Welcome back to your usual Thursday mailbag. Pre-pandemic, today was supposed to be the first day of practice at St. Vincent College. So there shouldn’t even be a mailbag today; instead, you should be reading a Camp Diary this evening. And that makes me sad.
But we’re here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind.
To your questions!
Anthony Palmerston: I know a lot of bad stuff is going on in the world right now, but are you enjoying “time off” this offseason (if that’s even a thing)?
Alex: Eh, I would MUCH rather be at training camp right now. Downtime during the offseason is nice but I’m getting pretty sick of it. I like being busy and we’re at a point where it’s hard to even come up with things to write about. So I’m ready for football to return. Going to have to wait a little longer to see it on my TV, though.
With no preseason do you keep Feiler at right tackle and start Wisniewski at guard? Was looking forward to the Banner/Chuks battle, but may have have to go with the devil you know.
Alex: Point taken and I know Wisniewski is the vet but they don’t *know* him either. They know Banner and Okorafor a lot better inside that building, even if they’re a lot younger. Experience was actually the thing Tomlin cited in talking about Feiler shifting to LG. Here’s what Tomlin said at the time.
“Those young tackles in Zach Banner and Chuks (Okorafor) have been here and have played. So, the combination of those guys provides the most experience for us and that is probably the appropriate place to begin.”
Right or wrong, that’s their mindset. And if Banner/Okorafor truly flounder at RT, they can always move Feiler over. Lot of trust in him to plug ‘n play. He barely played RT in camp/preseason last year because they let those guys have experience at right tackle and soak up reps.
PghDSF: Do you think Cam Sutton might be the extra safety in the dime this year?
Alex: He was last year. As things stand today, he’s the #6 DB who plays primarily in dime packages. Team finally got smart and instead of replacing Hilton with Sutton in dime (with Kam Kelly the 6th DB), they removed Kelly and put both Hilton/Sutton out there. And that should remain this season. He played that role well last year, saw an overall big improvement in his game (especially as a tackler) and obviously is playing for a contract either in Pittsburgh or elsewhere in the offseason.
steeltown: What are your thoughts on newly acquired TE Dax Raymond?
Alex: Interesting guy. Good athlete. But hard to really offer a strong evaluation or take on him and we won’t really get to see him unless/until he makes the roster. But quality depth at the bottom and different type of player than the man he’s competing with, Kevin Radar, which I prefer.
Marcel Chris Chauvet: Do you think the Steelers will give Ben more reps at training camp this year, or will it be the same story as the last several seasons where he’s given 1.5 out of every 3 days off? I ask because I think there are a variety of good reasons to NOT sit him as much in this year’s training camp. I know I’d be inclined to give him considerably more work.
Alex: That’s a good question I’ve wrestled with, especially amid the uncertainty of the pandemic. They will have a long time for him to “ramp up.” Camp is structured so the whole team has to take it slow which is good for Ben so he doesn’t overdo it. It’ll really be about getting him in the facility, getting him throwing in practice (remember Tomlin hasn’t even seen him throw yet) and seeing how he feels and leaning on the advice of doctors/trainers/strength & conditioning coaches.
I imagine you want to get him pretty warmed up though. His first pass inside a stadium won’t be until Week 1 against the Giants so you can’t be too cautious with him either. If he feels good, if his arm responds well initially, then you can’t be scared with him because you’re about to play a full 16 game season with the dude. So let it rip, find out how the dude feels. Plus, it’ll be good for him to gain trust in his arm again. There’s a mental hurdle for a guy with his first ever major on-field injury.