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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to another week of the mailbag. Hope you’re all staying warm. Days like these I’m extra thankful to be working from home. But pray for the McLumina. She’s not a winter car. Or a summer car either. She’s more of a “one weekend in May” kinda car.

Anyways, we’re here for the next hour. To your questions!

Brian Oleen: Hi Alex, what are your professional goals? You seem really well versed in a sports journalism role. Writing, radio, TV? Or maybe something else?

Alex: Hey Brian! I’m really happy where I’m at now with Steelers Depot. So that’s my goal. Take this site to new heights and make it as strong as we possibly can.

srdan: AK, the AB thing seems never ending. Can you speculate as to what is going on? What is his beef?

Alex: Blame part of that on the offseason. If there was something else to talk about, the Brown situation would at least be partially overshadowed, similar to the way it was with Bell. But with them bounced early, an even longer offseason, this is the biggest question and really the only story. That’s why it’s so endless.

I’m guessing Brown just feels like he doesn’t have a voice in the offense/team. That Tomlin is on Ben’s side and Ben has been too critical of Brown of him publicly. We know he’s had that “me vs the world’ mentality forever now and for most of his career, it’s worked. Made him into the player he is, with an unstoppable work ethic. He’s now at the mountain top but thinks he’s still starting his climb. And that has led to some issues.

The Pittsburgh Steelers: Hi Alex!
Folks are really upset about Butler resuming his OLB coaching duties. Do you share the same type of concern? I have read that the OLBs spend so much time with Dunbar 80% of the time because of their usage. And Keith is a very successful OLB coach. Do you see cause for concern here?

Alex: I mean, Butler was a really good linebackers coach. I don’t question his ability to coach the position. I wonder if this is his unspoken demotion but we’ll have to wait and see how that works once the year starts.

My biggest question about this decision is how it’ll work in practice. I don’t really understand the PPG’s Dunbar/Butler comments. How does Butler only coach them in base? Which, by the way, is more like 30-35% of the time, not 20% like they keep saying (we keep track of it in our charting).

Practically speaking, who coaches this group during camp/practice? It won’t be Dunbar, he’s on a separate part of the field with the defensive linemen. When the team breaks for positional meetings, where do the OLBs go? Again, probably not Dunbar.

I assume the answer to both of those questions is Butler but we’ll wait and see. Those are my biggest questions though.

The Tony: Alex, the Steelers over the past three seasons have almost every positional coach replaced. Do you think that there needs to be more stability within the organization at the positional coaches or is that just the life of a coach?

Alex: No, I haven’t seen it as the issue. A lot of it has been in-house promotion. Fichtner elevated after booting Haley. Butler moving up to replace LeBeau. So replacing one guy replaces two and that’s why you’re getting double the turnover. It’s no surprise to see Richard Mann retire or John Mitchell take a step back; we know that was coming. And Munchak was largely out of their control but again, replaced in-house with Sarrett. So I generally point that stuff to just how football works.

Brian Tollini: Maybe a tough question to answer based on his limited playing time last year, but do you see Marcus Allen as someone who could fill that dimebacker role in the near future or do you feel we need to look outside our current roster for that player?

Alex: He can be in the mix. That’s probably his best shot to play in the league. But I’m not putting all my eggs in his basket. I’m bringing someone else in, someone I believe who can start. Free agency or draft, either works. And then see what happens in camp.

J Alexander Wright: Assuming AB moves on, I’ve been taking a look at some FA WRs and I’m kinda intrigued by Tyrell Williams. Any opinion on him or any others you’ve been specifically monitoring?

Alex: I haven’t. But Williams isn’t a great fit. He’s a Z receiver. The big-bodied deep threat with size who can block a little bit. The Steelers have those guys. That’s JuJu. That’s James Washington. Think of Martavis Bryant and Sammie Coates – those are Z receivers.

Brown is an X. You generally look for someone smaller, quicker, who can beat press coverage and comfortable playing on an island. Someone who can create space off the line and in his route. So Williams wouldn’t be a great fit, though you’re right, Williams has been a consistent deep threat.

Andy N: Hi, I can’t quite get my head around how the DB coaching works now. I like the hire of Austin, but with Bradley, Austin, bit of butler, Tomlin….that’s a lot of voices. What’s your take?

Alex: I’m not entirely clear how it’s going to go too. As has been reported, Bradley will take one group in the secondary (corner or safety) and Austin the other. I don’t mind the idea though because it’s so many different skillsets for one coach to try to juggle. Outside corners vs slot corners. Deep safety vs box safety vs dime players. A lot on one guy and I think the position deserves to be specialized.

