. They weren’t going outside the organization, not in Ben’s final years.

I think Fichtner will do well. Obviously having a good relationship with Roethlisberger has its benefits. All Fichtner has to do is help improve the red zone offense and odds are, I’ll be a happy guy.


Hi Alex,

I like the keeping Dobbs over Landry Jones, however, my hate for Landry that I once had when he first joined the team faded away as I saw him as a valuable backup.

That being said, does Mason Rudolph have any shot at dethroning Dobbs as the back up QB this year or is that something that is more likely to happen next year?


Alex: It’s going to be tough. Don’t see a lot of movement at that position. I know that Tomlin downplayed the lack of reps Rudolph will get and sure, Roethlisberger may still get some days of rest early in the week but let’s not kid ourselves. The #3 offers very few reps. Josh Dobbs admitted as much last year. Not enough to prove to coaches to make the switch.

So unless Dobbs plays, tanks it, and that compels the team to make a switch, I see Rudolph as the #3 all year. He better be the #2 next year though. Don’t want him going two years with almost no reps.

Dylan Bayer: 

Okay so I’m strapping down my tin foil hat good and tight for this one…

We have all been wondering why the Steelers cleared the cap room they did. We are also wondering when Bell will show up, and know that every week he doesn’t the Steelers gain his game check in available cap room. I am also of the opinion that the Steelers FO knows more than they’re letting on about Bells intentions.

Could the Steelers have a player in mind for the trade deadline that would cost more money than they have now but would be a great “push for the playoffs” type of player and long term solution at a key position?

Alex: Who knows, I won’t rule anything out. But that’s a ways away and who knows what the team and its landscape will look by then.

If I was strapping my tin foil hat on, I would say the team created that space in an effort to raise Bell’s franchise tag this year in an attempt to get him to show up earlier. A thing that’s never been done but CAN happen, the only negotiation power available with the long-term deal deadline past.

But I also counter that idea with “Alex, stop being an idiot.”



Which rookie, if any, not named Terrell Edmunds or James Washington will have the most significant impact on this years team?

Alex: Well those are the two who will.

Chukwuma Okorafor is only one injury away from seeing starting time. He’s a guy who can go from afterthought to “oh please don’t ruin us” in one play flat. Jaylen Samuels and Marcus Allen will be bit/role players and don’t high odds of ascending into that role.

But the easy answer is Matthew Thomas. The Steelers are going to get him on the field sooner than later, and I think he has some sort of role Week One.

My list.

1. Matthew Thomas
2. Chukwuma Okorafor
3. Jaylen Samuels
4. Ola Adeniyi
5. Marcus Allen

That’s all for this week. Great chat. Talk soon!

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