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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to the mailbag. Glad to have you here during this quiet period at the end of June. But a month from now, camp will be well underway. As always, we’re here for the next hour.

To your questions!

David Shoff: Alex, do you ever think that the Steelers put too much on rookie wrs plate? I sometimes wish that the rookies were able to concentrate on one spot and get some playing time there instead of having to learn everything.

Alex: That’s tough, David. Fine line to walk because you’re right, you want to put those guys in positions to win but you also know the pressure that exists – for all teams – of having their top rookies make an impact right away. Receiver is especially tricky because if you have someone who can’t move around, just play one spot, it impacts everyone else. You can’t move JuJu, or last year, AB, because Washington doesn’t know how to play their position. So there’s a domino effect that can really hamper your gameplan and flexibility.

But I don’t think those guys have had to learn everything. JuJu played the slot and the Z. Washington was pretty much only the Z receiver this year. I don’t think they had to learn quite everything right away. But it’s also good to move those guys around and get them primed to know how the whole offense functions and different spots so you can make moves based off the gameplan or injury. I just think it’s a position where you have to be flexible if you want to maximize the offense. So get the right kind of player, high character, high IQ, hard-working players as they’ve done with JuJu, Washington, and I believe Dionte Johnson, and you can make it work. Johnson playing a bunch of spots at Toledo is attractive for his development. I don’t think he’ll have quite the same learning curve as Washington did.

David Shoff: Alex, it seems like the way the Steelers think about OLB makes them have to pass up some great pass rushers because Steelers OLBs have to be great pass rushers AND be able to drop into coverage. Sure makes it tough to find one unless you are drafting one in the first round. I’m thinking a lot about guys like the one that went to the Bengals a couple of years ago in the 3rd or 4th round.

Alex: There’s probably some truth to it but I don’t know if it’s had them pass up on a great pass rusher. Just having that flexibility is important to a defense, any defense, not just the Steelers’ 3-4. And even if that is accurate, the Steelers really decreased how often the OLBs dropped last year. Had a tweet about it this morning.

So times are a changing. More focus on getting after the QB which is partly why Watt saw a big jump in sacks from year one to two, going from seven to 13.

Mechanix: Alex, are you going to do any special features during training camp, like you’ve done in the past? For example, you had Dwight Schrute quotes or what was on TV at McDonald’s or if Missi Matthews said hello. I always liked those, even though they weren’t Steelers football related. Heck, the training camp material is probably the best stuff I read on this site. Thanks to you and the rest of the staff for putting out good material.

Alex: Yup! I plan to. No idea what it’s going to be yet but I like adding that personal touch in each day’s recap. Just to break up the football a little bit. Appreciate you reading and hope you enjoy the coverage this year.

BurghInPhilly: 

Alex, you have to play the entire game with the same 11 on D. Which of the three options do you go with? Or is there a different one? (i.e. which line up offers the best balance of rushing the QB, playing coverage and stopping the run)

Line up 1. Tuitt, Hargrave, Cam, Watt, Bush/Barron, Bud, Nelson, Hilton, Davis, Edmunds, Haden

Line up 2: Same as #1 but have Bush and Barron on the field and take Bud out.

Line up 3: Same as #1, but have Bush and Barron on the field and take Hargrave out.

Alex: Gotta go with the first one. 3-3-5, right? Reason why it’s so popular in college. I know taking Bud out is an easy answer but he’s still a pass rusher and edge setter and pretty important in how I set my defense and its run fills. So give me both of those guys and ideally, Bush, to have three athletic LBs and capable rushers/blitzers. #3 is just the traditional nickel which works too but then you worry about the run game, short-yard situations. And I’m all for finding ways to keep Hargrave on the field.

David Shoff: Alex, what do you think the over/under of signing Hargrave is this year and next? My over/under is 10 mill this year. Do you think that the Steelers could sign him for less then that? I sure want to keep him and I believe that he has been underutilized every year. (my last question, I promise!)

Alex: A really important question but I haven’t put a number to it. I think it’s gotta be high though. His production per snap is through the roof, especially after what he did last year. He’s going to argue, and have a case, about being a 10 sack player if he got the snaps Tuitt and Heyward did. The team will argue the nature of his position. Will the team pay him as much as Heyward and Tuitt despite playing 30-40% fewer snaps? That’s tough to imagine. But I want Hargrave to get done and locked in long-term. I just don’t know if it’ll happen. Have to sell the team, chance to win, all that and hope he takes a little less money.

Ryan Barton: Hey Alex! Have any of your “Draft Player Profile” projections ever ended up being way off? Like some players that ended up doing way better/worse than you thought initially?

Alex: Oh yeah. Lots of them, I’m sure, if you go back through the years. Even ones I had before I started at Steelers Depot (granted, I was really young then). Didn’t like Cam Newton a lot coming out. Was really harsh on Le’Veon Bell. I called him the next Jonathan Dwyer. Oops.

So I’ve had my fair share of misses. Nature of the game.

WeWantDatTruth: Hey Alex, for fun only….not suggesting the Steelers do this. But what offensive player would be good on the defensive side? Vice versa, which defensive player would be a good offensive contributor?

Alex: Fun question. Maybe get Villanueva back at defensive end? Maybe would have to drop a couple of pounds. It’d be fun to see Roosevelt Nix crack skulls at ILB or DT like Matthew Marczi suggested the other day. Defense to offense? This team has three ex receivers playing corner in Herb Waters, Brian Allen, and Justin Layne. Layne still played some receive last year at MSU.

Vince Williams at FB. That, I would pay to see.


That’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by everyone!

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