Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Camp. Is. Here.

And I hope you’re loving every second of it.

Welcome to the first mailbag of the 2019 preseason. Lot to discuss, even before the first practice, so we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

J Alexander Wright: Do you have a player comparison for Bennie Snell? What should we expect from him?

Alex: Not particularly. But that’s a good question. Maybe a Corey Clement/Spencer Ware type career. But obviously haven’t given it much thought.

This year, I think you’re expecting a niche role as a short-yardage back at the end of drives when James Conner needs to be subbed out. He’ll have to play some special teams too which will be new for him. As is him being a reserve. He stepped into Kentucky and became the guy right away. Won’t happen here.

But someone is likely to go down, for some amount of time, between Conner and Samuels. That will naturally thrust Snell into a #2 role. So he’ll see more work at some point this year and we’ll see if he’s ready for it.

Expect him to be a fan favorite at camp too. That dude is probably going to sign every autograph after each practice.

Matt Manzo: Happy Thursday Alex!
Do you think Tomlins 1yr extension is a semi-prove it deal?

Alex: Sorta. There’s a message being sent there. An extension because that’s how this team operates and they still have faith in Tomlin to be their guy, right the ship (as he did after 2012 and 2013, the real low point of his tenure), but also to say, “hey, this window is closing, we need to pick it up. Fast.”

But coaches contracts, like I’ve said on the podcast, mean so little. Coaches can get fired at any point. Obviously, Pittsburgh does things pretty differently and are as slow to react as any organization in football (and maybe even all American sports), but if these next two years suck, him getting that extension today won’t mean a thing.

Jeff Papiernik: Would you have liked to see the Steelers kick the tires on Lance Kendricks given our current depth and given the fact that he’s now helping make the Pats a better team?

Alex: I suppose I’m not opposed to anyone given the lack of TE depth. Something that will probably be addressed at some point. But I’m not surprised they didn’t. As is their MO, they’ll go into camp, see what happens with the guys they have, evaluate, and make a decision from there. Maybe the group performs a lot better than we anticipate. They obviously like the guys they have, or else they wouldn’t be there, so they’ll give them a chance and go from there. Would still expect a new face added in the next few weeks.

The Tony: Alex,
Which training camp battle are you most looking forward to seeing?

Alex: All of them, ha. From right tackle to punter.

It’s a little less of a battle but just the receiver group in general. If James Washington is going to play the way they want (and sorta need) him too. Ditto Donte Moncrief. If Diontae Johnson can work his way into the offense. Just seeing how that group functions and comes together. Lot of talent but definitely uncertainty too. You could say similar about the ILB group as well.

kevo: Compared to this time last year, where are you at with Terrell Edmunds? Specifically, if you were to time travel to his retirement (also assuming full health), which of these tiers would best describe his career?: Below Average Starter, Average Starter, Pro Bowler, and All Pro Player. Has your projection changed at all if you would have answered this same question a year ago? Thank you and safe travels down to Latrobe. Your camp coverage is one of my favorite parts of the off season.

Alex: I don’t think I’m in a radically different place. I thought last year was positive but sorta expected for a rookie. Just liked how he was able to handle so much on his plate. Shows conditioning and mental toughness. To play the 2nd most snaps of any rookie in the NFL, all while still keeping his special team duties, and not hitting that “wall” that most guys do. Ended the year better than he started.

Getting to enter this year with that experience in his resume, knowing his role, that he’s going to be the starter, is really helpful. We’ll get a good feel for his career arc after this season. So ask again a year from now. I’ll give you a better answer. But I like where he’s currently at.

Michael James: Hey Alex, give me your best-case scenario for the upcoming camp and the worst-case scenario (in the way you always do it with rookies).

Alex: Oh man, that’s sorta broad. And I’m not prepared to write my novel like I do for that article. Really just if James Washington can show well (he did play well last preseason though so some caution there), if Devin Bush can show he’s ready to play right away, if Davis/Edmunds are taking the ball away, if Boswell is nailing his field goals, you’ll feel about as good as you can entering the year.

Doesn’t guarantee any regular season success but it’s better than the opposite, which is pretty much the worse case scenario. Injuries, of course, can sour things too. Get me smelling salts if Vance McDonald goes down. They can’t afford to lose him.

Douglas Prostorog: now that Tomlin’s extenson (which corresponds to Ben’s) is in the bag, should we be expecting any other “business”? maybe a player extension?

Alex: Haden seems like a really good bet. Pretty confident that’s going to get done. Everyone else seems up in the air. But Haden is the one you can probably count on. Maybe Colbert too? Kinda would’ve thought he would’ve been announced alongside Tomlin though.

Steeley Dan: Hey Alex! Regarding Sutton Smith, does he have the frame to add weight, or does he need to make his mark at his size? And does that even matter this year if he’s playing special teams?

Alex: Eh, I think he’s sorta maxed out in terms of weight. Probably can add muscle, fill out that frame, but he’s not a big dude. Not a long, lanky dude, an underclassmen who is still growing into his body. Being in the NFL is going to naturally help, a top flight weight room, nutritional plan, full dedication to football, but I don’t think he’s going to be someone who looks like a brand new guy two years from now.

No, doesn’t matter a lot for special teams. Think about some of the standout guys over the past 20 years. They weren’t huge guys. It’s about technique, effort, hand use, and football IQ.

CP72: Alex,
No question. Just wanted to wish you a good trip to Latrobe. Your reports are one the highlights of the year for me. Have a great time!!

Alex: Thanks CP! Can’t wait to get out there tomorrow.

Ian Suttie: Are there any players near the bottom of the 53 that have trade value? Someone the team could maybe move to bring in TE or safety depth? I’m thinking maybe a WR (Eli?) or OL… or even Artie Burns?

Alex: The player for player deals are pretty uncommon. Not impossible but rare. I do think there are a few players with some value. Burns, if there’s some team willing to convince themselves they can fix him. Maybe for a 7th. I think he’ll have a good camp – he always does – so that could help bring teams to the table. Yeah, Eli potentially but there are just so many receivers who get cut, it’s hard for a team to make a move unless there’s serious talent out there. College game has brought so many receivers, everyone has good ones, everyone can scheme them to work. So I think that’s hard to do.

Jerald Hawkins is the name I’ve been floating out. Health is a question, sure, but if he’s good to go and plays like he has when healthy, he’ll be attractive. Team might not have room to keep him. Lots of teams in the league need OTs. Could even look to the Bengals, who are desperate for o-line help (just signed Andre Smith today). Trading within the division is unusual, I know, but the Steelers traded for Justin Gilbert from Cleveland and sent them Sammie Coates. It’s been done. I could see this team trade a 6th round pick for a TE/S then send Hawkins for a 6th round to get it right back.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex. Do you think opposing QBs automatically check to a pass play when McCullers is at NT? I don’t believe Big Dan has any career sacks and rarely gwts close to the QB. Thoughts?

Alex: Nah, I don’t think that has anything to do with it. He does have 2.5 sacks, even one last year on Mahomes (it was kinda fluky) by the way. In some ways, he’s a better pass rusher than run stuffer. If he gets one-on-one with a center, he’s just going to knock that dude back with the size/strength he naturally has. His best plays have probably come in that vein. Think Dupree’s pick six vs Tampa last year. McCullers created the pressure.

Either way, he’s a downgrade over Hargrave run and pass. So you just do what you normally do as an offense because you have the advantage.

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