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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your weekly mailbag. The final one before we get into the regular season and have a lot more to talk about. Until then, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind.

To your questions!

srdan: 

AK, congrats on the eve of your more fun part of the year!

Where is your confidence level in Mason compared to the end of last year (after Jets game)?

Alex: Glad we’re back, srdan.

I can’t say my confidence level has really changed. Obviously, haven’t had the chance to see anything different since the end of last season. It’s reasonable to assume he’s progressed, learned from last year’s mistakes, grown, working with a dedicated QB coach, all things that on paper, should develop his game. But you can’t really say he has until you actually see it. And I haven’t. So my confidence hasn’t increased until he gets on the field and we can actually evaluate him.

CP72: 

AK,
It’s been reported that there may be another extension prior to Monday. I personally would do something with Feiler. He’s a versatile piece and probably could be done at a reasonable price.

If you had your choice who they could do a long term deal with who would it be?

Alex: The report was pretty vague though. So I’m still not expecting another extension. But I’m with you. If I could choose someone, wave a magic wand, of something that seems realistic anyway, I’d pick Feiler.

Said on the most recent podcast I think there’s only three real extension candidates right now: Hilton, Feiler, and Villanueva. JuJu’s going to wait for his market value to bounce back, Sutton has a chance to build on his value, Dupree’s deadline is passed, and Conner ain’t happening.

Think I wrote in a mailbag a week or two ago the best case scenario this offseason is: extend Cam (check), tag JuJu (or get a long-term deal done) and re-sign Feiler/Sutton and like, Alualu or Wormley (to a dirt cheap deal). So getting Feiler done gets us about one-third of the way there.

Keeping Feiler gives you options. LG, RT, maybe even a look at LT – ? – as someone to compete with an assumed draft pick if Villanueva leaves after the year. And he’s going to be cheaper than Villanueva, too. Significantly so, though I admit I have trouble pegging his market value. Probably in the $5-6 million range. Three years, $15 million, something like that.

So yeah, I’m with you on Feiler. But I don’t think any extension happens in the next 96 hours.

steeltown: What if we fall to the injury bug in the secondary… say Haden and Hilton go down… whats the lineup in base, nickel and dime?

Alex: Let’s say Haden was to go down. Then my guess is you’ll see.

Base: Sutton replaces Haden at LCB. It could be Layne, he’s an outside corner, Sutton has played both, but they like Sutton a lot and I don’t see how you can throw Layne in that situation having not played a defensive snap as a rookie and missing out on big chunks of Year Two.

Nickel: The same with Sutton at LCB, Hilton in the slot.

Dime: Gets a little tricky. Probably either Sean Davis or Marcus Allen. My guess is Davis because of his experience. Maybe he comes down and plays closer to the LOS. Maybe it’s Edmunds with Davis playing SS. But Davis is probably the next guy off the bench.

Alex Kuhn: 

What’s interesting is because of no preseason or access to training camp, it’s hard to know what changes schematically were made.

If you had to guess, what’s the one change we’ll notice right away for the Steelers offense? Defense?

Alex: Pre-snap movement. Offense and defense, to be honest. Definitely on offense with more motion, less stagnation. Working on a study looking at the offense before Roethlisberger went down. And even the motion they had felt so nothing so stagnant, so low-energy. Matt Canada’s influence should be immediately seen especially to throw something new at a Giants’ defense that at least knows the personnel/coaching staff the Steelers are bringing back (whereas the Giants have a whole new staff). I think we’ll see that immediately, within the first 15 scripted plays.

And defensively, I think we’ll see a little more movement and disguise too. Whole secondary is returning. Even Davis is back. There’s continuity from the get-go. Didn’t even have that last year with Nelson coming over from KC and Fitzpatrick traded for during the season. Not an issue this season.

Bill Sechrengost: Hi Alex. Not sure if you can help me with this, but I thought I read somewhere that practice squad players are paid either $8,400 or $12,000 per game (or week?) based on accrued service. Can you tell me which practice squad players on the Steelers get which salary?

