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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your regularly scheduled Thursday mailbag. We’re here for the next hour to talk about whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

srdan: Hi Alex,
Assuming ben is completely cleared for TC, would you expect him to throw more or less in camp?
Who is the one guy that the organization is higher on than the fanbase (last years dupree)?

Alex: Hey srdan! That’s a really good question. I’m not sure what there approach will be. Have to be cautious and not overwork him but by camp, he’ll be ten months out from throwing/playing a game and you need to test that arm and get him comfortable. So it’s a tricky balance. I imagine it’ll be similar to past seasons, full day, half day, off day, but I’m not sure how it’s going to go. Maybe get him a little extra work in preseason games since he hadn’t played in so long. Knock the rust off.

I think Benny Snell. I know everyone is talking about them taking a RB super high and yes, there is a remote possibility of that given how deep and talented the class is but Snell had a solid rookie season. Overcoming that mid-season knee surgery is no joke. Lot of confidence in him being the guy behind James Conner. So that’s who I’d pick.

CP72: Alex,
Now that you’ve had a chance to do a little draft research who’s your pre-combine draft crush? Mine to this point is Kyle Duggar.

Alex: Don’t think I have that crush yet. Lot of guys I like. Not sure there’s anyone I’m totally smitten with. Dugger had a good week in Mobile. Obviously with small-school ties, it’s an uphill battle to project him coming to Pittsburgh. I really like Oklahoma DT Neville Gallimore. Always been impressed by him.

Andrew Black: 

Hi Alex,

I know it’s hard to answer before the draft, but as of now, what are Deion Cane’s chances of making the roster next year? I think he showed some good flashes and has the skillset Ben likes for a deep threat. Maybe he’ll hit a few of those Holton-Go routes with him that Randy likes to call a few times a game.

Alex: Well let’s take a look. You have three roster locks: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington. From there, it’s open for the other two (or three) spots. You’ll have: Johnny Holton, Deon Cain, Ryan Switzer, Amara Darboh, Anthony Johnson, and whoever else gets brought in. Probably going to draft or sign someone.

Cain has a path for the reasons you outlined. Impressed in limited opportunities last year and that’s especially so because he came in mid-season. Learning a new system, system, playbook, and made an impact right away. Excited to see what he could do with an offseason and camp, coming in from the beginning. Holton has a strong path for his ST value so that could leave only one spot available but Cain has an inside track. We’ll see what moves they make the next two months to add to the group.

stan: How do you think the new proposed CBA is going to affect the salary cap situation for the Steelers? I’m thinking that the increase TV revenue from the 17th game plus a higher share of the revenues for the players is going to be worth at least $10M a year, which is welcome news for the cash-strapped Steelers.

Alex: I’m no expert there but I don’t believe it’s going to have any impact for this year. In the future, probably, though it’s obviously going to be a benefit for the rest of the league. And so prices will rise off of that and it’s kinda a wash. So an impact, sure, but a minimal one and not something that will help them for the here and now.

J Alexander Wright: Do you attribute any of Dupree’s success to having someone like TJ Watt on the other side? How much do you think him having a large contract along with the coming contract of TJ will affect the team’s future?

Alex: Not really. Maybe a slight benefit to being on the right side. Perhaps some more comfort there and seeing the TE less helped him get more one-on-ones. Could align a little tighter, not get chipped/bumped as often. But really he just improved his play. He was healthy all year, that’s the #1 reason for it, who showed more power, had a better plan, and the Steelers let him rush a lot more than they had in past years. Dropped into coverage about 25% of the time his sophomore year. That fell to under 10% in 2019. So more chances to get after the QB and he’s just grown into his role. Hitting the prime of his career.

falconsaftey43: Hi Alex! What’s you’re favorite combine measurement? Why?

Alex: It really just depends on the position. But force me to pick one, and it’s gotta be the ten split. Applied universally for all positions. Everyone has to be explosive. Running backs, edge rushers, and the trenches. That number matters to every group unlike things like 40 time (which means less to the linemen) or say, bench press (which matters less to WRs). But ten split is that number that is important across the board. So I really like to focus in on that one, though the broadcasts sometimes do a poor job of showing what that number is.

SteelPierogi: What’s the possibility that Steelers draft a potential dynamic playmaker with their first pick. A guy that doesn’t have a true role, but could bust one any time he touches the ball. Who would that player be in your opinion, possibly available in the mid second?

Alex: Not sure if that guy exists that early. They do exist in this draft, Bowden from Kentucky, Gibson from Memphis, but I don’t know about #49. The Steelers generally have looked at players with more defined roles than a universal playmaker since the Archer/Rainey days, which clearly didn’t work out. But it’s possible they look for that type of playmaker early. The offense certainly could use a shot in the arm. Most do. So I’m not ruling out a skill player, a great athlete, though I don’t know if it’ll be that catch-all “everything” quite that early.

falconsaftey43: Do you think Dupree’s stance has anything to do with his success this year? I noticed that in 2019 he almost always rushed with his outside foot forward (which is opposite of convention). Glancing through prior years, it seems like he used to switch back and forth a lot. Maybe an impact of Porter leaving and being taught by Butler/Dunbar more?

Alex: That’s honestly news to me. I really hadn’t studied his stance. An interesting point though and I can go through some plays and check it out. Maybe that has something to do with it. Maybe those steps create more power on his bull rush, though on a standard three step speed bull rush, that third step with the outside foot forward means you’re coming off your inside foot which like you said, is the opposite of what’s taught. So I’m not sure. But maybe there were a half dozen little technique things that added up. I do strongly believe his good health was the real key. No torn pec, no elbow injury he needed painkillers for, just healthy start to finish.

wvupittsburgh: 

Two things. First, I don’t think fans doubt Snell as a number two; I think fans doubt Conner’s ability to stay healthy, and thus doubt Snell’s ability to be a feature back in a high scoring offense. That’s why fans want a running back in the draft. A backfield featuring Conner, Snell, and say, Cam Akers would as deep and talented as any in the league.

Second, I’ll grant that Dupree improved in 2019, but he obviously benefits from playing opposite Watt and behind players like Heyward, Tuitt, and Hargrave.

Alex: That’s pretty much my point regarding Snell. I think the team views him as feature back capable. Someone who actually gets better when he’s “the guy” as opposed to a backup or working in a committee.

Yes, Dupree benefits by playing with a talented cast of characters. Just like everyone else. It’s low on the reasons why he turned the corner this year. He played with a pretty solid group of people in 2018, too.


That’s all for this week. Thanks to everyone who asked a question!

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