Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly mailbag. Know we’re in the dead of the offseason but camp is right around the corner.

As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Dan: Do you believe the team will use 20 personnel with Conner and Samuels more to spell Vance instead of aggressively pursuing a #2 TE?

Alex: Very infrequently. The two-back/Pony looks get talked up all the time. Generally doesn’t happen. If they lose Vance or want an alternative, I agree he isn’t going to play 90% of the snaps just because Jesse is gone, they want to keep him healthy, they’ll use 4 WR sets like they infused into the offense when Eli Rogers came back last season. I think 10 personnel is a lot more likely than 20 personnel.

John Gutilla: What could Zach Gentry do in camp that would reassure you about our tight end depth? What will you be looking for from him?

Alex: Blocking, mostly. If he can adjust to his leverage, not many 6’8 tight ends out there, and show the ability to stick on contact and drive, I’ll feel better. He’s the #3 tight end. His primary role is going to be to block and he’s a more natural receiver so I’m less concerned there. But if he can’t block, he can’t play, and I don’t need him to be the reason a 3rd and 1 against Seattle in Week 2 isn’t converted. For virtually any rookie tight end, especially a raw one like Gentry, blocking is usually the biggest challenge and why those guys struggle to see the field.

Gentry is a little ahead of the curve because he has experience in a three-point stance, he wasn’t an exclusive stand up tight end like so many you see in the college game but it’s still a huge adjustment to the NFL. Less spread concepts that can mask those deficiencies.

PainisOrange: Based on your article on special teams, do you think the influx of athletic players fighting for special teams spots can improve our left side return game? Since they can rotate faster to block?

Alex: It sure can’t hurt. But it’s not the cure-all. For most of the issues I saw, very rarely did they have an issue of athleticism. A little bit with Nix on the left returns but that could’ve been adjusted even with last year’s roster.

So much on special teams are technique, awareness, spacing. Getting the correct depth. Getting square to your blocks. Having a good blocking posture, your anchor, your base not narrowing on contact. Being heady, knowing who is around you, what the scheme is for the type of return, how the kick team likes to attack and who their biggest threats are. Being smart, not taking penalties, not making a bad situation worse by whiffing on a block and then taking a penalty. None of those things have much to do with how athletic you are. So the quality of guys like Sutton Smith and Ulysees Gilbert will be based off those things, less so on the athleticism.

It can help in other areas though, especially in coverage. But the Steelers best cover guys in recent history weren’t great athletes: Patrick Bailey, Clint Kriedwalt, Chidi Iwuoma, Sean Morey, Vince Williams, Roosevelt Nix, Terence Garvin, Tyler Matakevich. Give me guys who are smart, have great energy and passion, and “buy in” to the idea. That is what wins.

PghSDF: As a season ticket holder, I’m in favor of an 18 game schedule. Much easier to sell the game if I can’t go. Can you give your Pro’s & Con’s for doing this?


Pros: More money. That’s pretty much it. More ticket sales, more revenue for the league with two extra regular season games. The season may become longer, depending on exactly how the schedule is reset, and that puts the NFL in the conversation in talks even more. Which is good for business. No way the league goes to 18 games without at least an extra bye week.

Cons: Player safety. More games = more injuries. Especially for younger and older players. Older players means more wear and tear in-season. Younger players are now going from possibly a 10-11 game college season to an 18 game regular season. Throw in the preseason and they’ve basically doubled the number of games they’re used to playing. Running backs are going to have even shorter shelf lives. You’re back some having 350 carries in a regular season and then potentially ~400 after the playoffs.

Cutting the preseason. They go to 18, they’re cutting preseason games from four to two. Elite stars won’t mind. Everyone else? That’s hurting their chances of a job. You’re the 90th man on the roster? How are you going to get noticed or heck, even have any tape to send around the league when you’re cut. It’s hard enough for these guys to make it already with limited practice time. Now you’re robbing them of game reps? How do young players develop? What if Mason Rudolph only got a game to work in? Quarterbacks struggle enough as it is with reps. The quality of the game could be hurt because young players have even less practice time.

Personally, I’m against it. Keep it as is. 16 game regular season. League doesn’t need to get even greedier.

Lambert58: Alex, what would you say is the biggest reason the running game was not where it needed to be last year? With a Top 5 OLine and a talented RB(s) you’d think the run game would have been more effective. (Dead last in attempts and 2nd-to-last in rushing yards from scrimmage.)

Alex: For the last reason you pointed out. Just being last in attempts. I thought when they ran it, they were effective. Considering they had to spend four of the last five weeks with a rookie RB trying to find his footing. They’re likely to run it more this year just for the simple fact that it’s hard to throw it 700 times in back-to-back seasons. And when they run it, I think they’ll enjoy similar success.

Anthony Palmerston: I like the idea of more games. Don’t you think have more games throughout the season and maybe like 2 games a week would force teams to use depth like other sports leagues? I think that would evolve the game and we’d get to our favorite teams more. 1 game a week suckssss.

Alex: Are you saying teams should play two games a week? That’s not tenable. The Sunday/Thursday turnaround is tough enough and gotten a lot of pushback from players. You can’t expect these guys to play a full game and do it again a few days later. Again, you’re risking a lot of injury. When do these guys even practice? You’re overworking the entire system, players, coaches, and staff.

There’s football on all the time. It’s wall-to-wall. Sunday, Monday, Thursday, college football on Saturday. You never have to wait long for a game, even if it isn’t always your team. We gotta put ourselves in the player’s shoes too. Not just what would be the most popular with the fans.

Ducking out for now but I’ll circle back for anyone who wasn’t here the last hour. Thanks for the questions!

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