Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag. Hope you’re all having a good week. Know we’re hitting the downtime of the NFL season. If you have any ideas for articles you’d like to see to pass these next two months, let me know in the comments. As always, we’re here for the next hour.

To your questions!

wefjr: Do you believe Mike Hilton can be a legitimate option at free safety?

Alex: I can see them making a switch or at the least, like last year, being that emergency option. But we have to see it in a game first. Anything Hilton has done at safety, save for maybe one or two snaps in 2017 *I think* has been in practice and training camp.

But if Nelson kicks inside should Justin Layne progress, and knowing the poor safety depth, especially at FS (Jordan Dangerfield is your backup there) it makes sense to move one of Sutton or Hilton to free safety.

Willie John: Will any of the draft picks surprise you if they make the team? Particularly the 3 6th rounders?

Alex: The only individual who would be a real surprise is Derwin Gray, just knowing all the talent and competition there is along the offensive line. Not keeping more than nine and seven spots are locked up. You have Hawkins, Morris, Banner, Gray, and whoever else throws their hat in the ring trying to compete. Gray could make it, those names he’s battling aren’t anything insurmountable, but it would be a mild upset.

Everyone else? Definitely could. Buggs has a really clear path. You can make similar arguments for Smith and Gilbert III. Of course, it would be a surprise if they all made it, that almost never happens. And even eight of the nine making it is a stretch.

srdan: Alex, if you could trade the lumina in for any car, what woudl you get?

Alex: Ha, I’m glad this is a trade scenario because I’m sure the Kelly Blue Book value of it is $11.99 at this point.

I almost bought a second car couple years back. But it would’ve been an equally stupid decision. There was a pristine “sports” model of the Lumina – yes, they exist and yes, it’s as bad an idea as it sounds. Chevy Lumina Z34. Link to a random one here (the one I was looking at was about $5K IIRC). I don’t even know why it was made. I guess their tie-in to NASCAR? Dale Sr. raced a Lumina or had some sort of tie-in with the company, I’m pretty sure.

But I guess I don’t really have a dream car. Not something I think about because I don’t plan on ever buying a brand new car. Maybe an AUDI? Those are kinda nice.

I have kicked around the idea of getting a newer car, though, so if anyone knows of anything around the Pittsburgh area, hit me up.

falconsaftey43: Do you see the Steelers using their “other” RBs more (Samuels and Snell) than they’ve used their backup RBs in the past? What % snaps would you guess is their combined usage (barring injury to Conner).

Alex: They probably will but I want people to frame it the right way. They had workhorses in the past because that was either their investment (first rounder in Mendenhall) or simply had an elite talent like Bell. There was never a compelling reason to take him off the field because the drop off in play was going to be so steep.

They don’t quite have either of that so naturally, they’re doing what most teams do in that situation and use more of a committee. James Conner is still the guy, let’s not forget how strong a first half of the season he enjoyed before rolling his ankle vs LA, but yeah, you’ll see Samuels and Snell mixed in.

Percentages? That’s always tough to gauge. I think last years numbers could reflect this year. Conner at 65%, Samuel 20%, Snell at 15%. Snell could be the way they tried to use DeAngelo Williams a few years back behind Bell. Short-yardage guy. Hopefully with more success. But some of it will be tied to down/distance and situation since Samuel is a talented receiver and Snell that goal-to-go type back.

falconsaftey43: Do you ever see the Steelers using a pass rush specialist? If say Ola or Sutton Smith are just lights out rushing the passer in pre-season, but are perceived liabilities vs run or something, any chance they sub out the OLBs situationaly rather than just by series?

Alex: Not anytime soon. They seem committed to doing it by series, not by down/distance and having specific roles. For a team that invests so heavily in the position, first rounders on both their 2019 starters, they weren’t drafted to come off the field on 3rd down. Maybe down the road if there’s a lesser investment but not until then and even at that point, it’s hard to see the philosophy shift unless there are drastic coaching changes.

FATCAT716: Do you think the Steelers will pick up a tight end or go into the season with what they have

Alex: I think they do. Colbert is pretty reliable lately for making a training camp trade (Switzer last year, McDonald before, Gilbert, Boykin, you get the idea). Grimble and Gentry makes me nervous and that’s even if everything goes well, which it probably won’t.

Buffalo’s Jason Croom and Detroit’s Michael Roberts are two names you’re going to want to keep an eye on.

Anthony Palmerston: Why do you think there’s some sort of animosity between this and Blitzburgh recently? It was kind of weird to see on Twitter.

Alex: Beats me. I never interacted with them and they had me blocked for the longest time because I work here. I know I don’t have a beef with anyone though. I just try to focus on football and the Steelers because that’s what people want to see on their timeline.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, you wrote an article yesterday chronicling the Steelers lack of success with UDFAs recently. Do you think the reason for said struggles is simply an inability to identify and sign talent? Do you think UDFAs and their representatives view the Steelers as a team that limits their chances of breaking in?

Alex: Difficult to pinpoint it from my outsider’s perspective. I think there’s an evaluation problem. Clearly, there’s gotta be. But even bigger, I think it’s their stagnation in how the league has evolved. In some ways (analytics, for example), this team lags behind.

Every team has a pretty low cap, a little over $100K I believe, in signing bonus money they can offer to their entire pool of UDFAs. To get around that, teams have been offering base salary guarantees to top-tier free agents, inciting them to sign. I don’t want to make everything about the Patriots. They’re just the first reference I found not behind a paywall. But look at how NE gave money to their group.

That’s 8 UDFAs over $25K.

Here are the bonuses we know from the Steelers pool.

Alexander Myres – $20K
Fred Johnson – $15K
Chris Nelson – $10K
Trevor Wood – $7K
Matthew Wright – $5K
Ian Berryman – $2K

That’s not the entire class and I’ve love to see what the safeties, Askew-Henry and PJ Locke received. But they probably weren’t much higher than Myres. So you see the issue. Steelers competing with much less money than other teams. Less money = less talent.

With the Le’Veon Bell saga, Kevin Colbert said they’re going to keep doing contracts their way. I get that. But I think the same issue is coming up here. Steelers not changing their approach as the rest of the league evolves. So they’re getting left behind.

Anthony Palmerston: Random questions: I noticed none of the rookie offensive specialists were with Ben on his bonding trip. Is that because they’re too busy right now getting acclimated.?

Alex: Probably. Some of those guys have barely met Ben too. Might not have a phone number and they’re just trying to focus on football right now. Picking up the playbook. Maybe something happens later in the offseason. I don’t think any of the offensive linemen were invited on this trip and Ben usually has some get together with those guys.

Steeley Dan: Alex, in the draft process, I keep thinking about the 40 yard dash. Certain positions (S, CB, WR, RB…) lend themselves to having guys that ran track at some point. Do you feel this limits and hurts some players, or, is preparing to run it (sprinter’s start et al) just part of the dedication a player is showing to getting selected?

Alex: There’s no doubt a track background helps. You’re comfortable and don’t have to train how to get into the proper stance. But because there is so much dedication to prepare for the Combine, it’s not a big obstacle for players anymore. They’re at big facilities, well-known (and paid) trainers and staffs, so there’s no excuse for a guy to run poorly in the 40 because he wasn’t a track star.

Of course, it’s all about seeing if that speed matches up to their tape. For a guy like Diontae Johnson, they believe he plays faster on tape than he did in his workout.

That’s all for this week. Appreciate you all stopping by.

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