Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your Thursday Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer everything and anything on your mind.

To your questions!

Bryant Eng: Are there plans to do film study on A. Brooks slot snaps at UMD? Might be helpful. Are there any active slot types in the NFL that you would compare Brooks too (other than Hilton)?

Alex: Check out this article Jonathan recently wrote, Bryant. I think it’s what you’re looking for.

To your second question, I’m not sure who a good comp would be. I don’t know if Hilton is even the best one to make. One, we still don’t know a lot about Brooks’ game and two, there are obvious size differences. Brooks has a good 20-30 pounds on Hilton. So their body types are completely different.

Finding a comp is tough because the “big nickel” defender isn’t that common. Especially if he’s a true slot cornerback. And Brooks isn’t the super-athlete some other guys are. He’s average, at best. So maybe a Chuck Clark sorta comp? Or a Khari Willis? Maybe Jayron Kearse, though not quite as long? Hard to find that 1:1 fit.

Yough 61: With more teams “staying home” for training camps, do you see the Steelers holding camp at their main training complex and not returning to Latrobe? I suspect it would save the team money to do so

Alex: I don’t see money being the issue. Probably costs more to re-sod Heinz Field if they’re going to tear it up this summer. Logistically, I’m sure it’s easier from a travel standpoint. My belief and hope is they wanted to get back out to St. Vincent, they could’ve just stopped going on their own anytime before 2020, so I hope they return in 2022. Sounds like the NFL just shut them down because they didn’t want players in the cramped dorm rooms at SVC. Viewed that as too risky. That’s my guess.

Billjump: With the steelers defence this year, are there some particular improvements you are hoping to see from last year? Also are there some regressions you are worried we might see?

Alex: Run defense totally faded down the stretch. The first six-seven weeks, they were a top five unit. Rest of the way, bottom third. Some of that was health related (no Dupree, Bush, general rotation at ILB, Alualu playing hurt, etc) and some of that was probably the grind of the season and playing against good rushing teams like the Browns and Ravens. But run defense needs to return to a top ten level.

In terms of what worries me, EDGE depth and miscommunications in the secondary. To the latter concern, there will be new faces there. Continuity that existed a year ago is gone. And that will come with growing pains when you’re asking and counting on young guys to step up into the roles left by Nelson, Hilton, and Sutton (now that he’s moving from dime defender to RCB/possible NCB).

Ratsotex: Have you heard anything why we can’t go to Latrobe?

Alex: Nope, no word. Like I wrote above, the NFL probably didn’t clear them because they didn’t want players packed in tight on a college campus. Too much risk of things spreading quickly in close quarters. That’s my best guess.


Alex, thanks for all the work. I have a 2 parter. I know this is a tough question coming off an injury, but what area/skill you would like to see Devin Bush make a big improvement in this year?

If both Spillane and Bush stay healthy, do you think we’ll see more blitzing from our ILB this year?

Alex: Just being more aggressive. More attacking. Play like Vince plays. I know Bush is a little smaller but not that much smaller. Vince is like, 6’0, 235. He’s not a big, Levon Kirkland-looking dude. Bush has improved against the run and he’s good sideline to sideline but I want to see him improve when coming downhill.

I don’t know if you’ll see more blitzing. But that’s just because the Steelers already do a lot of blitzing with their ILBs. It’s how Williams has put up good sack numbers and has all those TFLs – those run blitzes that get home. So I think the team will be aggressive, though I don’t know if Bush or Spillane will be as effective as Williams is/was. So if Williams isn’t on the field, you actually might see a little less. But Keith Butler’s best trait is scheming up ILB blitzes. So you’ll still see them.

falconsaftey43: Assuming Ben retires after this season, what are your thoughts on drafting a QB? 100% must draft one in 1st round in 2021? Have to draft one at some point in 2021? Or hope you can draft one, but don’t force it? It’s tough because they are so important, the hit rate is so low, and some of the riskier picks lately have turned out the best (Jackson, Allen etc.)

Alex: I don’t like the idea of feeling like you have to do “X” at “Y” round and those types of things. That’s how you start making bad decisions. How you reach and do things where you stop scouting the player and just scout the need. That’s basically what happened with the Bills and EJ Manuel. At least according to their former GM Doug Whaley.

“I was Assistant GM, and the GM there was Buddy Nix, and he had talked to me before about, ‘hey, before I get out of here, I’m going to make sure that we have a quarterback’ …  And unbeknownst to me after the draft, he was going to retire. So I gave you the backdrop of that to say this: don’t ever back yourself into a corner by saying, ‘I want to get a specific position,’ because then you overdraft, which leads to some mistakes. So, EJ Manuel, that was (Nix’s) favorite quarterback out of that draft. He wanted to get him and he didn’t want to lose him. Now I know why. “

So the Bills drafted a QB so Nix could feel like he gave the team an on-ramp when he retired. Instead, he left them in the ditch. Colbert’s probably in a similar spot. If he retires, he wants to have the franchise in a good place for the post-Ben/Colbert era (maybe all the more reason to get Rudolph extended for next year so there’s at least one guy around if Colbert hangs ’em up).

But, yes, if Ben is done, that alarm needs to be wailing. It’s time to find another QB. You explore every avenue possible for the next franchise guy. Whether that’s trading up, trading for, whatever you gotta do. That’s your top mission. Maybe it doesn’t ultimately happen but that has to be your intent. Because your franchise is, at best, in neutral until you get that guy. You’re not winning an AFC with Mahomes dominating for the next ten years, with up-and-comers like Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, and your own division that has three 1st round QBs (two of them the #1 overall pick) with a “bridge guy.” You might compete, might hang around, but you’re spinning your wheels.

But they’ll probably end up starting Rudolph, signing some vet, and drafting a dude from the ACC in the third round. And I’ll be sad.

srdan: Who do you expect to have a bigger impact overall – Ebron or ‘muth?

Alex: Still Ebron. Drops were a killer last year (this team knew what they signed up for) but the guy still had a 50 catch, 500 yard, 5 touchdown season. Only the fourth TE in Steelers’ history to do that. Not a bad year. And he’s still the starter. Freiermuth is a rookie tight end, a true junior who played four games in 2020, and that transition to the NFL is tough. Obviously I think he is the better run blocker and can make an impact there Ebron can’t, but Ebron is still going to have the bigger impact when he’s at least doubling his production and snap count.



Along with most Steelers Depot I thoroughly enjoyed
your series on the All Time Steelers undrafted team.

There is a couple months until the start of the season.
Do you think you can find the time to do another series
this time with 2nd 3rd, 4th or pick around players?

Alex: Thanks! I had fun with it too. Maybe but that, I dunno, feels a little too narrow and a little too repetitive. Perhaps a series for next offseason (though I already have one idea of a series I really want to do next year). I like to try to keep things fresh or else you get diminishing returns and people lose interest on the same or similar topics.Starting around the new year though, our Dan Kitchen will have a cool tie-in when it comes to counting down to the draft. So be on the lookout for that in 2022.



After more tape review who is your least favorite draft pick and why? Thank you

Alex: Still Najee Harris. From a talent standpoint. Just a complete back. Guy can do it all and fits the “feature back” role better than any back in this class and maybe better than any back of the last couple. Since Barkley.

But Buddy Johnson is the one I’ve warmed up to the most. Well-rounded player himself. If he can work on his diagnosing and processing against window dressing, he definitely has starter potential.

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