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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to the first mailabg after a very busy draft weekend. Sorry to change up the time on you guys today, have somewhere to be at three, so needed to move the chat up earlier than normal. We’ll go from 1-2 PM today. If you come in late and miss me, just leave your question in the comments below and I promise I’ll circle back to them when I get back in.

Anyway, let’s get to it.

To your questions!

stan: What do you make of the news that Marcus Allen may switch to linebacker? Combined with the already thin depth chart at safety and the sudden need to get several small athletic linebackers, I’m thinking this may signal a significant switch in scheme

Alex: Probably making a lot less of it than most others are. I didn’t see Tomlin referring to Allen making a full-time switch to linebacker. If they were, they would’ve drafted a safety and not gone oops, all linebackers on Day Three of the draft.

The question was about the Steelers addressing sub-package football and that prompted Tomlin to bring Allen’s name up. He was referring to playing that dimebacker role. Yes, functions like a linebacker, but he’s still a safety. He’s not making a “true” position switch. And Allen was always a logical fit for that dime role though with them not taking a safety, he’s now the front runner.

Byron Mobley: How long before Bush is in the starting lineup? And how will Layne do compared to the other CBs the Steelers drafted since Artie?

Alex: We’ll see. Colbert likes to sit guys but that hasn’t been recent reality with Watt and Edmunds. Still, Bush has to earn the job. Not going to be handed to him when you have vets like Vince and Barron. Day One of camp, Bush will be running 2nd team. But by quarter, mid-season, Bush could take over. He’ll probably have some role from Week 1, too, in sub-packages.

How will Layne play? Again, we’ll see. Steelers haven’t developed corners well but they’ve also had just as many problems evaluating them. I have my reservations about Layne. Hopefully he gets to sit for most of his rookie year and history says he will.

draframe: Hi Alex! What does your dime defense look like? Assuming a quick transition for Bush he should be the lone ILB with Barron as the dimebacker yes?

Alex: I don’t expect Barron to be the dimebacker. In their 2-3-6, Vince/Bush/Barron may be fighting for one spot. So for the moment, until Bush is trusted to call the defense, I’ll go with…

2-3-6 dime defense

Tuitt/Heyward
Watt/Marcus Allen/Barron/Dupree
Haden/Hilton/Nelson
Davis/Edmunds

So Marcus Allen is your dime guy. I’ll say Barron, a vet, will pick up the defense enough to stay on the field and play traffic cop. Hilton in the nickel, we’ll see if he holds off Sutton. Interesting battle there.

The Tony: 

Alex, what would you consider a successful rookie season of Diontae Johnson? The room is really open for anyone to step in for the two spot.

Also way too early but is there any names you are looking forward to seeing in the 2020 draft process. I am sure some underclassman stood out to you while watching tape.

Alex: Oh wow,I haven’t even framed it in terms of numbers or what I would deem a success. Someone who can carry over those splash plays he made, in all facets of the game, at Toledo to the NFL. He doesn’t need to have a 1000 yard season. But give me 13.5 yards per catch and a couple of long gains/touchdowns. Throw in a kick return touchdown too, or heck, get me to the 50 yard line, and I’m giddy. But we’ll see them in camp and get a gauge for how they’re coming along.

Yeah, some of them name to mind. I don’t remember most of their names right now. One that came to mind I tweeted about a couple weeks ago. Could see another Wolverine on the Steelers’ radar. OLB Josh Uche. Seven sacks as a backup/rotational player. Check out the hand use/bend. If Dupree is gone, could pop up on their radar.

Tim Drake: Any hope that Sutton Smith or Ulysees Gilbert III carves out a role on defense this year, or will they be relegated to Special Teams?

Alex: Nah, they’ll probably be special teamers. You should root for that. If Smith or Gilbert find their way on the defense, something went wrong. Poor play and injuries. You don’t want to count on 6th round picks out of the gate. But both have potential to be really good special teamers.

Elyas Correa Nogueira: Hey, Alex. Firstly, I’d like to thank you and the entire Steelers Depot crew for the amazing job you guys have done throughout the Draft process. If you get any mail complaining about a would-be late-round steal, know that this is all on you guys for making us love some prospects.

Now, to the question(s). Do you think any UDFA (non-specialists) has an actual shot of making the roster this year (like Thomas and Ola last year)? And wha do you think about a Bush-Barron duo at ILB when Devin takes over the play-calling? Thx.

Alex: Thanks for your kind words, Elyas. We have a great team who put in a ton of work these last couple months.

