Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly Thursday mailbag. Like every Thursday, we’re here for the next hour to talk about anything and everything on your mind.

To your questions!

Rick Williams: Hey Alex,
I was speaking to Scott Pavelle about this and I was wondering about bench strength versus play strength. Green seems to have an average bench but also plays much stronger and is praised for his play strength. Thoughts?

Alex: Generally, I agree. He has leverage. And that helps guys overcome being naturally strong (though I think he’s a pretty strong guy too). When you have his explosion, torque, ability to uncoil his hips and deliver a rising blow with his violent hands, that creates power. You see it in the run game. That definitely isn’t an issue to me. I think he can lack strength to stall out bull/power rushes because he doesn’t have length and can’t initiate contact the way he can as a run blocker. And so that’s where you feel the impact of his lack of size/length. But I would agree looking at Green’s bench press reps alone doesn’t tell the whole story. It rarely does.

Anthony Palmerston: During this slow time of the offseason would it be possibly for a few articles that discuss football strategy with gifs? Like inside zone vs outside zone vs power blocking schemes or different defensive alignments and such?

Alex: Sure. That’s always something I’m thinking about. I might do something with zone runs and the RBs keys. We might do a little less of that these days because frankly, I’ve written about a lot of topics. If you search “Football 101,” you’ll see a ton of examples. Some may be a little outdated in terms of video not working, it not looking formatted because of site updates so maybe I should revisit some of them. But I want to be careful about not repeating myself. But click that link for some examples.

BurghInPhilly: Hi Alex, I give more credence to an analytics-based strategy than the Steelers. In other words, I don’t subscribe to the idea of drafting a player in the 1st round just because they’re a “great” player regardless of position. I think we can agree that drafting a great punter in round 1 would be foolish. I do however think that many quant pundits overlook three elements of the Harris pick: 1. He’s a beast of a receiver and blocker which adds a ton of value to the passing game 2. He will make the Steelers offense a lot less predictable as a whole and offer it schematic versatility 3. He’s less likely to be a bust than your average 1st round pick (e.g., Oweh). Do you agree or disagree with that take?

Alex: I wholeheartedly agree with points one and two and partially with point three. There’s a lot more value to Harris than just being a runner. He’s a blocker, receiver, matchup threat all over the field, and he’s a guy the Steelers are looking for. Throw the position out the window. If you tell me you’re getting a talented, versatile player at a position you really need, then it’s usually a good idea to take that guy. Instead of overthinking it analytically.

To the third point, I get what you’re saying. And it feels correct. Harris seems like a safer pick than Oweh or some project. But the draft is so unpredictable. The guys who think are “safe” don’t always turn out that way. Remember Aaron Curry, Wake Forest LB from about a decade ago? Everyone, myself included, considered him to be the safest guy in the draft. Even if he wasn’t an All-Star, he’d be a solid linebacker. A 10-year starter type. Fourth overall pick of the 2009 draft by Seattle. Ended up being with the Seahawks for 2 1/2 years and was out of the league by 2013.

So yes, I think Oweh has a higher bust rate and is a riskier player. But we’re going to look back on this class in three years and have a totally different interpretation  of things. Just the way it goes.

BillJump: Hi Alex, I was wondering why Norwood got picked in the 7th round when it would appear (to me at least) one or two of the udfa s have a better chance of making the roster. Any ideas what the steelers reasoning was?

Alex: The short answer is they probably had the higher grade on him. Simplest explanation is usually the correct one. It’s also possible they considered Norwood a more difficult UDFA sign than guys like Shakur Brown, Donovan Stiner, Mark Gilbert, etc. As you get into the seventh round, scouts are already working the phones to try to reach agreements with potential/likely UDFAs. So if they’re talking to Norwood’s agent and he has four teams lined up to offer him a deal if he doesn’t get drafted and they’re offering more money/more partial guarantees (which they almost certainly are given how conservative the Steelers are in that regard) then you take Norwood because you know you won’t get him if he goes undrafted. So that’s maybe some of the game that’s being played as well. At least something to consider when you’re talking about the end of the draft.

falconsaftey43: Hey Alex. I recently watched the couple of games that Marcus Allen started at ILB. I thought he was good a very physical against the run, but struggled a lot in an sort of man coverage. Any thoughts on if he will have a role this year?

