Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your Steelers’ mailbag. First one-post draft. Like always, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind.

To your questions!

Matt Smith: Awesome work this draft season, Alex. Hope you’re able to unplug for a bit and recharge at some point before Latrobe. Could you see all nine draft picks making it to the 53? Seems crazy, but I think I can make that case looking at the roster today.

Alex: Thanks Matt! Looking to take a trip this summer. Give me suggestions Steelers’ Nation because I know nothing about the world outside my house.

Hard to see all nine make it. Good deal of holes on this roster but still, nine? And three of them from the sixth/seventh round. Someone won’t play quite as well as the team hoped, someone will get hurt, some other UDFA or futures guy or trade will take a draft pick’s spot. I don’t know who, how, or why, but it’s doubtful all nine guys do. Loudermilk has a tough path. Norwood has an easier path but I could see him struggle as a poor tackler. And Harvin is hit or miss. Either he makes it or he doesn’t. We all thought Colin Holba was a lock when they took a long snapper in the sixth round. Lost out to Canaday.



Who was the steal of the Draft?
Who was the reach of the draft?

Alex: Best value was Quincy Roche in the sixth round. Thought he could’ve been a mid-round guy. So to get him at 216 was nice. I think most people agree on that.

Reach was Loudermilk. Potential seventh round/PFA guy the team traded up for. So now they have a fourth and a fifth invested in the guy. I understand the allure because there weren’t many body types like his who played in a 3-4, but that was earlier and more expensive than what I was comfortable with.

Fasterwilly: Would you rather have 2 TJ Watts or 3 Minkah Fitzpatricks?

Alex: Oh wow, great question. The problem with three Minkahs is where do I put the third one? A good problem to have I suppose, but I’m going to go with two Watts. Just going to impact the game on a more consistent basis at EDGE than the Fitzpatricks would in the secondary. Any DB I put back there, so long as they don’t have Ike Taylor hands, will make plays if there’s two Watts rushing off the edge. That’s two future Hall of Famers going after the QB. And I can’t pass that up.

ÄB: Hey Alex,

Sorry if this is a silly question, don’t watch any college fb at all really. Has Najee ever played with a full back? Would we expect to see Watt out in front of him when he’s on the field?

Alex: Don’t remember seeing one in the tape I watched. Die-hard Bama fans would be able to answer that better than I could. But I’m sure he could adjust pretty quickly. I don’t think you’ll see Watt on the field solely because of Harris. It’s really more about the situation and gameplan. That determines how often you use a fullback. Generally speaking, it’s a separate discussion for Matt Canada. Fullback use in general ebbs and flows based on circumstance, opponent and your own personnel.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, you may be the only person who’s been yearning for the team to draft a legit TE as long or as much as I have. It appears as tho Freiermuth is our guy. Now that it’s finally happened, are you excited, relieved or disappointed? Haha

Alex: Haha, I am excited. He’s just the third TE Colbert’s ever drafted in the top four rounds. In 21 years! Bonkers. But Freiermuth isn’t the next great star of the NFL. He’s not Travis Kelce, Rob Gronkowski, Darren Waller, George Kittle. My comp was Austin Hooper/Hayden Hurst. Good starters. Not great ones. And that’s OK — you’re not always going to get that rock-star tight end. But I am happy about the investment, think Freiermuth fits in the offense well, and you have a gameplan to replace Ebron in 2021. If they didn’t make the investment this season, they would’ve been in a tough spot next year and probably had to sign/trade for a veteran guy and try to pair him with a rook. Taking a rookie tight end and asking him to be your immediate, full-time starter is asking a lot.

Jake Sas: Do you see Pittsburgh going after an experienced edge guy, or someone in the backend of the defense? Not saying they can’t do both, but where would you start and who are some potential names to watch for.

Alex: I actually just wrote about it a moment ago. On paper, they probably still need to. In practice, there aren’t a lot of names. Especially the under-30 type, unless Colbert wants to break his long-standing trend of signing defensive players still in their 20s. Those names are pretty shallow unless you want to bring back Anthony Chickillo which, I suppose, isn’t the worst idea, assuming it’s for league-minimum. But the list is thin. Might be better to try to pull off a trade in August. But as I wrote, they’ve already dealt away a pair of 2022 draft picks.


Alex, two part question if you have time. I’ve heard some people say the two OL we got fit our system/scheme and I’ve heard some people say they will fit Matt Canada’s new scheme. From my understanding, we ran some inside zone and power concepts, but not much outside zone before. Does Canada’s scheme use more outside zone and less power concepts? If not, can you explain to me shat changes we might see in our blocking schemes (aside from actually having a competent one, that is)?

I.e., how do these guys fit Canada’s scheme?

Two, do both of these guys help us get those short yardage wins that killed so many drives last year?