Three FAs to look for though I’ve only gotten into PJ Locke’s tape. That’s one name to consider. Lot to clean up, very up-and-down player but hard hitter at a position, safety, where depth is weak. Fred Johnson might have been the most talented UDFA signed, guard from Florida, with size and movement skills. The path to the 53 is tough though. And then Alexander Myres is interesting. Corner from Houston. Seven special teams tackles in 2018. That could be his path as the 6th CB if he beats out Brian Allen and Artie Burns.

For your last question, sure, I don’t rule anything out at the ILB spot. But that won’t happen right away so we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Josh Knepshield: Assuming Bush is a day one guy, how do they handle the rotation of Vinny and Barron?

Alex: Well Bush and Barron play the same spot. So that’s where the real battle could be. I don’t really know how it’s going to go. Not sure the team does either. But there are options here and it’s better to have too many than not enough, which was the case last year.

Readers783 (Good Juju!): Assuming the team keeps 6 WRs (let me know if you disagree with that assumption), who is going to be fighting hardest for that 6th spot with the likes of Trey Griffey? Switzer or Eli? Switzer does more on STs, but does Diontae minimize the need for that? Eli might be the better Slot receiver

Alex: Let’s map it out.

Roster Locks

JuJu Smith-Schuster
James Washington
Donte Moncrief
Diontae Johnson

So that’s four.

On The Bubble

Ryan Switzer
Eli Rogers
The Rest

So pick one of Switzer and Rogers. And then there will be a battle for a potential 6th spot, though they may keep only five. Whoever you didn’t pick of those two, Switzer/Rogers, will certainly have the inside track.

srdan: Are you worried that Bush only had one INT and no FF or recoveries at Michigan?

Alex: Nah. Ryan Shazier had one college INT. He did a pretty nice job finding the ball in the NFL.

Robert Francis: Albert Breer mentioned in his podcast this week that players signed after May 7 won’t count against the comp pick formula, which is why some big named FAs are still available. Any positions you think the Steelers might address between now and the start of camp? Where is depth the weakest? Any minimum salary free agents on your radar?

Alex: Oh yeah, two big ones.

1. Tight end. Xavier Grimble as the clear-cut #2? Zach Gentry the #3? No one there to push either of them? Doesn’t look great. Vance McDonald was traded for when Jesse James struggled in camp and the position looked weak. I could see it again.

One name on my radar though I will wait until close to camp to write up more in terms of cuts/trades. Buffalo’s Jason Croom. Played ok last year. Bills drafted a TE (granted, in the 7th round) but if he wins out, Croom might be an option. Steelers had him in for a visit couple years back.

Maxx Williams is a pretty obvious free agent name still out there.

2. Safety. Really surprised they didn’t address the position. Depth is weak. Not sure on any names but I can see something done there, just as they tried to do with JJ Wilcox. Colbert’s been pretty good for one trade each camp.

Geoff Cordner: Hi, are you buying the whole underdog us Vs them thing going on now with all the talk and predictions of the Browns winning the division? Do you think all the chatter has any impact on how the team plays?

Alex: It can’t hurt, right? Steelers play better with a chip on their shoulder. So hey, if that can be used as a motivator, cool by me.

BurghBoy412: How deep of a potential hole do you believe this team has put themselves in at the Tight End position? Do you believe it to be an error not to prioritize the position earlier in the draft?

Alex: I don’t want to say it’s an error. Other positions they wanted/needed to address and obviously, losing #52 in the Bush trade limited some of your options. If only Foster Moreau lasted a few more selections. We’ll see what happens in camp but as I noted above, TE is a weak spot.

Chris: Hi Alex, Have we seen the last of DHB and do you think that enough pressure is on Tomlin, that he no longer have the luxury to keep non performers on the roster such as DHB.

Alex: Yes. He’s gone. Seven receivers fighting for, at most, six roster spots. DHB’s value was on special teams but his play slipped last season. I bet he gets into coaching. Or travel the world. Dude was smart and saved his money.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Somewhere in the draft run up I forgot about some of the still significant FA signings. I looked up Adrian Phillips today – a.k.a. probably the ideal dimebacker and a stud special teamer. He re-signed with LA for a measly $2M. Did the Steelers make a mistake by not pursuing him?

Alex: Crazy, right? I saw that a couple weeks ago. Maddening. I would’ve paid double that for Phillips. Who knows why his price was so low but yeah, I wish the Steelers would’ve jumped at the chance.

Rene Gonzalez: Colbert said they looked for players based on Watt JuJu Conner in the sense that they are maybe not the most athletic but high character and love for the game. In your opinion, how does Layne’s character and love for the game look like?

