Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to the mailbag. The first of the 2020 regular season. Unfortunately, the All-22 came out pretty late so we’re playing catchup there. But we are here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind.

To your questions!

Bob Francis: What’s the best starting 5 offensive lineman the Steelers can field this week? The rest of the season (assuming DeCastro is back eventually)? What’s the starting 5 for Week 1 next season?

Alex: If we assume DeCastro or Wisniewski are out, they don’t have much flexibility in terms of o-line combos. It’d be: Villanueva-Feiler-Pouncey-Dotson-Okorafor. You could argue flipping Feiler and Dotson but that’s too much musical chairs for an offensive line that’s already been playing that game too much this early.

Though to be honest, with how bad Wisniewski looked, even if he was available, Dotson might be the better option…

Once DeCastro gets back, line looks the same except for RG. Villy-Feiler-Pouncey-DeCastro-Okorafor.

Next season? TBD. I suppose one scenario could look like: Okorafor-Dotson-Pouncey-DeCastro-Feiler. That’s a way to have the same faces, just shifting around again. But that requires re-signing Feiler and Okorafor playing well enough at RT for them to feel confident about him at LT next season. Bit of an ask.

Bill Wood: Greetings Alex! How do you see the RB division of labor breaking if Conner does not get a helmet this week?

Alex: Snell being the guy largely. Samuels rotating in, working a little more in two/minute drills, and McFarland maybe getting 5-10 snaps and 3-4 touches. But if Conner is out, Snell is the dude.

Jason W: Any clarification on the Tuitt injury?

Alex: Won’t get it until the report today. Hopefully it’s not serious but I never like seeing “Achilles” pop up on a report.

NohSpinZone: Do you foresee any trades in the Steelers near future? If so, what positions?

Alex: Maybe an interior swingman but it doesn’t sound like Wisniewski is going to be out for the year. They already signed Hawkins and will be starting Okorafor so I don’t see them making a trade there. Won’t make any moves unless someone is out for a good chunk or all of the season. But don’t see anything on the horizon right now.

renoir: Danny smith will cost us a game that ends our season how does he keep his job,?

Alex: You can’t bring Danny Smith bashing to my mailbag. That’s like coming into my house with muddy shoes.

For real though. STs were bad Monday. No question about it. Smith is the coach and those things ultimately fall on him. But I didn’t see any issues of schematics or unprepardness in the sense of guys not knowing rules or what to do. When a receiver drops a pass, you don’t blame the WRs coach. So when a gunner misses a tackle, I don’t really put that on the STs coach, unless there’s a unit-wide, consistent, technique problem that keeps showing up.

But they do need to clean things up. No argument here.

Matt Manzo: Happy Week 2 Thursday!!!! Thanks for keeping us sane during this mess of an off season!
Have you seen anything “new” from Butler and Fichtner against the Giants?

Alex: Hey Matt! Same to you. Nah, nothing new from Butler. Ain’t broke, don’t fix it, ya know? Same personnel, same coach, didn’t see a lot different.

Fichtner and the offense, we obviously saw a lot more motion. Check out this article if you missed it.

That influence from Canada was evident immediately. That was the biggest thing. Beyond that, I haven’t seen much else but I’m still working through the tape.

D.j. Reynolds: If you were GM for the day, which (if any) current FA OL would you consider signing?

Alex: I haven’t spent much time on that list because once they signed Hawkins, I figured that was their move for the week. I’d look at a backup center though. Here’s the list. Maybe snag Evan Boehm off the Bills’ practice squad. But it’s not exactly an impressive group available, as you’d expect this time of year.

In terms of replacing Banner, probably no one. Okorafor is the guy and I can live with that. Let’s see what he can do.