Alex: I don’t know how good he was against the run but he is tough. Physical dude. Definitely has the right mentality.

In terms of his role, we’ll see exactly how they want to use him. I assume he’ll be staying at ILB. Could be a chance for him to work in the dime defense as the sixth defender. Cam Sutton’s not going to have that role anymore. So in theory, your dime defense could look like:

LDT: Tuitt
RDT: Heyward
LOLB: Watt
ROLB: Highsmith
LB: Bush
LCB: Haden
RCB: Pierre
Slot: Sutton
SS: Edmunds
FS: Fitzpatrick
DIME: Allen

Right now it feels like either Allen or Brooks Jr. unless someone else emerges. Think you go into camp, see how Allen looks in his second full year at the position, how Brooks Jr. looks in his sophomore year, the play of guys like Layne/Pierre, the UDFAs, Norwood, etc. and go from there. There’s a lot to evaluate, unlike last year, where you were just running out the same group of DBs top to bottom as you did the year before.

PainisOrange: 1) idea for slow time of the year: Alex and Dave at the movies. You each alternate getting the other watching stuff. I’d watch/ listen to that religiously. 2) do you think the Steelers may wait awhile to address edge depth and give a better regarded pass rusher money once they’ve established a winning record? Someone like Justin Houston, wo has nothing left to prove except getting a ring (or a marquee camp cut).

Alex: Ha, if you can convince Dave to pay me for watching movies, I’m all for it.

I don’t think it has anything to do with establishing a winning record. You wouldn’t be there until what, Week 5/6 at the earliest and by then, you’re well into the season and all those guys like Houston have been long scooped up. I think you could sign someone like Trent Murphy now, make an August trade that Colbert loves to do (problem is he’s traded away plenty of 2022 capital already) or grab someone at cutdowns. The latter sorta feels like the most likely thing to happen right now.

MattSteelCurtain91: Hey Alex thanks for all the hard work you do!
Who’s your dream team oline? As in you can pull both tackles both guards and center from anywhere in Steelers history.

Alex: Wow, really good question. Don’t hold me to it but I’d go and I’ll make it a little harder and say I can’t move or flip linemen. So I can’t take a left tackle and put him at right tackle for this exercise.

LT – Jon Kolb
LG – Alan Faneca
C – Mike Webster
RG – David DeCastro
RT – Tunch Ilkin

Center was a tough choice. But hard not to go with Iron Mike.

I’ll do you one-better and go with a second-team.

LT – John Jackson
LG – Sam Davis
C – Maurkice Pouncey
RG – Moon Mullins
RT – Frank Varrichione

srdan: What would be the ideal number of pass attempts per game for Ben in 2021? I believe he was at 41 per game in 2020.

Alex: I’m not married to a number. So long as it’s “less than” 2020. Which generally means you’re winning games if you can throw less. So I dunno, put it around the 35 per game mark. Just under the 600 mark for a 17 game season. But the answer really is “as much as he has to.”

Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt: Hey alex do you know the dates for when/if steelers will be having Friday night lights?

Alex: Nothing camp-related is official. We don’t even know for sure if they’ll be at Latrobe this season. Probably won’t know that for at least another month to six weeks. And if they go back to SVC, who knows how things like Friday Night Lights will look. First thing that will have to be addressed is if fans will be there and if so, will there be any restrictions. You should be able to easily make it work at the campus. Big, wide open spaces for players and fans. At the high school for Friday Night Lights, it’s one field and a much smaller space. No grass for people to sit and watch practice on. Just bleachers. So maybe they scrap that for a year. I don’t know. But nothing is official.

stan: It seems to me that another tight end addition is inevitable and Jesse James is still out there looking for a job. Do you think there’s still a chance he returns to the black and gold?

Alex: Sure, it makes sense. Would be a good fit for Pittsburgh. Is it what James wants? Play for the minimum for a team with a starter they’re paying good money to in Ebron and then just drafted a second round kid in Freiermuth. If James feels like he’s third fiddle or will get passed up by mid-season, maybe he wants to wait it out and see what injuries happen that could provide a better chance to play.

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