Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly Steelers’ mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour answering whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

srdan: Is there a world where a healthy Ben gets benched?

Alex: It’s like the Disney ride: It’s a small world.

Yes, it’s possible. But that would require the Steelers being eliminated from playoff contention, something that probably won’t officially happen until the last 2-3 weeks of the season. And even then, I’m not 100% convinced it’ll happen since that would also assuredly be Ben’s last year and I don’t know if they want to Eli Manning him.

Especially now that they have Mason Rudolph under contract through next season, they might not feel as compelled to play him at the end of this season to try and get one last evaluation of his game before making a decision on his contract. But of course, they would want to see what improvements he’s made as they still figure out life after Ben so it’s possible Rudolph would get the nod. But think it’d take a lot for that to occur.

JMD: I’ve always been a fan of Justin Houston and he seems like a really good fit to bolster our EDGE depth. Which is the more likely reason Houston doesn’t get signed by the Steelers: a) they don’t like >30 linebackers or b) they don’t want to do a voidable-years deal with a street free agent?

Alex: Probably a little mix of both reasons. With their interest in Kerrigan, they evidently are willing to break their 30+ year old defender “rule.” But maybe Kerrigan was more the exception. And I’m guessing they don’t want to do anymore voidable year deals with free agents especially from the shallow pools of guys out there. Is it going to be worth it? That’s the question they’re asking themselves about free agents still available after June 1st.

Plus, he’s not going to play special teams. I can probably stomach that, work around it, as they did with James Harrison, but there’s a factor to consider as well. Houston probably wants to wait for a better opportunity too. Not 15-20 rotational snaps per game. I doubt he’s in a rush to sign. Probably can live without having to show up to minicamp in the summer. Not something vets love to do.

falconsaftey43: Besides the outside zone, which is a pretty unique play, are zone and man blocking schemes really all that different at this point? Duo and inside zone seem basically the same, some technical difference, but big picture wise. With all the split zone allowing pulling, and doubles in man schemes too, it seems to me like there really isn’t a clear cut difference between the two schemes. Were they more separate originally, and have both just diversified to cloud the difference over the years?

Alex: I dunno, “duo or inside zone?” can become a pretty heated topic. At least on my Twitter timeline.

I’m not 100% certain of the origins of zone running and how it’s evolved over the years. You’re right it’s probably become a little more blended. I think pretty much everything in football has. It’s less defined as the “Gibbs/Shanahan zone team” versus the “power/gap” team. Everyone has to do a little bit of everything these days or else defenses and coaches figure you out and shut you down. So in that broader sense, things have probably blurred.

But I still think there are pretty clear differences in the way you coach it. Might ultimately be reaching the same goal – blocking it up so the back has a chance – but your steps, your eyes, your aiming/coaching points, all of that is going to be different, as you mentioned. Your steps on a zone run and your steps on a man/gap run aren’t going to be the same. I’m sure if you talked to an o-line coach, he could lay out ten differences between the two.



What is your prediction for best camp battle for position?

For roster spot?

Alex: That’s a good question. I don’t know if there’s one I’ve circled. Green vs Finney at center is of course interesting. It’s the one spot we don’t really know who will start there. Green is the more talented player but he’s also a rookie and an underclassman. How much of a learning curve will there be compared to a vet like Finney, who you know you could throw out on the field today if you had do and he wouldn’t screw much up, even if he’s not going to make a huge impact.

In the secondary, there’s questions everywhere. Pierre vs Layne, whoever the dime guy might be, all the UDFAs who are going to be chomping at the bit for a roster spot. That group is pretty unsettled so I’m excited to see those 5/6 guys get thrown into the fire and see who’s left standing. Should be fun.

WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex! What are the 3 positions you believe we’re thinnest at?


1. EDGE – Just nothing behind Watt or Highsmith I believe you can count on right now.

2. CB – There’s options but I don’t know how many good ones. Got Haden, got Sutton. Everything else feels up in the air right now. Hope it gets figured out in camp.

3. S – From a depth standpoint. I’m not even sure what to classify guys like Maulet and Killebrew. If you lose Edmunds, you’ll live. If you lose Minkah, you’re toast.

So safety narrowly beats out tight end.

Billjump: How do you think McFarland gets used this season?

Alex: As the #2 behind Najee Harris. There will probably be some level of rotation, I wouldn’t classify McFarland as the “clear backup” but I think the Steelers want to see what he can do his sophomore year. A guy like Benny Snell…I like him but he’s maxed out. His game isn’t changing a whole lot at this point even though he’s a third-year guy. McFarland has the bigger ceiling and it helps his old college coach is now his OC.

stan: Should we get our hopes up regarding Haskins? He’s clearly the dark horse compared to Rudolph but that talent is tantalizing and the reports have been so good….

Alex: I’m not at OTAs so I can’t verify or refute any of these reports but a guy with his skillset and raw talent should look good in shorts, shells, and 7v7. If he wasn’t that would be a massive red flag. We heard the same about Paxton Lynch’s arm wowing players and coaches. Didn’t amount to much.

Haskins’ issue is when everything is live. That’s going to be his true test. So sure, it’s nice to hear what he’s done so far. But I put very little stock into it. I don’t put much stock into most “evaluating” here before training camp. Unless it’s some young guy, a rookie, futures contract dude making some plays, most of the rest is just fodder. This isn’t the time to evaluate play.

MattSteelCurtain91: If you could sign one NON QB player from each AFCN team to put on Steelers money no object which 3 players you stealing?!

Alex: Hmm…good question.

Browns – Myles Garrett: Almost went Wills here but you can’t overthink this. Garrett is such a talented player. The bad blood that’s existed between he and the team will go away the second he starts sacking QBs. Which will be immediately. Garrett on one side, Watt on the other. Absolute nightmare for the QB. Good thing money is no object too because this exercise is the only way this dream works.

Ravens – Ronnie Stanley:  Barely edging out Marlon Humphrey. Bit of risk coming off that ankle injury but he’s a franchise left tackle and this team needs one. Provided there aren’t long-term issues, this is my left tackle for ten years.

Bengals – Mike Hilton: I’m stealing Mike back. He’s now my slot guy, Sutton stays outside, win-win. Punter Kevin Huber is a sleeper pick here but I can’t justify a punter here.

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