Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the Thursday mailbag. Couple more days of spring practices before we hit our biggest lull of the season. But training camp is right around the corner and I can’t wait.

As always, we’re here for the next hour.

To your questions!

Steel Your Face: Alex – Getting thirsty for camp coming up and was wondering if you could recall a hit or two layed down by the Defense at Latrobe, if any come to mind. Appreciate your time and passion, young man.

Alex: That’s a really good question. I’d have to go through some of my camp notes. Those help job my memory of plays made years ago. Vince Williams and Jordan Dangerfield have definitely laid some licks over the years. I think Vince had a big pop on Jawon Chisholm several years ago. One of those where the whole crowd responds. Dangerfield I think blasted TE Michael Palmer way back when too. That first day in pads (third day of camp), whew, you can feel the intensity come out. Great day to go if you’re able to attend.

srdan: This is the most talented stillers defense since 20XX.

Alex: I’m sorta like Tomlin with these. Bad at comparisons. I’d want to at least watch some of these guys in training camp and the preseason. Not that it’s the end-all but I’ll get a better feel for player progression, who is fitting in what role, etc. I do think it’ll be better than last year, though I know that’s not a terribly how bar to clear.

Dan: What position battle are you most looking forward to?

Alex: So many good places to point. But I think the ILB. I’m just excited for the feeling there’s “too much” talent as opposed to not enough. This time last year, we’re debating between Tyler Matakevich and Jon Bostic. Not good. This year, you have Mark Barron vs Devin Bush vs Vince Williams. Much better problem to have. Who will be used where. Who will get work in sub, in base. How much time will all three receive? I don’t know the answers. So really excited to find out.

All the battles and progression and hype on the receivers will be a lot of fun, too.

Danny Lebeau: Alex – Grimble takes on a great deal of criticism from fans. Aside from the Denver game catastrophic fumble…does Grimble consistently miss blocks or drop passes? Curious to know how much of a liability we’re looking at with a #2 TE position IF McDonald stays healthy

Alex: Is the focus on the Denver fumble overkill? Probably. Just as it was Fitz Toussaint. But those one moments will always stick out especially when you’re not a household name making a ton of big plays. That’s why we remember the Grimble fumble so vividly. Less so about JuJu’s fumble against the Saints.

Grimble has improved. He’s become a pretty good blocker. And he’s athletic and capable of making plays as a receiver. The issue with him is that he’s never realized that potential. Looks great, all muscle, feels like a dude who should be making more plays than he does. Far too inconsistent, doesn’t translate what he does in practice over to games. That’s the issue with him. And even in camp, he’s always seemed to have a hard time finishing out some practices. You just feel like there’s a lot being left on the table. That’s where my concern comes in. If the light stays on, he can be a valuable #2 TE.

Derek Wilson: Do you see Sean Davis being on the Roster next season? Also, Do you think BJ Finney will be a Steeler next season?

Alex: Good questions. I’m not sure. If I had to guess, if you made me choose, yes to Davis, no to Finney. But it could go either way. I don’t expect Davis to get an extension before the year starts. Ditto with Finney, though that’s pretty obvious. They do like Davis’ intangibles and him getting a second year at FS, being able to breathe, know what position he’s playing and have experience there, should help him. They’ve retooled this secondary so much for years now. I think they want stability to make this group go.

I’m sure the team would like Finney back but if he doesn’t see a starting spot on the line there, I can’t see why he would stay. Someone somewhere is going to give him money and a much better chance to start. So it’ll take Foster being released for Finney to want to come back.

WeWantDaTruth: Alex, what are your thoughts on the rugby player turned TE, Christian Scott Williamson? Smart as a whip and a physical specimen. Any chance for him to be our 3rd TE?

Alex: Ehhh…probably not. Last year was, uh, not good. Now I get his transition and the mountain he’s climbing but you saw the Eagles’ OT Jordan Mailata pick things up pretty quickly. So it’s not an impossible task. CSW didn’t show really anything. Stiff in space, too tall and raw as a blocker.

But I’ve said this a couple times on the podcast. We’ll see what his jump Year One to Year Two is. You would expect it to be noticeable. You can probably get through the first four practices and I’ll be able to tell you if there’s something there or not. Either you’ll see the progression, it’ll stick out pretty clearly, and there might be something there, or it’s not going to work. It won’t take long to figure out.

SteelCity: Alex – do you see similar physical characteristics to the recent additions to the ILB and Safety groups (Barron, Bush, Gilbert, Edmonds, Allen) ?

Alex: Are you asking me to compare the safeties to the ILB? Or the new guys to the current ones? I think in general, this was a team looking to get faster with more versatility. Bush is going to offer flexibility. We know Barron’s backstory. Gilbert is an above average athlete while Edmunds and Allen tested very, very well coming out too. You want guys who feel matchup proof. That you can offer a response for whatever an offense does because they’re going to be creative, exploit mismatches, put their weapons all over the field and make you defend every blade of grass vertically and horizontally. Just as the Steelers’ offense does to defenses.

So when you have guys who can’t respond to different looks, they’re static players good at one thing but nothing else, they’re going to be exposed. That’s what happened last year. And that’s what this team is trying to change. That’s the common thread between all the names you mentioned.

The Tony: Alex,
Who is the one player that you had high hopes for but never panned out?

Alex: On the Steelers? Markus Wheaton is a name who jumps to mind. Versatile, excellent athlete, long speed, made plays in practice. Health obviously played a big role but yeah, just never worked out. Kinda a weird one. Feels like he should’ve been a lot more successful than he really was.

hdogg48: Alex….Do you expect James Conner to pick up
where he left off last year before he got hurt?

Alex: Sure. I don’t see why not. He was playing great ball before going down. Just has to avoid those fumbles. There may be a bit more of a committee this year with Samuels more proven and them drafting Snell but when #30 is in there, he’s going to play at a very high level. No question in my mind.

David Shoff: Alex, what part of practice at camp would you watch if you wanted to see if OLA has taken a big step up from last year? I’m really excited to see if he can get some playing time this year.

Alex: Nothing too special. Just check him out during the team drills. Especially when he gets some work against the first team offense. Sometimes they’ll mix and match units to give guys different looks. You can also check him out in some of the one-on-ones, OL vs DL/OLB work. But those are admittedly easier for the defense to win.

I’ll definitely look for him in the preseason though. Want to see him on special teams. How he does there. I’m pretty sure this dude can get after the quarterback. He needs to improve on being a special teams player and dropping into coverage. So you can check out some of the LB vs RB/TE work too, though that’s pretty slanted for the offense.

CP72: Alex,
I personally think this defense is on the verge of big things. I think this is the most complete unit we’ve had since the last Super Bowl trip. Do you think there’s to much emphasis on what we lost on offense and people overlooking the fact we could/should be one of the better defensive teams in the AFC?

Alex: I might not quite as high on them as you are. Maybe that’s the cynic in me coming through. I think it’s fair for people to talk about all the Steelers lost. If we weren’t fans of this team, that’s what we’d be discussing. They’re the headline stories and with good reason.

But I understand your point. This defense should be improved, like I said at the top, better than last year, and they left so many plays on the table they can easily make next year. I just don’t know if I’d say “one of the better defensive teams in the AFC” yet. Maybe. But not as confident as you are yet.

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

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