Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the Thursday mailbag. As always, we’re here to chat for the next hour.

To your questions!

Bryant Eng: 

Hey Alex:

I was discussing the Steelers handful of snaps in a 3-3-5 with my dad, and felt somewhat ignorant about it. Can you explain the purpose of the 3-3-5, its pros/cons, and what personnel would be in the 3-3-5 in 2019 (if we run it) in a perfect/healthy world? Also, could we see more of it now that we have Bush/Nelson?

Alex: Sure, Bryant. I do want to caution we don’t know how much we’ll see it. If at all. The Steelers really only used it in the regular season finale and it’s a pretty rare grouping to see in the NFL. Much more common in college.

For Pittsburgh, it’s a way to get all your best defensive linemen on the field. Having trouble finding a place for Javon Hargrave when you have Heyward/Tuitt on the field (and getting paid tens of millions)? 3-3-5. Want to let your LBs play cleaner and not let interior linemen combo block as easily and flow to the 2nd level? 3-3-5, put that NT in the middle, free up everyone else. And Hargrave is unique in that he’s an excellent pass rusher and can win one-on-one versus centers.

And like the team was last year, if you’re thin at LB, don’t have the athleticism at ILB, this solves that a bit by only requiring one of them on the field.

The personnel in 2019?

DL: Tuitt-Hargrave-Heyward
OLB: Watt-Dupree
ILB: ? (whoever is the top dog at ILB, Barron/Bush/V. Williams)
CB: Haden-Nelson
S: Edmunds-Davis-M. Allen

Steeley Dan: Hi Alex! I see that Sutton Smith is working at fullback some at OTAs. It kills me to see the position slowly “crabbing” toward death. Anyways, do you see this as moving on from Rosie, or, just having a guy in the event that Rosie gets hurt for a stretch?

Alex: Oh no, not at all. Just a late round pick trying to show as much versatility as possible. If you have someone who can do both, even in a pinch, you do it. Add value however you can and maximize the players at the end of your roster.

And if Nix ever gets hurt, then you can use someone like Smith. Obviously you’re not carrying two fullbacks on your roster. So it helps there. But nothing to do with Nix’s status.

CoachJyro: Good Afternoon Alex!
Is the personnel a good fit for a return to a higher percentage of the “Bunch” type formations we saw during the Arians years?

Alex: Hi Coach! Sure, I think that’s something you’ll see plenty of. Real challenge for Randy Fichtner to be creative this year. Going to have to work harder to scheme guys open now that you don’t have Antonio Brown, the talent he had, the attention he brought. So use bunch to create picks, create space, force off coverage, and make it more difficult to bracket someone like JuJu. Bunch sets would be a smart idea.


Mike Hilton clearly made less significant plays in 2018 than 2017. It’s hard for me to truly evaluate if his play dropped off or just less of those noteworthy plays while remaining steady. Also, I’m hoping improved inside play from Bush and Edmunds can directly help Hilton look like the player from 2017.

What do you think of Hilton’s 2018 play?

Alex: Like we wrote today, some of that can be explained by the elbow injury he suffered Week 3. And it makes sense looking back because he had a really good performance in the season opener against Cleveland. By the end of the year, he was struggling.

I’d have to look but it probably limited him some in practice. Less reps during the week, less prepared for the game, less effective you are. And I know that a lot of people have been saying, what does a bum elbow have anything to do with coverage. To an extent, that’s fair. It’s not like he had an ankle injury. But you use your arms to jam, bump, tackle, play the ball, and even whenever he backpedaled, you’re using your arms to keep your body in a good base and your elbows tight when you flip your hips so you’re not flailing and getting too tall/stiff.

For someone like him, a slot corner known for being physical, blitzing, bumping around against the run, it can really have a negative impact.

So I can’t wait to see him healthy and back to his old self. Solid corner when he is.

Elyas Correa Nogueira: Hey, Alex. Do you have any player on the league you’d be comfortable throwing a 6th/7th rounder to shore up the depth?

Alex: Not so much right now. Jason Croom up in Buffalo was on my radar but Tyler Kroft got hurt then Croom himself left with an injury (don’t know the severity). I’ve talked about Michael Roberts in Detroit, too. Once we get into camp, see how the team looks, any injuries that happen, the rest of the league, I’ll have a better answer. Tight end and safety are the two positions on the radar right now.

JamesinNYC: If the Steelers actually win the Super Bowl would Ben finally get the recognition he deserves (outside of PGH)?

Alex: Probably not to the degree fans want but that’s probably true of any particular fan base. If the Steelers win it all, especially this year, it’ll be viewed as a “redemption” story. How bad a leader Ben was, how much he changed, how different he is now. Ew. Thank God Rick Reilly isn’t in sports media anymore.

Jarod Wells: Support Alex, hope all is well, you excited for training camp? So I’m rooting for bush, in your film study, how did you evaluate his ability to stack/shed blocks? Better compared to rest of class, or his game stocky relying on athleticism?

Alex: Oh yeah, camp is sincerely my favorite time of the season. It’s going to be amazing, like always.

Bush is very much in a similar place as Ryan Shazier was coming out. Hand use and block shed is underdeveloped, relying on that athleticism and speed to beat the linemen to the spot than work off the block. But that’s natural and something that can – and will – obviously be coached. Once Shazier got better at it, during his sophomore season, his play really took off. TJ Watt, last quarter of 2018, took his play to the next level with improved and hand use. Light kinda came on for him.

So I would say it was about the same as most of his classmates (Washington’s Ben Burr-Kirven was the best I saw at it) and that most college linebackers, especially great athletes like him, have work to do in that area. It’s normal.

The Pittsburgh Steelers: Hi Alex seeing as edmonds liked abs tweet do u think he is trying to be traded to oakland. Toxic triplets?

Alex: lol no

It was a dumb story, Edmunds “like” doesn’t mean an endorsement and I don’t believe he actually thinks Ben is two-faced. But it would be nice to see the Steelers learn to get out of their own way on social media sometime. A lot of the drama might be gone but within six hours of Ben’s apology, you had the Edmunds “story” and yesterday, you have Dupree going after Kaboly on Twitter because he didn’t like a tweet.

So we’re a week into the team being back together and already have two dustups on Twitter that forced Edmunds to address it (making the story all the more public) and Dupree making his Twitter private. Ben might have the right idea about staying off social media….

ilamarca: Rate these prospects coming out of college: Ryan Shazier, Rashaan Evans, Devin White, Devin Bush

Alex: I’m bad at trying to compare and contrast different classes without having some sort of grading system to rely on. So I couldn’t tell you other than I would have Evans last. Sorry.

jger15: Of the 15 total picks in the 2015 and 2016 drafts (if I’m counting right), are Chick, Hargrave, Dirty Red the only players likely to be around in 2020? Also unrelated but has the site ever played around with the idea of crafting a newsletter?

Alex: It’s hard to say who of that group is likely. Hargrave is the only one I’d feel really confident about. But there’s also Sean Davis and Bud Dupree. We’ll see if one of them comes back. Chick is the only player under contract for next year though and that comes at an increased price tag. We’ll cross that bridge this time next year.

I’m not going to rule anything out but probably a no on the newsletter. Why have a newsletter when you have the site? And I don’t know about you, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a newsletter I was actually interested in reading.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, are the Steelers too little and too late in their attempt to aggressively pursue difference makers on defense?

Alex: I don’t know about that. They really just didn’t have the cap flexibility in past years like they did this offseason. Once they had the opening, they jumped at it. The Super Bowl window is still open so short answer no, I don’t think it’s too late. Maybe a little tougher now but not definitely too late.

That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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