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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your Thursday mailbag. Very busy Thursday for the offseason. We’re here for the next hour to answer anything on your mind.

To your questions!

stan: 

Let’s start with your take on the big news of the day: Do you like Hue Jackson potentially as our OC? To me he seems like a far better choice than Matt Canada.

And with regard to Dwayne Haskins, do you think he could be as bad as his WFT experience indicates? Do you think this means the Steelers won’t draft a QB if Ben returns?

Alex: Perspective is important on Hue Jackson. He might have been the worst head coach in NFL history. But he did have good results as an OC. I remember being a big fan of the job he did in Oakland and even in Cincinnati, those Bengals’ teams were competitive and kept offenses off-balanced. He’s able to dress things up well with a little less of the college-motion that Canada would bring. Which may help Ben some.

But I still think Canada is ultimately the hire.

It’s hard for Haskins to be worse than he was in Washington. Coming to Pittsburgh produces less expectations and a good locker room (though I think he had that with Rivera this past year, to be fair). I don’t see this moving the needle much. Haskins is a #3 with no guarantee of making the team. He’s on a short leash. He’s gotta make the right decisions every day and get through an offseason with very little to no in-person work with the team. Lot of idle time until July’s training camp. Hope he can stay on the straight and narrow.

I really wasn’t high on the idea of them drafting a QB. At least not high. I don’t think it prevents them from doing much in the draft one way or another.

DropTheHammer: Are you mourning for the lack of Tight Ends yet? Any secret targets for Round 4 that you think would fit?

Alex: I hope it can be addressed. It’s still too early for me to give a complete answer about a positional group but I agree with your assessment there’s strength at the top. Not much after.

CP72: 

AK,
Congrats on the new house!! I’ll spare you a Haskins question.

We know we’re not going to have much spend. Provided Villanueva and Pouncey don’t come back next year, what do you think our starting five offensive line looks like?

Alex: Thanks man! If Pouncey doesn’t return, it really puts things up in the air. More change coming to the line than there’s been in a long time with this group. Could see something like…

Rookie-Dotson-low-level FA (like BJ Finney)-DeCastro-Okorafor

Could also flip Okorafor to LT too. Draft for the right side. Re-sign Banner and Hawkins as depth moves. Hassenauer tendered to be the backup center. Probably end up drafting two linemen in total. One tackle, one interior guy. But that’s a rough draft at it.

McBringleberry: 

hey Alex! Who’s are starting RB next year? 1. Draft a RB in top 3 rounds. 2. Look to the long list of quality FA RBs (including James Conner). 3. Go into the offseason with all expectations of Snell as our #1 and draft/sign backups.

I’m probably in the small minority, but I think Conner still has a couple good years in him given we have a much improved line. And we can get him on the cheaper side.

Alex: Draft someone Rounds 2-4 and pair them with Snell/McFarland. May not have a lead back for the first time in a long time. But I’m ok with that. I don’t think you sign a free agency, focus has to be on plugging less replaceable areas and re-signing your own.

Conner is better than what most people think but with how tight things are financially and just how bad the run game was last year (which falls on everyone) you have to make a change. Can’t have the worst rushing output in 50 years and not shake things up. Find someone more explosive who can rip off a couple big runs a game.

PainisOrange: Alex,
Congratulations on the house( I’m sure you’ll get lots of these)
Two questions:
Knowing it isn’t incredibly unlikely, but if you could acquire Deshaun Watson in a trade that included Mike Tomlin (Tomlin+ a first for Deshaun Watson, let’s say), would you pill the trigger?
Two, the more realistic question:
Where should we begin with improving the run game?

Alex: Thank you!

Wow, that’s a big question to ask. It’s hard to even wrap your head around. I’m a big Watson fan. I might have him as the #3 QB in football only behind Mahomes and Rodgers. But there’s such a domino effect there that’s hard to get my head around. It just feels to foreign for me to actually be able to digest and consider. What it means for a team now without a head coach, now without Big Ben (who doesn’t sound like he wants to retire) what it means for the rest of the roster you’re trying to hold onto. Talk about chaos, there’d be a lot of it there.

The second question I have to answer broadly. It’s everywhere. But more specifically, it is with the line. It’s hard to peg why things started off well enough last season then fell apart and never returned. But I think you find the right coach and one or two changes on the line, another in the backfield, and go from there. As the year went on, I did see more schematic issues and a lot of the breakdowns were communication errors. You correct that and this run game should at least be average.

Dan Blocker: Alex, did you see much from Chuks Okarafor that would lead you to believe that LT is a better fit for him?

Alex: Eh, nothing that really stuck out. You’d have to talk to him and see what he’s more comfortable with. I know he was a LT in college so maybe he would prefer to move back there. He did struggle a lot giving up inside wins/counters. I don’t know if that’s an overall technique thing or a comfort issue where he’d prefer his right hand be his inside hand instead of the left, as it is currently when playing right tackle. If there’s stuff like that going on, then you may want to flip him. But there’s nothing on the tape that tells me he should be moving over there and we’ll see different results. The line between both tackle spots have blurred so much. You could argue being at LT reduces some of the run blocking responsibilities so I suppose that could help too. But I think you just find a good tackle in the draft, see where that guy fits best, and make the best decision from there.

Jefferson_St_Joe: Do you think they will give DeCastro a big money extension to reduce his cap hit tin 2021? I see him as the only player with trade value who could be dealt and give some cap relief. I’m very against giving him huge money again, but I don’t see them going forward and just playing out the current deal. It would be a shame to see him get a huge deal while younger and less expensive players have to leave.

Alex: I’m not sure. I’m leaning towards him playing out his deal but it also depends on the cap number. How much work they have to do to get compliant. But if anything, an extension that reduces his cap hit in 2021 would allow the Steelers to re-sign others, not force those guys to walk. And it’s not like there’s currently a young guard waiting in the wings a DeCastro extension would force out the door. Dotson can (and likely will) start at LG next season and the rest of the roster has been pillaged by waiver claims, losing Derwin Gray and Fred Johnson the last two years. So it doesn’t block anyone currently on the roster.

I guess I could see it going either way but right now, I don’t think he receives an extension. They played out Villanueva’s deal. Probably doing the same with Pouncey (assuming he doesn’t retire). So wouldn’t shock me to see same approach with DeCastro.

MattSteelCurtain91: Congrats on the house. Rank the odds of each these being first round pick. OT IOL DL RB QB DB WR TE OLB ILB. Bonus do the Steelers pull off a player trade or move up stay pat or trade down in draft?

Alex: Thanks!

It’s hard to predict and project right now. Better lay of the land post salary cap number and post free agency. Losing or keeping one guy, or one retirement, could change a lot. But to give a tough ranking…

1. OT
2. TE
3. iOL
4. DB
5. RB
6. QB
7. ILB
8. OLB

Again, who knows if they move up or down. You don’t find that out until draft day and see what available moves you have. But odds are, they’ll stand pat.

Daniel Moon: Hello, Is Gentry a bust? Is there anyway to revive him?

Alex: I don’t consider any Day Three pick of a draft to be a bust, expectations aren’t high enough and those guys don’t work out all the time. But I’m not expecting him to ever see serious playing time in Pittsburgh, no. I’ll take Rader over him at this point.


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

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