Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your Thursday mailbag. Back answering your questions for the next hour. Thanks for stopping by and hanging with us today.

To your questions!

steeltown: Your thoughts on the young DL guys, Buggs, Mondeaux and Davis? Will there be player breakdowns coming soon?

Alex: They’re hanging in there. Some good, some bad, still watching more snaps and see how they adjust over time. Learning from mistakes, getting into the grind of the season. Buggs has been a little higher variance of a player. Some good with his hand use and block shedding and recognition, some bad with gap integrity and strength at the point of attack. Mondeaux is a surprisingly good athlete for how big of a guy he is (how many dudes do you see running down kicks?) and he’s got some power and ability to collapse the pocket. Davis held his own against Dallas but we’re talking about 16 snaps so it isn’t a lot to go off of. He ran to the football though which is a must in this system. You can’t play for Karl Dunbar and the Pittsburgh Steelers without showing great effort and chase to the ball.

PghDSF: Does Big Al make the Pro Bowl this year?

Alex: Probably not. It’s such a “name” thing for Pro Bowls. And I don’t know if places like PFF are showing quite the same love to Villanueva that I have. But he’s playing at a Pro Bowl level this season. Left tackle who hasn’t allowed a single sack this season? That’s not just Pro Bowl, that’s All-Pro.



Play calling with Randy has been meh (from a fan’s perspective). And they seem to do well when Ben “draws play in the dirt” Do you see them moving on from Fitchner after this season and maybe having Matt Canada take over?

Alex: I don’t. As long as Ben is here, Fichtner is the OC. Partially because that allows Roethlisberger to have the freedom to do whatever he wants. And by the time Roethlisberger hangs them up, odds are good Canada’s moved up the ladder to take an OC job somewhere in the NFL or college.

SteelCity: Were the Cowboys 1) using leverage, 2) illegally lined over the snapper, or 3) legal on the field goal / extra point block attempts? Why wouldn’t the offensive lineman get in a two-point pass blocking setup to combat this? What is the answer to take care of this? Thank you!

Alex: That is going to be the point I’m hoping to make for an article tomorrow or Saturday. I’m not quite clear on some of the leverage rules, I know they’ve changed it over the years, but the issue is how flat guys like Dotson/Hassenauer are. And they aren’t big/wide guys too. Easy to get over. So that’s the correction I’d like to see made. That is fixable, putting the rules/leverage stuff aside.

Steeler Fanatic: Alex,
The Steelers can’t envision Rudolph as the heir apparent, can they? He has cement feet and looks like there is no power behind his throws? A cheap backup option but when do they get serious about improving the qb room around Ben? PS- I like Dobbs as a #3.

Alex: I doubt it. I don’t believe the next heir to Ben is on this roster. Or even in the NFL. He’s in college right now, maybe a backup or wide-eyed recruit. But Rudolph is the guy for now.

Dobbs is certainly much different than Rudolph and he hasn’t had near the opportunity than Mason did last year. But remember Dobbs looked pretty poor in extensive action against the Raiders in 2018. We tend to look towards Door #3 to try and find the right answer. Last year proved that rarely happens, going from optimism about Rudolph, to Duck, back to Rudolph, back to Duck, and even some fans clamoring for Paxton Lynch, whose no longer in the league.

Douglas Prostorog: Draft question for you Alex–assuming we pick 32, and assuming that the needs are OT (good class–probably 10+ in the top 50), QB (arguably 6 QBs worth a first round pick), TE (hardly ever go in the first but maybe 3 possibilities there) and OLB (probably 3 or so if you count the folks you are DEs that will need to change), which one are you taking?

Alex: I don’t mean to punt here but it really depends on who stays/goes in free agency. I think OT and TE sit close to the top of the list. But we’ll have to see how it plays out. Probably less so on EDGE because of the way Alex Highsmith has played. I think the FO is going to think he can take over Bud Dupree’s spot. So OT and TE is where I’m sitting right now. But it’s subject to change.

MattSteelCurtain91: Thoughts on this years draft class at midpoint of the season?

Alex: Pleasantly surprised. Just their overall readiness given the circumstances of the pandemic. That’s no easy feat. And they’ve played well. Claypool, Dotson, Highsmith taking charge of the #3 OLB role. I’ve been impressed. Good conditioning, good football IQ, not a lot of sloppiness or mental mistakes. Without spring work, without a preseason, to be thrown into the fire, they’re responding really well. Credit to the coaching staff for getting them ready too.

NohSpinZone: Alex, is there a definition of what limited in practice means for the NFL?

Alex: According to the team’s injury report.

“Limited Participation: Less than 100% of a player’s normal reps”

So that can be very broad, clearly. In my definition and based on time at training camp, I associate it with guys who work in individual sessions but not team drills. So if you read a future Camp Diary and I call someone “limited,” that’s what I’m personally referring to.

Ravens Team Gynecologist: This is probably a dumb question but I am going to ask anyways. When your letting pressure in on FG attempts, would they ever consider lining and kicker and holder back another yard? Or is this impossible to do on the fly for the snapper?

Alex: Oof, good question. I’m sure there are very good reasons for not doing that. I don’t think it would be impossible for the long snapper. But it does screw up the rhythm and timing of everything. A field goal is an operation. Snap, hold, block, kick.

And remember, the further back you are, the longer it takes for the ball to get there. The longer it takes to get the hold down. The longer is takes for the kick to be executed. And time = ground for the block team to cover. There is a very specific window the ball should be kicked or punted in special teams. Many blocks and failures happen because that time isn’t reached.

Beaver Falls Hosiery: Did the All 22 reveal what happened on the long kickoff return for 64 yards? I thought it was a good kick by Boswell to pin Bengals in deep.

Alex: The kick was the best and only good part of the play. Sometimes players will exchange gaps and lanes on kick coverage, like a stunt on defense, but I feel like Justin Layne got out of his gap here. Too far inside. And Adeniyi lost his feet. Here’s a look at it.


srdan: Alex, based on your defensive charting article it seems like there is no dominant defensive package like years past. What do you think is the strongest package? And how does that apply to a potential date with the Chiefs?

Alex: Nothing immediately jumps to mind. With Alualu in there, that 3-4 base was basically impossible to run on. Things have been uglier the last two weeks but prior to that, man, they were a brick wall. So I’d probably choose that grouping.

Obviously may not apply as much to a pass-heavy/happy team like the Chiefs though.

Chris Carey: Think Spillaine has the chance to Vince’s eventual replacement?

Alex: Maybe. I can’t rule out Williams being cut in the offseason because of the salary cap crunch. It would suck because of how well he’s been playing but I can’t rule it out. And so that would likely pair Devin Bush with Robert Spillane in 2020.


Ok put your GM hat on Alex. Next year you can only sign two of the following (which is probably realistic). Provided all are healthy who you are your two?


FYI…my two are Feiler and Sutton due to age, flexibility, and signability.

Alex: Only two? Man, I’ve been trying to stretch it to three: JuJu, Feiler, and Sutton. If you made me choose just two though…JuJu and Sutton. Then I flip either flip Okorafor to LT to replace Villanueva or just draft a LT. That’s my gameplan. Let’s also assume I can get Alualu back cheap. Draft would look something like this, assuming a 3rd round comp for Hargrave and a 6th rounder for the others.

1st Round – OT
2nd Round – TE
3rd Round – EDGE
3rd Round (Comp) – iOL
4th Round – NT
6th Round (Comp) – RB
7th Round – CB
7th Round – WR

That’s all for this week. Thanks guys!

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