But you’re right about too many cooks in the kitchen too. Hopefully they delegate it the right way and Tomlin is a little more hands off. Lets the guys he hired to coach be coaches. We’ll see.

Nolrog: After the craziness of the Bell thing for the last two years, are you happy to have a nice quiet drama free off-season?

Alex: lol. All smooth sailing from here.

Can’t wait for 2020 when we’re talking about Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert fist fighting on draft day.

AB: 

Hi Alex,

I’ve never been a fire Tomlin guy, but recently that’s changed. Seems like a lot of former players are coming out publicly saying that he is definetely a cause for this team’s unfolding. What are your thoughts as I know you aren’t one to scream for a firing?

Alex: I think I’ve been pretty clear and consistent on where I stand on all that. Not in favor of firing him at the end of this year but if this team misses the playoffs again in 2019? I think it becomes a serious discussion, depending on exactly what happens. But he deserves another year to turn it around, just as you see around the league with Mike McCarthy and more importantly, what Tomlin’s done before. Came off two ugly 8-8 seasons to get this team back on track. Let’s see if he can do it again.

Austin Laroche: If Shazier had never gotten hurt, what do you think the general opinion of Butler would be, would everyone still want him fired?

Will Burns make the 53 man roster next year? Obviously, he’ll make camp b/c he is still under contract, but I expect the Steelers to resign Coty or sign some other cheap vet. If they also draft a CB with a high round pick does that push Burns off?

Alex: I dunno, that’s tough to say. A lot of Butler’s issues weren’t just talent related, it was scheme, but I guess that’s hard to say. For Burns, no, he won’t make the 53. Gotta start revamping this secondary, just as they did over the last couple years, pretty much clearing house. Won’t be as dramatic this time around but you gotta dump the dead weight.

capehouse: What’s the more important off-season addition for the Defense, an ILB or a Dimeback, and where do you see the Steelers acquiring him free agency or the draft?

Alex: Inside linebacker. They’re simply going to play more. You need to find that all situations playmaker. Too much roulette with the ILB group this year. Bostic, Vince, Fort, all of them were tried as “the guy” and largely speaking, all got bumped out of that role.

I expect the Steelers to pursue the position aggressively again. They did last year. They wanted to draft Rashaan Evans; all the top ILBs just went too high. Nothing changed this year to alter that approach this time around. So you look in FA, see if you can make a move there, and if not, you fall back on the draft. But it’s more important than dimeback.

Marcal Chris Chauvet: Your only so deep into your scouting I know Alex, but do you believe any of the guys who could be difference makers for us (Murphy, White, Wilson, Polite….) will make it to #20? Personally, I have my doubts.

Alex: Sure, someone will. Murphy could. So could Polite or one of the ILBs. Evans went 22nd last year. Vander Esch went 19. And that was a really strong off ball class. So yeah, someone can make it. And if you need to move up this year, you won’t have to go as far. Can get up from 20 to 15-18 if need be.

SteelDodo: If Baltimore had lost their last game and we had gotten into the playoffs, how do you think the Steelers would have done? Decent chance to make SB?

Alex: Nah, I don’t think they would’ve made it. Still on principle of too many offensive turnovers, not enough defensively, they weren’t beating the Chiefs (whose defense improved) or the Pats. Maybe not even Indy and the Chargers would’ve been tough in a rematch.

The upshot to making the playoffs is maybe salvaging Antonio Brown? Then he would have to report, the team could potentially hash things out, who knows. In the end, Cleveland’s loss may have been the final nail in AB’s coffin.

Ian Suttie: what would the cap savings from cutting Burns be? any advantage to do it now vs after training camp?

Alex: I think Dave said he is due a roster bonus in camp but ultimately, the savings are very negligible.

ImMikeD: Hey Alex, Is it possible for the Steelers to talk about an extension for Dupree? I think he’s an avg OLB, but an above avg back up. The Steelers (at this time) do not have a viable replacement starter in place. So, my thought is to try to extend him. He’ll be owed $9m next year if they keep him. Extend him another 3 years at a total of about $20-24M for 4 years, but guarantee him say $12-14M. Then if the Steelers do find a replacement, they have an affordable back-up in Dupree, which is an upgrade over Chickillo, plus they can lower this year’s cap hit. It also has the benefit of not “needing” to reach for an OLB in the draft, or over paying a FA

Alex: I’m in favor of that as opposed to letting him play out his option year at an insane $9.2 million. As for the particulars of a deal, it’s hard for me to say, I’d have to see all the details, but an extension makes more sense. Letting him play on the option year is insane.


That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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