Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly edition of the Steelers’ mailbag. Like always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

Michael Stickings: Hi Alex. With the Chick news and Watt injury, it looks now like the main problem for the Steelers, and potentially the main obstacle to any sort of significant rebound this season (assuming the O gets on track, which I realize is questionable), is the OLB position. It’s fine with Watt and (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Dupree in there, but there’s no depth. I’m looking forward to seeing Ola get more playing time, but do you see any opportunity to upgrade at all or are these four now pretty much what we’ve got for the reminder of the season?

Alex: Gotta roll with what you have. Team has already made two aggressive trades this year and Tomlin basically confirmed they don’t intend to conduct a third. We’re pretty deep into the season. Not much you can do to dramatically shift your roster for a team with limited future draft capital. But I’m still excited about Adeniyi, thought he’s played well when given the chance, and they’ll just wind up playing Dupree and Watt as much as possible, for better or worse.

Andrew Black: 

Hey Alex,

I know Tomlin said they’re not “big players” in the trade market, but if you were to (reasonably) trade for a person in the league, who would you go after?

Alex: I haven’t thought about a name because I don’t expect them to make a move nor do I really want them to make one. I guess it’d be for a defensive linemen or outside linebacker.

If anything, I’d be taking phone calls for Javon Hargrave. Seeing how good of an offer I get. And if they lose to Miami? Hargrave’s gotta be shipped out the next day. Season is over and you might as well get something for him.

Elyas Correa Nogueira: Hey, Alex. Do you think the Steelers defense is rising with Keith Butler or in spite of Keith Butler?

Alex: I don’t want to put it in those all-or-nothing terms because that’s probably unfair to everyone on that side of the ball, coaches and players. But given the repeated heavy investments in this defense, the draft picks for eight straight years, the move up for Bush, the trade for Fitzpatrick, contracts to Nelson, Haden, Barron, you’re bound to fall into a good defense at one point. The team had to load up on talent a way no other team has had to do the last several years. So I put that more in the “in spite of” category because this defense didn’t take the jump until you invested all your capital into finding top talent.

PghSDF: How much do you think Butler’s coaching OLB’s this year has helped…especially for Dupree?

Alex: It’s always had to say about positional coaching impact from our standpoint. But Butler has always been a very good linebackers coach so sure, that may be helping Dupree. I imagine Butler still had a role in teaching/helping in past years, even with Porter as the OLBs coach. It’s not like Butler can’t help and offer tips too.

Dupree being in a contract year and more importantly, not dealing with those stubborn upper body injuries (elbow issue in 2017, torn pec last year) are the bigger reasons for why he’s turning the corner.

Ryan Fazi: 


Why do you think we did not put in a waiver claim on Skipper ?

Alex: I dunno. I guess they liked Elliott more. Remember their apparent intention with Skipper was to put him on the practice squad. He never spent a full week on the 53. Made it initially, sure, but then was cut before Week 1. So maybe they never really viewed him as one of the top 53 (but waned to try to stash him so waited until after the initial wave of cuts when teams claimed other players and had their roster pretty much set) and still viewed him as a practice squader. Hard to get into their head.

Andrew: Hey Alex, hope all is going well,
Are you surprised Skipper wasn’t brought back in any capacity (especially considering Chick)? Are you disappointed to see him still with the Giants? Is it time to officially break it off with him?

Alex: A little surprised, yes. But I slept fine last night. The team was going to be 2-4 even if he had been on the roster the entire year and their record would’ve been the same had they signed/not signed him yesterday.

Yup, I think it’s time to stop talking about him. I didn’t really like talking about him prior to him getting cut by New York. Prefer to put my focus on the guys who are here. Most other stuff is just wasted energy, especially on a UDFA rookie who wasn’t going to impact your team much anyway.

Zach: Hey Alex, Do you agree the Steelers FO should go after Josh Gordon pretty hard?

Alex: Eh, no, not really. Wasn’t productive in New England, has all the off field concerns, whatever injury he’s dealing with, and you’d just be robbing play time from young guys you’ve invested in like Washington and/or Diontae Johnson. I’ll pass.

The Tony: Alex,
What is your level of concern heading into Monday Night going against Fitzpatrick? This is interesting since the Steelers normally shine in prime time but in recent years tend to play down to the opponents level.

Alex: I’m the cynic of the site so yes, I’m concerned. Miami hasn’t played bad the last three weeks. And Fitzpatrick is the better short-term option for the team. Run game has found more of an identity, they’re getting a little healthier in the secondary (CB Xavien Howard expected to play) and they do some creative things defensively. Steelers are 2-4 and in no position to take anyone lightly. It isn’t even a “playing down” issue. I think that’s generally overstated. Pittsburgh just hasn’t been a great team who have been in close games for four of their six contests this year. Those four games have all been decided by one score.

@Why_Cliff: I’m just going to skip over the 2016 draft class minus Hargrave and ask about the 17′ class. I’m gonna ask you to put your GM hat on With 4 players left (Watt, JuJu, Conner and Sutton) Who are you signing 1st, 2nd & 3rd? Who are you letting walk?

Alex: The good news is that’s a very good problem for a GM to have. To basically nail your first four picks and it’s fair to say they had Dobbs evaluated decently and ultimately got something out of him. Seriously, when was the last time that happened? 1974?

Ideally, you want to bring them all back and I think that’s possible. Sutton may want to find a team with a clearer role when the time comes, though by then, Haden could be on his way out. And who knows what happens with Hilton.

But to actually rank them…

1. JuJu Smith-Schuster. Tough call with TJ Watt, you can flip them and that’s fine, but it’s easier for this team to find and manufacture pass rushing than it is a passing attack. You’re feeling that now without AB. You don’t want to lose both those weapons in the span of a few years.

2. TJ Watt. Arguably a more talented player, forgetting about positional value, than JuJu and right now, an elite player. No way am I letting him sniff free agency. Hand him a blank check.

3. James Conner. Yes, you can talk about the value of the RB position and how easy they are to replace. But you can’t find a three down back every time you go to the well and Conner is that guy, even if he isn’t at that Le’Veon Bell level of talent (and he’s not, he’s probably a top 10-13 back in football). If his price tag is super high, I may move on, but obviously want him to return.

4. Cam Sutton. Who I think most people will have 4th on the list, even though he’s enjoying – by far – the best year of his career. If I was GM, I’d work harder to find more playing time with him but at least the team has made that effort this season, playing him in the slot in dime/passing situations. That is a guy you may lose though if he wants to be a full-time starter somewhere else, which he has the talent to be.

The Pittsburgh Steelers: Lol finish this statement: The Steelers & Mason Rudolph pulled an Eagles & Nick Foles by winning the SB with a back up QB and they did it by leaning in their two strengths ________ & _______

Alex: Does “waking up from their dream” count as a strength?

If you made me fill it in, it would be the defense creating big plays and turnovers. That’s really the #1 thing. The other would be the progression of Diontae Johnson and James Washington. But it would be the defense dragging the offense along to the finish line.

D.j. Reynolds: Hey Alex! Do you think this is the weekend the Steelers finally start to open the offense up some more and let Mason throw more intermediate and deep routes? If not now, will they?

Alex: Sure hope so, D.j. If not now, when? Bye week was the chance to reset and tailor this offense to Rudolph, who the team knew they were going to have back for the Miami game. Miami doesn’t exactly have a stout defense either. So yeah, this the week to get more aggressive.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for coming guys!

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