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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to the Pittsburgh Steelers mailbag, answering your questions for the next hour. Just one more of these before training camp begins…if it begins and even if it does, it’ll look very different than before.

*sad trombone sounds*

To your questions!

The Tony: Alex,
If the Steelers had to change their name, what would be a name would you want the team to be called?

Alex: That’s a really good question. It’s so hard to even think about because they’ve been the Steelers for now 80 years. I think any switch would still reflect the city and its history. Thinking back to the time Art Rooney sold (?) the team and the plan was to bring a team to Pittsburgh called the Iron Men. That still fits well today. There was also a time when a team could’ve been called the Keystoners. According to this PPG article, other team name suggestions when they were transitioning away from the Pirates were:

Wahoos
Condors
Pioneers
Triangles
Bridgers
Buckaroos
Yankees
Millers
Vulcans
Tubers
Smokers
Rollers
Ingots
Puddlers

Not exactly the most inspiring list. What’s the best one on there – the Vulcans? Though “Buckaroos” would legitimately be hilarious.

But Steelers seems perfect to me.

PghDSF: Do you think that Marc Barron is brought back? I’m not sold on Gilbert if Bush gets hurt.

Alex: Not as we sit here today. Colbert’s approach is to evaluate the roster and then make any moves. That evaluation is tougher this year because of the pandemic, I know, but the goal should be to give UG3 the chance. He flashed what he could do before his back injury last year. So I think things will be quiet until we get into the last week or two at August at the earliest.

steeltown: What does the OLB depth chart look like week 1 of the 2021 season?

Alex: Good question. How many LBs total get kept? Eight or nine? My guess right now…

OLB – Watt, Dupree, Adeniyi, Skipper, Highsmith
ILB – Bush, Williams, Gilbert, Spillane

With Adeniyi beginning the year as the #3, first man off the bench, because he’s the only one with serious NFL experience (Skipper had a cup of coffee with the Giants last year). But that experience and resume is going to win out with the lost offseason and probable lost preseason.

Skipper will have to hope for two preseason games. His ticket needs to be through special teams and without that, his path becomes a lot tougher. He barely got to play on STs last year until the preseason finale (where he did well). Highsmith of course is making it, Adeniyi has the resume, Spillane was an excellent special teamer the back half of last year, and UG3 was leading in ST snaps before going on IR. So I see Skipper as the biggest bubble guy right now. For now, I’ll leave him on.

Christopher Pokins: Alex, Have to think not working out a long term deal for Bud means we will see the end of his Steelers career. Does this put OLB at the top of the draft needs for 2021? I’m not sold on that. Still think OL will be top priority. Thoughts?

Alex: It’s hard to rank the needs because of all the pending FAs there are. Who is kept and who walks is going to determine that. Even if Dupree is gone, and that’s a reasonable assumption, what happens to JuJu? Feiler? Villanueva? Hilton, Sutton? So we gotta see who gets re-signed and who is let go.

What’s interesting and potentially difficult about the OLBs is trying to evaluate Highsmith. I like the pick but you might not learn a whole lot about him this season, at least in trying to figure out if he can be your starting ROLB in 2021. All rookies are hurt by the lack of preseason/offseason and like I outlined in the above question, Adeniyi probably has a leg up. If the team doesn’t rock the boat and change the depth chart midseason, how many defensive snaps could Highsmith end up playing? 100, maybe, sorta like Isaiah Buggs in 2019. So now you have to evaluate him in a meaningful way without many snaps to go off. And that’s a tricky spot. Do you roll with Highsmith or do you invest heavily in the position, which this team has done time and time again because it’s so important?

I can’t answer that right now and I don’t think the Steelers can either.

McBringleberry: hey Alex, who do you think has a bigger comeback year….Conner or Juju? Judging by overall impact and value to the team

Alex: Both are capable of it and obviously tied to health. I just trust JuJu to remain healthier than I do Conner at this point. JuJu’s health plus Ben’s return is massive for him, not to mention the WR group around him growing and improving. James Washington, Diontae Johnson are real threats this season for secondaries to worry about. I think JuJu is going to bounce back in a big way, much closer to 2018 numbers (probably not as many receptions because they won’t throw the ball 650+ times like that season) but certainly a whole lot better than last year. And it’ll compel the team to franchise tag him.

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