Alex: Check out the link here. It should fill you in on the details. The veterans on the Steelers practice squad are: Curtis Riley, Jay Elliott, Daniel McCullers and I believe Wendell Smallwood, though I’m not 100% sure.

DirtDawg1964: 

What’s one challenge/issue Steeler fans are overemphasizing, and one they are underemphasizing?

Similarly, what’s one opportunity/issue Steeler fans are overemphasizing, and one they are under emphasizing?

Alex: I don’t know if there’s a dark horse issue that people are missing. Some questions about the offensive line and how it’ll come together. Same with Roethlisberger’s timing/chemistry with some of these young receivers. He hasn’t even thrown to James Washington all that much.

It’s worth pointing out it’s unreasonable to expect the Steelers’ defense to record 38 takeaways again. There’s likely to be some level of regression there, probably something much closer to 25-30. That doesn’t mean the defense will play poorly, they’ll be a top unit, and the TO regression is cancelled out by the offensive improvement, but don’t expect this defense to have the gaudy turnover numbers the way they did a year ago.

Back 4 More: I’m not terribly familiar with new QB guru, Matt Canada. I know he was Pitt’s OC several years back, but I only watch Pitt sporadically at best. Any guesses as to what changes we might see under his regime with respect to Ben’s play and/or game plans in general?

Alex: Basically what I said above. Lot more pre-snap motion and energy. I want to be careful not to overstate his impact too much but I think that’s where you’ll see a breath of fresh air. What this team does pre-snap to create leverage, chaos, movement, an extra gap, whatever the case is. In both the run and pass game. Honestly, motion like that can help out the run game just as much, if not more, than the pass. If you can create an extra gap the defense needs to account for on the fly. Or if the defense gets out of position or is late to respond or doesn’t communicate effectively enough. Lot of things can go wrong for the defense making changes on the fly.

Wreckless: Fichtner came out and said Claypool will involved in the offense “more and earlier than you’d expect”. Assuming he’s taking most of his snaps at the Z how much, if at all, do you think that’ll limit JW’s growth and between the two, who do you predict will be the #3 guy towards the end of the season?

Alex: I don’t know if it limits Washington’s growth. Washington has already taken some important steps forward and he’s still going to play. It’ll limit some production, for sure, but he’s still going to have a role as a vertical threat. I do agree that Claypool will cut into his snaps throughout the season. If there’s one dude who will lose playing time at Claypool’s expense, it’s Washington. Who will be the #3 by season’s end? It might be a toss up. I’m just excited to see how Claypool starts his career, get eyes on him, and go from there.

srdan: Who do you think starts at RG on Monday?

Alex: Wisniewski. I believe the report DeCastro won’t play. And it’s just too soon for Dotson. He’s missed so much time.

stan: Do you think Justin Layne has advanced enough to get some reps this year? Do you think he has done enough to be a part of the sub package next year at least? If not, I wonder why they drafted him.

Alex: I wish I could’ve seen him this year. Last year was rough in preseason but that was preseason and he was a rookie and started his first game against TB, which led to some predictably ugly results. I don’t think he’s going to carve out a role if everyone is healthy. He’ll need an injury – or two – to work into playing time.

But I’m ok with them taking a DB slow. In past years, guys like Burns, Davis, even Golson was supposed to basically start in the slot out of the gate, were thrown into the fire. Maybe that’s one reason why they’ve struggled to develop. It’s at least part of it. I wasn’t crazy about the Layne pick in the first place but I’m happy they can go slow with him.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, I suspect Diontae Johnson will be the Steelers #1 receiving option (even over Juju) before the year is complete. Do you disagree?

Alex: I’m excited for both guys, think they’ll have strong seasons, but still see JuJu as the guy. Slot option who will hog a lot of targets and more importantly, just has the chemistry and timing down with Ben. I think we’ll be reminded of that this season.

But there’s a lot of weapons in this offense. Excited to watch them all.


That’s all for this week. Thanks to everyone who stopped by! Enjoy the games this weekend.

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