Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the Steelers’ mailbag. We’re here for the next hour with so much I’m sure to talk about. Camp, the first preseason game a day away, an overview of the regular season. Drop whatever’s on your mind and we’ll throw in our two cents.

To your questions!

Anthony Palmerston: What would keep Ola from seeing the field in 2019 (outside of Dupree lighting it up this year *fingers crossed*)? Is his pass coverage a liability as you can tell from camp so far?

Alex: A little bit of that, yeah, the concerns about him going backwards, playing in space, moving around. But deeper than that, the systemic issue of them being a little too attached to their draft picks and not always giving the young guy the opportunity. The infatuation they have with Dupree always being *this* close to turning the corner. The trust in Chickillo, which is largely well-founded, but at the same time, they have to recognize he’s a player who is at his ceiling. Based on some of the things Keith Butler said, and I’ve discussed this on the podcast, my concern is Adeniyi gets stuck behind those two guys and doesn’t get much of a chance to carve out a role on the defense.

DRED1224 (Steelers 12): Hey Alex if you could change anything about how the Steelers run training camp what would it be?

Alex: Oh man, I can’t think of anything. Don’t close the concessions before practice ends so I can hurriedly eat a hot dog on my way to the car. Seriously, it’s perfect. Fan said it well yesterday. This is the place where six Super Bowl teams have trained. It’s perfect.

Dan: So, we have a good number of O-linemen that had a good camp. How many do we keep, and who?

Alex: All of this will be sorted out in-games. Unfortunately, injuries are likely to happen with the number of linemen on a team, 15 in camp right now, I think, and the nature of the position. But right now, I like Banner and Johnson to be the 8th and 9th offensive linemen on the 53. Practice squad is still up in the air. Gray is a good bet even if his camp is quiet. Physical tools are there. Hassenauer maybe. We’ll see.

FrankBlacknGold: Hi, Alex. I’ll ask an AB related question because we all love to talk about him. But just wondering if you see any difference in the intensity & tempo at this camp v. past years? Lots of people credit AB for bringing up the level of practices and wondering if you see any difference?

Alex: I think it’s a little overstated. An easy narrative to construct for ourselves and in the media. It all feels the same. Camp is always intense and physical. Players always work hard after. Players always come down early to get in some extra reps. Everything feels the same. But the players can speak to it better than I for obvious reasons.

Andrew Black: 

Hey Alex,

Is there any way Ola can push Dupree for his roster spot? I know we paid Bud the $9M, but if Ola continues to flash all throughout the preseason, how do you justify keeping him benched?

Alex: He won’t. His goal is to be the #3 rotational player with the chance to start if/when injuries strike. Adeniyi has played great and I’m super excited about him but the dude does have nine NFL snaps. He’s still gotta climb up the ladder. And with the money they’re paying Dupree, how much they still obviously like him, he’s not getting benched.

CP72: Alex,
I’ve been on the bandwagon that this defense could be as good as we’ve seen since the last Super Bowl trip. Have you seen anything to the point in camp that makes you feel better or worse than you expected about the defense as a whole?

Alex: It’s hard to gauge. They look good. They look fast, they look opportunistic, there’s depth in places they didn’t have last year. OLB, ILB, even better along the d-line with McCullers and Buggs having good camps. But they’re facing an opponent they know, a playbook they know, and often times, are seeing Dobbs/Rudolph/Hodges i.e. not starting caliber quarterbacks.

We saw last year how false some of the camp success was. 20 INTs by the defense, the most I saw since I’ve been regularly attending camp. And it didn’t translate. So I want to be optimistic but what I’ve seen in camp only sways me so much.

The Tony: Alex,
Have you checked out Dragon Ball Super yet?

Alex: Yup. Been watching it each Saturday night on Adult Swim. Down to the final two universes. It’s weird they make Jeirren to be such a villain. He’s not Cell, he’s not Freiza (who has done absolutely nothing so far to the point I almost forgot he was there). He’s just a dude trying to defend his universe. Seems like a cool dude. I’d invite him to training camp with me.


Hi Alex,

Can you please link the training camp tip jar page? I want to thank you for the unbelievable work you’re doing.

Also, who has surprised you (positively or negatively) in camp so far this year?

Alex: Sure. Here it is. Thank you for any donation you make. You certainly don’t have to but Dave and I are thankful for it.

Hodges has obviously been a pleasant surprise. As has been the depth top to bottom at outside linebacker. The rookies across the board have largely impressed though there’s been a bit too much hype on Diontae Johnson for my liking. But Benny Snell’s well-rounded game has been super impressive. Those are some of the things sticking out. As is Christian Scotland-Williamson’s progression.

