Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly mailbag, first true 2020 training camp edition. Unfortunately we can’t offer you the coverage of past camps – can’t wait to be out there next season – but we’re here to answer any of your Steelers’ inquiries for the next hour.

To your questions!

James Cowan: Should more people be talking about Robert Spillane (Spillman for Dave)? According to Dale Lolley (I think) he was the first rotation at inside linebacker and was very impressive on ST last season.

Alex: Hello James! I just wrote about Spillane the other day though it was from a special teams viewpoint. I don’t know what happened in practice considering I’m not there but I assume he was working as Buck linebacker behind Vince. He’s next man up there. Steelers have the Mack, the more athletic spot, and the Buck. UG3 the backup Mack behind Bush, Spillane for Williams. So him getting those reps isn’t a shock if Vince was held out/rotated out, whatever the case was.

But to your point yeah, Spillane had an excellent season. Not a new fact but basically steps into that Matakevich, tackling machine role if he can pick up where he left off. 11 tackles in eight games last year is pretty crazy for a pure special teamer. He’s also a little better athlete than Dirty Red was too.


We’re getting some tid bits out if camp and it’s getting me excited. So I’m going to some wild speculations and you pick which one you’d personally put the most stock in?

Chase Claypool will surpass James Washington as the number three receiver before the end of the season.

UG3 will be the Steelers dime linebacker week one.

Anthony McFarland will have 200 offensive snaps in 2020.

Alex: Definitely not UG3. That’s far too bold even for me and you all know I’m high on the guy. But Devin Bush is your guy. Your every down linebacker.

The other two are plausible. I would say the Claypool hype, while nice to hear, isn’t a shock. A freaky, gifted WR like him should look good in a practice setting, even with all the time missed. But Washington made serious strides last season, he’s underrated by the fanbase right now, so don’t count him out. Claypool probably chips away at playing time but I don’t know about outright surpassing. At some point though, one of the top three will get hurt/be unavailable, and that’ll open the door.

McFarland is dependent on Conner’s health. Conner stays healthy? Doubt McFarland gets there. If he goes down, then yeah, odds go up a fair bit.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex! Have the Steelers front office made any decisions as to whether or not fans will be permitted at Heinz Field?

Alex: Not yet. Most teams haven’t yet. But clock is ticking. My *guess* is there will be a heavily reduced capacity to begin the year given the relative low COVID numbers in Western PA. 5000-10,000 fans. We’ll let you know when they announce something.

WeWantDaTruth: Any update on Dotson?

Alex: Sounds like he avoided serious injury. Didn’t practice yesterday but was standing on the field. No brace, no noticeable ailment so that sounds really positive. Could still miss some time but definitely dodged a bullet. Good news.

falconsaftey43: Initial roster should be pretty much “chalk” this year. Who is the one guy that most assume is making the 53 that you could see missing out, either via cut or trade? What about not making the 53 or practice squad?

Alex: You’re right it feels pretty uneventful this year. The only answer I can circle back to is Jaylen Samuels. I have him on my 53 but wouldn’t be shocked if Whyte Jr or Smallwood take his place. I’d actually endorse it. Other than him, there aren’t many names who come to mind unless they finally give up on McCullers (doubtful) or if Skipper’s lack of ST value kicks him off again. But I don’t see it right now.

Not making the practice squad is tougher because there’s so many spots this year. Probably someone like Marcus Allen. If he can’t make the 53 this year, unless you just want a semi-experienced guy you can call up in case of injury, I don’t see the value in hanging onto him again.

Andy Fritz: Yo Alex, Juju is still plenty young and has a high cieling in regards to talent, but considering the the depth at his position, do you feel that the Steelers will extend him after this season or let him walk?

Alex: Hey Andy. It’s up in the air. Either route wouldn’t shock me. But I’m more optimistic about him returning than some others are. I think the conversation will have a different feel at the end of the year when JuJu – I believe – will be coming off a year much closer to 2018 than a year ago. We’re talking about his future at a time when his value is at his lowest point. The team and fans may feel different if he has a 90 catch, 1150 yards, seven touchdown type of season.

Extending him could still be tough before free agency. May have to resort to using the franchise tag. Where exactly the cap settles in at, a floor of $175 million but it may increase, could help swing the pendulum too. So stay tuned.

Steel Dodo: 

Hey Alex

Football question: What odds would you give that Ben will play after next season? I can’t tell if his wanting to win “multiple championships” talk was just lip service.

Fun question: Have you watched “Ultimate Tag”, the show with the Watt brothers yet? It is a VERY motivational show to watch while jogging on the treadmill lol

Alex: I feel a lot better about those odds. Some of that is lip service but he just seemed so open to the idea. He could’ve downplayed or deflected and just said he was focusing on this year, which would’ve been a fine answer, but he seemed energetic about continuing to play. Of course, his health and how his arm/body feels will drive everything but if he plays like usual Ben this season, yeah, I think he’ll sign another contract.

Haven’t seen Ultimate Tag. Hardly watch any TV these days to be honest. Aside from watching the Pirates lose because I’m a glutton for punishment. Is it any good?

Andy N: Hi Alex,
Looks like Danny Smith has some plans for Derek Watt. Is there any chance we see him sneaking a few Defense snaps? His brothers look quite good there…

Alex: Steelers have plans for him, you’re right. Defense won’t be one of them. But I’ll take what he is going to bring. A FB to help in short-yardage situations, where Pittsburgh was horrendous a year ago, and a core special teamer who tied for the team lead in tackles. Really important signing in retrospect with all the ST turnover and the uncertainty in all the rookies who won’t get to rep it in a preseason game this year. You want some guys who have been-there, done-it and produced at a high level.

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

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