Alex: Good to hear from you, Sdale! I think we’re going to find a lot of that out. Canada has run more IZ/OZ in college and when they brought on Chris Morgan as an assistant (who worked with Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta) and then draft two guys in Green and Moore who can function well in a zone scheme…it starts looking that way. So you might see even more inside zone and yes, some wide zone concepts. But with so many new pieces, it’s hard to know exactly what to expect unless they were bringing in a zone disciple like Alex Gibbs. New OC, new head OL coach, new assistant, lots of changes along the offensive line. We’re going to have to see it in action first.

Well let’s see how much Green and Moore play to start. Moore probably won’t be a starting tackle out of the gate and Green’s job isn’t assured. He’ll still have to win it from Finney. But I think Green is the better run blocker so when he’s out there, it helps you in short-yardage. Just the combination of those two, Harris, a healthy DeCastro, Dotson/Banner starting all 16 games (hopefully), should make this group very different from last year and hopefully better. Hard to be much worse.

MattHat121: How confident are you in Chuks Okorafor manning that LT spot, seeing as how that spot will face Myles Garrett, Khalil Mack, and Bud Dupree? And how do you see the matchup between TJ Watt and Big Al playing out? Did you ever see those two ever go against each other in practice?

Alex: I mean, it’s not great. I think LT may be more natural for Okorafor and I know last year was his first year starting. So there’s still room to grow. But if, though, Villanueva took his lumps against Garrett, I’m worried how Chuks will fair. Not that the team has really any better options right now.

Should be fun to watch Watt vs. Villanueva. Certainly give Watt the edge. I’ll have to check back through my notes to see if they went 1v1 in drills. Maybe less often the last camp because Watt had flipped and was taking his reps mostly as the LOLB, meaning he’d go against the RT.


Care to take a guess at what the pick would have been if Najee Harris wasn’t there? I don’t believe it would have been Etienne, and Teven Jenkins slipped a long way down after the Steelers’ pick.

Also, do you think the NFL will do anything about the blatant manipulation of the compensatory system with Villanueva agreeing to terms with the Ravens and then signing the day after the draft? Any team could easily manipulate the system like this.

Alex: I really don’t know. My guess is it still would’ve been a RB because they harped on how deep the O-line class was and Zaven Collins was off the board. So comes down to Travis Etienne or Javonte Williams. History says Etienne. My gut says they would’ve gone with Williams. But I really don’t know.

No, I don’t think they plan to. That’s just the game teams play and I don’t think the league is too upset about it. If it happened on a much larger scale or there was some coordinated effort to do this (i.e. a player planned on signing three months ago but waited) maybe the league would take action. But I doubt they do anything about it and frankly, I’m OK with that.

The Chin: How’s this sound as my eccentric, gm in training, proposition? At this point in the year, if you could find a suitor (or several) and you traded Ebron, and signed the outlaw J.James (for instance). Not sure of the salary implications there, but if you’re indeed committed to balanced football, he’s not your guy for that obviously. Perhaps for draft capital in 22? Any savings could be used to shore up positions of need with street FA’s on the edge or CB. Actually, I stole this idea from a friend and thought I’d toss it out there for fodder. And I know it’s not gonna happen, but it’s a unique idea. My friend said “Ebron can’t block my granny, and she’s been dead for 20 years”.

Alex: If the salary cap didn’t exist, I guess it’s a plausible idea. Ebron wasn’t brought in to block. Steelers knew that the second they signed him. They shouldn’t be shocked by his struggles there. That’s not why they’re paying him. And he has value on this team. I’m not looking to deal him away. Don’t think you’d get a whole lot for him, either.

renoir: My belief continues to be that next year we trade for Mattie Ryan from the Falcons and we ride him for several years instead of trying the draft route. If we can get Ryan for a 1 and 2 with us getting Ryan and a 3, you pull the trigger?

Alex: I dunno. Probably not. He’ll be 37 with a sizeable cap hit. I think at some point you gotta go back in the draft and rebuild that way. Did it with Bradshaw, did it with Ben. Most of the time the team that tries to find that veteran bridge option is just gasping for air and trying to keep false hope alive. They become a decent team, but not a winner. They go 11-5, 10-6, maybe win the Wild Card round, then get bounced. There’s gotta be a reset button for the position and it’s probably next season.

But it would all depend on what happens with Ben, what the draft class is looking like, what pick I’m going to have in the draft, how well Ryan played, other options, etc. Hard to answer such a weighty question in a vacuum.

draframe1: Hi Alex!
The longer Steven Nelson remains unsigned the more i think about a reduced salary Steelers reunion. Thoughts?

Alex: Know I sound like a broken record but this team literally has no money. They brought Vince back but that was for the minimum. Not even a signing bonus. Unless Nelson will do the same (he won’t), I can’t see it happening.

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