Danny Sanchez: 


Any TE’s you like from other teams that we could sign after final cuts/and or trade for?

Alex: I haven’t looked much since all the names I suggested seemed to be taken off the table earlier in the offseason. Dave’s suggested Richard Rodgers and Luke Willson as a couple names. Those make sense. I’m interested to take a look at the safety market in a week or so.

Mr. Goodkat: 

I know Hodges has looked better than people expect, but is there really any value in giving him preseason snaps? He isn’t making the roster or PS unless Dobbs is traded anyways, and the best way to trade Dobbs is to give Rudolph enough snaps that you’re confident he beats out Dobbs, and Dobbs enough snaps that he showcases his abilities further to other teams. Then obviously Ben needs some snaps — and with all these new WRs I’d think this would be an appropriate year to give him more than just a couple series.


Alex: I understand the point. Hodges isn’t going to play a lot. Maybe a little in the opener and second game, probably get a quarter – maybe a little more – in the finale. Had this conversation on Twitter yesterday. Even absolute best case scenario, Hodges would be the #3, not the #2. So that means you still have to figure out who the #2 is. Which means throwing Dobbs and Rudolph (especially Rudolph) as many reps as possible to figure that group out. So the harsh reality is they come at Hodges’ expense. Just how being the #4 goes.

There’s value in it because he has played well and deserves the time. They just can’t come directly at the expense of the other two QBs. I would (try) to play Hodges a series tomorrow. Two series in the second game. And then mid-way through the third quarter in the finale. That gets him to roughly 35 snaps in the preseason, probably 15-20 dropbacks. Better than what most #4’s get.

srdan: Do you think Tyrel Austin will make any defensive calls this preseason? I know that is a stretch. Do you think he will influence some during the game?

Alex: I doubt it, even knowing some assistants get that chance during the preseason. But as I’ve said before, I think that either for the start of the year or by mid-season, he comes out of the booth and is on the sidelines. He’s the DB coach. That’s how he acts during practice. And I can’t see Tomlin not using him as a resource on the sideline for those guys during the game. Not just someone looking at replays two or three times a game.

The Chin: Alex,
Did any R-rated words leave your lips yesterday when you saw Joe in the cart?

Alex: I didn’t even see the cart take him off. I don’t think anyone in the crowd knew what happened until Missi tweeted about it. So I was confused as anyone else because you wouldn’t have known there was an injury. Glad it sounds like he didn’t suffer a severe injury. Would’ve been a monumental loss.

Bill Sechrengost: Hi Alex. I keep reading comments from people who think they should cut McCullers or Eli Rogers and I know they both signed two-year contracts. Have the Steelers ever cut anyone signed to a two-year contract before the first year? I know they have after the first year. I just can’t remember the Steelers ever cutting someone before the first year. Also, I jotted down all of the players I could find who signed two-year contracts in the off season, I believe: Mark Barron; Donte Moncrief; Ramon Foster; Anthony Chickillo; Tyson Aluala; Daniel McCullers; Eli Rogers; Jordan Berry. Who is the player you feel most likely to complete both years with the Steelers? Least likely? Thanks for all your good work Alex.

Alex: That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer. I’d have to do some digging. I know it is pretty rare for the team to cut outside free agents they’ve brought in. Only 2-3 of those names in Colbert’s tenure. Kevan Barlowand Knile Davis are two of them. I would assume the number of players cut in that scenario are very few. And I believe McCullers and Rogers are going to make it. Somehow, McCullers spot feels even more secure than Eli’s.

Jarod Wells: Hey Alex, thanks for all the hard work again this year at camp! Do you see any current players on the roster as possible trade bait?

Alex: Thanks Jarod. It’s a great time of year. Less confident I see one as I was before camp. Hawkins is definitely not getting traded. So throw that out the window. Maybe a Zach Banner because of the o-line depth but I think the team would much prefer to keep him. You could argue a receiver, maybe an Eli, but it’s hard to see him having value beyond maybe a conditional 7th round pick. Maybe one of the depth OLBs in a player for player swap the way Lucas Crowley was dealt for Dashaun Phillips (two players 99% of Steelers’ fans forget existed) two years ago. But it’s a lot more likely they’re adding a player as opposed to trading one away.

That’s all for this week. I’ll check in this evening for anyone else who wanted to ask a question. Appreciate you all for stopping by.

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