Alex: Nothing comes to mind specifically about him but I can’t recall any bad character issues/stories with him. Lot of those Michigan State guys are well-coached and doing things the right way. But him being open to a position switch and successfully doing probably speaks to his “team first” mentality you’re looking for.

McBringleberry: My blind optimism took over after the draft with Bush along with DJ and some others. Then I listened to the terrible podcast and see some of questions in this Ask Alex around the dimebacker role. With the Steelers using approx. 30% of snaps and we are missing either a starter or depth depending on how Marcus Allen works out. My question is….why do you have to kill my buzz? But seriously, how concerned are you with lack of dime backer options?

Alex: Ha, I didn’t mean to. You should still be very excited about getting Devin Bush. I am worried about those lack of options but we’ll see how they handle it. It’s hard to get a read on their plan. I mentioned it in yesterday’s show that maybe they just play less dime. Instead of 37% last year, maybe that number drops to 25% this year. But we’ll see. Just something I wanted to note and will watch this year.

Wreckless: How would you grade the rest of the draft after the Bush pick? I came away somewhat disappointed with days two and three.

Alex: I don’t have individual grades. I like (don’t love) the Snell pick. Gentry I’m very “meh” on. Sutton Smith was ok. Like Buggs, Gilbert, and Gray. Warmed up to Diontae Johnson but you know my concerns with Layne.

I’ll have an article that goes into more probably for sometime next week.

Chris Carey: Do you have any Steelers Depot gear for sale anywhere? Shirts, hats, etc? Everywhere I go – I see Steelers fans, why not help you promote the best podcast and news site out there? I’d get one!

Alex: I think we used to have shirts? But I can’t find a link, to be honest. Just be sure to tell your fans about us. Spread the good word, Chris;.

renoir: I tried to bang the drum for specialists and got nothing in the draft…But I got the 17th rated kicker and the 26th rated P as UDFA’s…Wile averaged 1.5 yards more per punt last year with the Vikes…The Pats now have an extra K who averaged 1.4 more per punt so is he an option or does coach T’S fave P get to stay another year…I do not want a punter who shanks in big situations and a kicker with the yips..And please no we have to wait and see if they both rebound as this game is about planning and we have little to none in the kicking game it seems…We have the best kicking situation in the league in our division and we seem blind to them.Help, young Alex…Munchak 2020..

Alex: Some of the top kickers went off the board higher than expected, 5th round pick Matt Gay even said that was earlier than he thought, and really, I thought Gay was the only kicker who fit the team. Seibert/Tracy kicked in good weather and don’t have great legs.

I wouldn’t get caught up much in kicker/punter ratings. Pretty sure no one is doing deep film study on those guys, even by national outlets. Wright and Berryman had strong careers. Boswell was an unknown out of Rice signed via tryout and Berry was an Aussie not even ranked in the top 47 of draft eligible punters from Eastern Kentucky. I’m sure there are many stories like that.

Let’s get them into camp and see how the competition unfolds. Berry is better than most think, by the way. For what the Steelers ask him to do.

Brian Tollini: Cam Sutton. Is he the perfect example of Pittsburgh’s inability to groom DB’s and put them in position to succeed? He has no role and he has never had stability of knowing what he is meant to be. How much is instability/uncertainty a part of our problems with developing the S and CB positions?

Alex: All fair points, Brian, and I’ve said the same. It probably doesn’t help. The movement of guys like Davis and Sutton. Lot on their plate. I have no idea how Sutton is going to be used in 2019. None.

SteelDodo: I’ve never understood why people always act like a draft pick next year is not as valuable as one this year. (for example, a 2nd next year has the same value as a 3rd this year). It can make sense in some cases, like the Steelers who only have another 3 years of Ben, but it seems like EVERYONE prefers picks now more than later. Am I missing something?

Alex: I’ve always thought that to be a bit silly too. Just heard Colbert talking about the 3rd they gave Denver in 2020 is like a 4th rounder. I’m not sure where that math comes from but maybe someone has done the legwork. But teams like to pick now, if for nothing else, to try to win now, and save everyone’s jobs. You know how little patience organizations have these days. The Cardinals fired their head coach after a year. I’m sure if Steve Wilks could do it over, he would’ve mortgaged the future to try to win a few more games in 2018.

Steelers obviously operate a little different but that’s how it works, league-wide.


That’s all for this week. Thanks for adjusting with my schedule everyone. Like I said, if you missed me, leave a comment below and I’ll get back to ya.

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