PainisOrange: Are there any free agents you have a crush on to develop on the practice squad? I kind of want to acquire Prince Tega Wanogho, because he has an interesting story and Dave Te was high on him

Alex: Not really, to be honest. But I haven’t paid much attention. My focus is just on whose on this roster right now and how they’ll help the team win. I try not to spend a lot of time and energy on the guys who aren’t here. Especially right now. In the offseason/draft season, that’s when I allow myself to get starry eyed.

stan: I see that Wisniewski is out for a few weeks. Assuming that’s true, I wonder why the Steelers didn’t take advantage of the new rules allowing a three week IR stay. We know Wiz is going to be out this week at a minimum.

Alex: I don’t think we know for sure how long he’ll be out for. I imagine if he was expected to miss a month, he would’ve gone to IR. Which seems to hint they hope/think he’ll be back sooner than that.



Who do you envision being the Steelers most
improved player this season?

I know 1 game is a small sample size, but so
far Benny Snell I think is a good choice.

Alex: Snell is a good bet, especially if the door is open with Conner hurt. Really excited about Devin Bush. Can confirm he wore the green dot Monday so he’s making big steps in his game, even if we don’t always see it tangibly on the field. And Isaiah Buggs looked good in limited action too. Lot of second-year guys who are stepping up.

PaeperCup: Both TEs saw relatively equal amount of playing time and targets. Do you think that’ll change through the course of the season, can you see Ben becoming more comfortable with one over the other, and what does Gentry being a scratch mean for the position?

Alex: I don’t. I’ve said it for awhile. A 50/50 split between the two guys would be ideal. To hide some of Ebron’s blocking and to limit the wear and tear on McDonald. That would be the ideal, sorta like Jesse James and McDonald in 2018 where they played a pretty even split. McDonald played 564 snaps that year, James 562.

Gentry is a little more interesting. It’s partially difficult to gauge because of they screwed up the active list. They should’ve had 48 active. So would Gentry have gotten that spot? Or UG3 or someone else? My guess is Gentry but let’s see if he’s up Sunday and go from there.

Tom White: Alex with Bud Dupree we knew when he was drafted that he was raw and never had a proper coach so in the 4 years of “solid” play he gave us there was always some kind of excuse we could give him and still have hope. From what you know about Edmunds college years and what you saw on tape, can you find any reason to be optimistic he could make a similar Dupree like leap in the future? He is by no means a bad player but just seems to define mediocrity at the position. Particularly considering his draft stock.

Alex: It’s reasonable to expect Edmunds to get better. Like Dupree did. He’s still young, an underclassmen coming out, and was pretty raw. He’s not a bust, he’s not an Artie Burns or a Jarvis Jones. I know you’re not saying that but sometimes it’s good to say that out loud to remind ourselves this guy isn’t terrible. Echoing what you said at the end.

The concern with Edmunds – the big jump he could make – is if he can become a playmaker. And I’m not convinced. I don’t know how much better his ball skills could be. That trait is sorta, either you have it or you don’t. And I don’t think he does. So that limits his ceiling as a competent, physical, reliable tackling safety but it makes it unlikely he ever has that major, breakout year like Dupree did when his sack numbers spiked. If that makes sense.

BurghInPhilly: Alex, what did you see from #34 in game 1? Any progress?

Alex: Still going through the All-22 to be honest since it didn’t get released until like, 2 AM last night. Annoying. So don’t have a great answer for you right now. Ask next week if you remember.


Hey Alex,

JuJu looked pretty good out there on Monday night. Would it make sense to sign him long term(if we could affiord him) or do you think he’s tied to Ben’s play? Maybe we could Franchise him next year, if he continues to produce.

Alex: I’d like to get it done ideally. That doesn’t solve the math of it, that franchise tag won’t be cheap, but I think there will be much more of a clamoring about bringing JuJu back assuming he has a strong, bounceback season. Week One sure was a good start to doing that. A guy you’d hate to lose, especially since there isn’t a clear replacement for him in the slot. Maybe Claypool can play there but he’s working as an outside/Z receiver right now.

That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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