Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag. Sorry this was put together last second. Schedule is always bonkers during training camp but I have about an hour of free time before getting ready to head out for tonight’s Friday Night Lights.

So fire away with your camp inquiries or whatever else is on your mind.

To your questions!

Bryant Eng: It seems as if though Tom Bradley has taken a backseat to Teryl Austin as DB coach. It makes sense to have both (more reps, shorter lines, etc.), but I think Austin’s presence is going to have a large impact on the secondary. Thoughts? Also, through six practices, have you charted more/less INT’s?

Alex: I agree. Austin is definitely in charge of the practices. I wouldn’t be shocked if he ended up coaching from the sideline this year. I know he’s supposed to be in the booth and help out on challenges but given his presence on the field, how much he interacts with players, it might be a waste of his talent and knowledge to let him watch replays. We’ll see.

Looking back on my charting, it looks about the same. Through five practices last year (I only chart after off days so don’t have a daily log on hand) they had eight picks. Through four practices this year, they had seven. Had two yesterday and I think one two practices ago so that gives them ten already. Finished last year with 20.

Steeley Dan: Hi Alex! Does Zach Banner offer any versatility (swing tackle), or is he strictly a Right Tackle? Also, are any of the young offensive lineman surprising you?

Alex: He’s pretty much a right tackle. I guess, in theory, he could play left, but right is where he’s been playing and by far the most comfortable. They do flip guys around, and 3rd string LT Damian Prince actually played RT at Maryland, so maybe they flip flop but Banner is like Feiler in the sense of only being right tackle capable, though Feiler is a lot more versatile.

Fred Johnson has been the most impressive. His strength, size, punch, ability to move in space on pulls and screens. Hope the lower body injury he’s dealing with isn’t anything serious. That would be a bummer.

Greasy Wings: Chances of Spencer making the roster? As a Canadian I’m kind of rooting for him after he put up such big numbers in the CFL. Is returner his only real path? Do you know if he’s practice squad eligible?

Alex: Off to a good start. But he’ll have to translate it to games like all these guys do. This time a year ago, we’re all hyping up Damoun Patterson. Some guys fade. I think Spencer has more staying power as an older player who has played professionally but we’ll see. He will have to make an impact in the return game. He won’t get on the 53 strictly because of what he does as a wide receiver. Yes, believe he is practice squad eligible.

Mr. Goodkat: From what you’ve seen out of Brian Allen, do you feel he’s developing well enough as a tackler to justify the chatter of giving him a shot at FS?

Alex: At this point, we gotta let that thought go. He’s never taken a rep there, Butler hasn’t mentioned him as a candidate, and we’re in camp. Season is in a month. Switching him now doesn’t give him any time to learn and compete. He’s a corner, for better or worse. And this is probably his last go around to prove it.

PwndHearts: When the draft reports cam out on Mason Rudolph I remember thinking to myself “Chad Pennington…” Pennington always had nice accuracy and touch particularly in the short passing game, but had difficulty with getting the ball downfield with any “ooph” on it. It didn’t keep him from having a decent NFL career, but it was always the big knock on him. How much of that do you see in Rudolph now?

Alex: My concern with Rudolph is that he isn’t testing that arm enough. He’s keeping it short, making a profit, which is responsible and certainly not a terrible thing but I want to see him take some chances. So he’s sorta an incomplete right now though he’s shown good velocity and ability to throw in tight windows on the intermediate routes and good placement the few times I’ve seen him ramp up and throw vertically.

Jeff Papiernik: Gilbert and Sutton Smith. Case of 2 dogs, 1 bone as far as roster spot goes, and I’m guessing primarily for ST play predominantly? Do you see Tuzar Skipper making possibly making a push as well?

Alex: You pretty much nailed it. Long ways to go. Feel like we’ve all sorta assumed Smith was going to make the team but he’s in a fight vs Gilbert III. Special teams will be the biggest factor. Skipper is a good player with power and heavy hands. There’s so much talent at LB though, someone is going to be the odd man out. Some tough cuts coming.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, the Steelers 2 biggest positions of concern were safety and tight end. Presumably that is still the case. Which one has been the stronger/weaker of the two position groups so far in camp?

Alex: Good question. Still feel the same about both groups. There are guys in position to get noticed, ones who have done well/better (Kameron Kelly, CSW), but they still have a ways to go. So I think the health of those groups is still TBA. It’s possible they add to either position though I feel more strongly about them going after a safety than I was prior to camp.

CoachCot: Do you have a favorite highlight of camp thus far? A single indy time rep that showcased a guys development, a one on one drill, a rep from 7s or team? Could be anything

Alex: Hmm…I think it happened yesterday. Seeing Christian Scotland-Williamson dive out for that TD late in practice for the score. Product of all that work he’s put in over the last two years. Dude doesn’t take a rep off. He maximizes practice, even when he’s on the sideline or not directly involved. Thrilled for him to have that payoff. Really cool.

Dan: Is it just me, or is there way more positivity around camp this year? Seems like a fair amount of little known players, like Skipper, Spencer, a bunch of the OL, etc have gotten a fair amount of buzz. Even the 4th string QB has gotten attention.

Alex: Honestly, it just kinda feels like a line. Maybe I’m wrong, the players sure know better than I do, and obviously not getting peppered with questions about Bell sure helps. Guys have more defined roles. Terrell Edmunds know he’s starting. James Conner knows he’s starting. That stuff helps. But it’s not like last year’s practice was doom and gloom. It’s not like guys didn’t work after practice. I think we are just in the moment, coming out of the other side of all that’s happened in 2019, and enjoying breaking away from the drama. So it feels happier than how things actually were.

Earl: How many Steelers Depot fans do you meet each year at Training Camp?
Thanks for the camp articles, luv them and they’re much appreciated.

Alex: Several people have come up to say hello and I’m grateful and thankful for each one of them. Thanks for reading, Earl!

Steven Small: 

Thoughts on Gentry as TE3? Sounds like had a better day yesterday, but is he going to be ready Week 1 if we need him?

Love the write-ups by the way. Keep up the good work!

Alex: Gentry made an impact as a receiver catching a touchdown down the seam, where he’s going to function best right now. But his blocking is still going to be a big issue. He’ll have to down block and wall guys off. If he’s going to base block, his hand placement and leverage are going to be problems.

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