Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

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

To your questions!

SteelDodo: Hi Alex,
What do you think is the most likely game plan if Edmunds were to miss a few games. I feel like an argument could be made for any of the 3 backup Safeties or maybe Fitzpatrick moving down with Hilton/Sutton taking over for FS?

Alex: That’s a good – and sorta scary – question. Same applies to Edmunds. Dangerfield has played both spots but profiles better as a box SS and just hasn’t played much on defense the past 2-3 years. We’ll see what guys like Marcus Allen and Antoine Brooks do. If Allen can finally stick, what kind of impact Brooks will make right away.

I’m not really sure what things would look like but it’s possible it isn’t manned by just one guy. Maybe Dangerfield plays in base, Sutton plays SS in more sub-package/obvious pass situations. I don’t think they have the depth and experience to make it 1:1 but have enough options and flexibility to try and piece things together. But I’m not sure. Obviously, we’ll have to get into camp and see how guys look and get a better lay of the land. It’s an answer I don’t have write now and that’s why I’ve sounded the alarm about safety depth being an issue they should – and I think will – attempt to address late in summer.

MoreRingsThanYourTeam: Some people are sold on the inside linebacker and safety depth, but I am not. If you were to pick up a player still out there in the magical land of free agency, who would it be?

Alex: I’m much more optimistic about the ILB depth than S depth because you have an intriguing option like UG3, who impressed before getting hurt. That guy doesn’t exist at safety. Signing another ILB just takes that chance away from Gilbert III and I want to figure out his future before I start looking for other options.

I’m with you on safety. The problem is trying to find a FA who fits. And the market is empty. I had a list of names at the beginning of the offseason: Jeff Heath, Deon Bush, Jayron Kearse – and even mentioned Tashaun Gipson when Houston cut him, but they’re all on teams right now. Best way to add safety depth is to trade for it, like Colbert does in late August. We mentioned Marcus Maye on the podcast the other day and that’s probably as good an offering as I could give right now. But I’ll make a wishlist later in the summer.

Jeff P: Seems like each year there was always a position where folks on the outside looking in were concerned about a starting group, such as the ILB position, S position, CB position, or TE position in recent years. Sure this year you could nitpick about NT or S depth, but would it be fair to say this is as complete a team on paper as any in the Tomlin/Colbert era? I’m just not really seeing any glaring holes on this roster. Is there a starting group you’re more worried about that the fanbase is maybe a little too comfortable with?

Alex: That’s a fair question, Jeff. It’s always hard for me to compare/contrast previous seasons and try to separate the “nitpicking” of depth areas and how it’s better/worse than now.

To your overall point though, yes, I agree, it’s gotta be up there as one of the most complete teams. On paper, anyway. Perhaps not the most talented but there aren’t any giant holes in the roster. No rookie that has to be counted on in a year where it’ll be tough for those guys to make an impact.

Bottom line with this team. A healthy, solid Ben Roethlisberger + a defense that plays at about the same level as last year is a 10 win Steelers’ team. Minimum. There’s your baseline. Any other injuries or noise that happens can be overcome. Now you add onto that some “extras,” like a healthy James Conner, a rookie breaking out and competing in a meaningful way, some other young guys taking big steps forward, McDonald/Ebron working out well at TE, and we’re getting into the 11, 12, 13 range of wins and really competing hard with Baltimore for the AFC North crown.

So short answer. Yes, on paper, this team looks really good. I don’t get too comfortable with that because if last year proved anything, plans change, injuries happen, what you *think* you know you often don’t, but right now, I’m happy with the state of the team.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex. What’s Cam Sutton’s contract status? Is he in the Steelers long term plans?

Alex: Hey! Thanks for stopping by. Sutton is entering the final year of his rookie contract. Will be a free agent in the offseason. I believe one, not both, of Hilton/Sutton will be back. Don’t think they will both walk but don’t think both will be re-signed. Steelers are going to have to choose. Hilton will likely cost more and is the better run defender, blitzer, and solid in coverage. They like/trust Sutton a little more in coverage and his tackling/physicality improved in a big way last year but he’s not on Hilton’s level in the latter. Sutton has a more inside/outside versatility, too. So I don’t know which way it’s going to go. My gut is Hilton walks and Sutton is re-signed.

steeltown: Any real shot for Paxton Lynch? In your opinion, what are his shortcomings? Any breakdown coming on him or did I miss it?

Alex: Oh sure. Colbert seems high on him. Brings up his name, usually unprompted, everytime he’s asked about the QB battle (which is pretty much every interview he gives). I’m sure the dude looked good in practice. Think I read once Tomlin even made a remark about it. Former 1st rounder with a big arm is going to excel in that setting. Make some wow plays. Very different type of dude than Duck. It’s an open competition between those two for the #3 spot. Tossup as far as I’m concerned.

His shortcomings are just overall inconsistency and accuracy. I never did a deep dive into his Denver tape and woes, they pulled the plug pretty early on him, and obviously he hasn’t thrown a pass as a Steeler outside of regular season practices. So camp will tell us more.

I don’t think we have a breakdown on him. Went back and looked and don’t believe we did a player profile on him coming out of Memphis.

falconsaftey43: Hi Alex. Regarding all of the LB/SS “hybrid” talk. Those positions are pretty similar already. The assignments I see as the difference are Safeties are asked to play deep coverage, and LB line up between the tackles. I think they both pretty much do the same otherwise. Play as overhang defender (and same alignment vs the run), some man coverage and zone coverage in the slot (though you try to limit who your LBs are in man against). In a general sense, am I missing any other big difference?

Alex: In a general sense, I’m pretty much on board with everything you said there. As you mentioned, the SS is going to have to play in a lot more space than a LB. That’s why you see SSs become LBs and a lot fewer LBs become safeties. Easier to move closer to the LOS than it’s going to be to get away from it. That’s when size requirements chance and athleticism becomes more important.

For Pittsburgh, there’s still plenty of times where the SS has to play the deep half in Cover 2. Or hopefully moreso this year to get Fitzpatrick out of the post 95% of the time, where a SS is going to have to rotate single high. Stuff a LB couldn’t do. But a LB in Pittsburgh’s scheme is also blitzing a lot more, which is something not all SSs are equipped or as competent to handle. Edmunds can’t blitz like Vince Williams.

We’ll see if a hybrid guy gets used this year. Didn’t really have one a year ago. So many talk about Barron being that hybrid guy but he wasn’t. He was just a plain ‘ol linebacker. It sounds like Edmunds could take on that role, which is probably their best option if they don’t have to give Vince Barron’s nickel snaps. So you could see something there with Edmunds spinning down.

steelasfreek: How would you compare Miles Boykin vs Chase? Both are big body guys out of ND and are metric anomalies with their athletic profiles. Does Chase project to be better than Boykin?

Alex: Pretty similar. I liked Boykin a little more coming out but if you liked/disliked one, you probably felt the same about the other. Claypool has more special teams value so he could make a bigger impact out of the gate than Boykin, who also got stuck in Baltimore’s run-heavy attack. But yes, Claypool basically replaced Boykin at ND last year so they are similar. Height/weight/speed guys with some predictable stiffness/lack of quickness.

That’s all for this week. Thanks for stopping by, everyone!

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