Welcome back to our weekly mailbag. And a busy one at that on the first day of Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp practice. We’ll be out at Heinz Field less than a week from now when the pads come on. Running this mailbag a little earlier today to have it done as practice ends.
Until then, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.
To your questions!
Froggy: When it comes to football player names, which is less intimidating: Pressley Harvin III or Rashaad Coward?
Alex: Ha, good question. Gotta be Coward though, right? Pressley Harvin III definitely sounds like the lead character in some British drama but you can’t be a “Coward” and be an offensive lineman. It’s like if your kicker name was Jake Offthecrossbar.
Good news is Coward doesn’t play like his surname. He’s a pretty feisty, physical dude.
Fill in the blank:
The Steelers missed the 2021 playoffs because (blank)
The Steelers won a 2021 playoff game because (blank)
The Steelers missed the 2021 playoffs because…of the offensive line.
The Steelers won a 2021 playoff game because…of the offensive line.
That’s really what it comes down to for me. There’s questions elsewhere, I’ve neatly packaged the concerns into OL on offense, secondary/sub-package roles on defense, but it starts with the guys up front. Want to protect Ben? O-line’s gotta do it. Want to get the run game back on track? Harris helps but o-line’s gotta do it. It’s such a new, unknown group with a lot of moving pieces. They are the X Factor. Steelers made needed changes to overhaul this group but that doesn’t mean they are without questions. They’re full of them.
A-Roc: Does training camp make you crave McChickens?
Alex: Ha, I get about one a camp. Usually the first day. I typically don’t eat well during this team of year but I try not to fill my arteries with too much fast food. I do pass a McDonalds right before I get home though so it’ll be tempting this year.
Pghomer: Who do you think is ILB 3 now?
I think it will be UG3
Alex: I think camp will determine all of that. It’s not like there’s an obvious front runner. One guy is a rookie (Johnson) one is a player in his second year at the position (Allen) and one can’t stay off IR (UG3). So whoever we even think is the top backup right now doesn’t matter too much. It’s a paper thin advantage. This summer will be used to figure this kind of stuff out.
Nicholas Arnhold: What summer camp drill do you think best reflects potential and/or growth of young players?
Alex: In terms of actual drills? It’s tough because they all occur in a vacuum and we know football on the field doesn’t. There’s more time, space, focus, you know the guy you’re going against pre-snap. But I always like OL/DL pass rush drills. See a pass rushers plan, how a tackle sets and reacts, and there’s less of a time/space issue there than there is for say, WR/CB, when WRs have open grass and a QB has all day to throw. But they’re all important and you can learn something from all of them.
The key is guys being able to take that next step and look good in team session and eventually, games, from what they’re learning and doing in drills. Or else you’re just a summer star who won’t stick.
Dan Blocker: Hi Alex! The guy that continues to surprise me in the mix is JC Hassenauer. Seeing the earlier season scouting reports on him, he doesn’t seem to stack up. What does he do well, and does he have enough of skill set to play center in the NFL. Also, can Aviante Collins play at center? He seems to have good athleticism, but not the size for tackle. Wondered if ythey may experiment with him in camp. Thanks!
Alex: I’ll admit I’m not a big fan of Hassenauer. I think he’s a pretty smart dude who moves ok and didn’t look overwhelmed getting thrown into the fire last season. I don’t think he’ll kill you with bad snaps, horrible mental mistakes, a high amount of variance in his game. He’s position flexible too, able to play guard or center. If he’s going to stick in Pittsburgh, it’ll be at center. He’s too small and not strong enough to play at guard.
Collins to my knowledge can’t play center. Was a tackle in college at TCU, played some guard in the NFL. Maybe the Steelers want to train him there this summer but I doubt it. They have three centers in Green, Finney, and Hassenauer who need snaps. O-line usually goes just three deep in camp. So it’ll take an injury probably for him to move there. But we’ll see what things look like next week.
Wes Lee: If the deal were good enough, would you be willing to trade Benny Snell to the Rams, due to the fact that their RB Cam Akers is out for the season with a torn Achilles? If so, what would you expect in return for Snell.
Alex: Sure, I’d be willing to. And I like Snell. Easy guy to root for. But I think his game is maxed out as a RB2/RB3 and quality special teamer for the position. Wouldn’t make the deal today, want to see a second-year player like McFarland, Ballage (who has a similar skillset to Snell) and of course, Harris, but if the Rams wanted to give me a 5th, I’d do that. Recoup some of the capital the team has traded, even knowing they should get comp picks next year.
Would I take a 6th for Snell? Maybe. Probably would if McFarland and Ballage looked good. And that’s probably a more realistic return than a 5th (unless it was a conditional 5th).
But all the talk about Snell and the Rams is just speculation. No real report. Just to be clear.
John Pennington: Alex do you think Chaz Green makes it thru camp before he gets cut?
Alex: Who knows. Probably? Usually you need enough offensive lineman to get you through the preseason, especially for that final game (unless the 4th game will now be the tune-up, which it could be). They do have to cut from 90 to 80 on August 24th and yeah, it’s possible a guy like Green goes. But those cuts are often related to the numbers game. How many guys you need at a position, what injuries you’re dealing with, etc. Same with the in-camp roster shuffling that goes on.
What is your prediction for Najee Harris stats in 2021?
Yards rushing, rushing TDs, catches, TD catches, and yards per carry?
Alex: Hopefully I’m not being kind enough with these projections. I’m going to assume he plays 16 games. Misses one because that’s life of a running back.
16 games: 277 carries, 1141 yards (4.12 YPC), eight rushing TDs. 61 receptions, 521 yards with another three receiving scores.
To me, that’s a really successful season. Especially from where things were a year ago.
Christopher Pokins: Alex, more likely to be signed before the season: a) veteran Safety b) veteran CB c) a blocking TE. and if so anyone you like at your chosen position?
Alex: Safety, for sure. Partially dependent on injuries and play but safety is the one they have a desire to add to but haven’t yet. Bringing in guys like Karl Joseph and Malik Hooker. Especially with Hilton gone and Sutton stuck more at CB. They were the rotational and emergency options at the position last year. Especially at FS. So I think they add someone along the way before travelling to Buffalo.
After all the years of covering training camp, who were some of your camp darlings that you really wanted to succeed?
Alex: Really good question, Tony. Some of those names are definitely lost somewhere in the back of my mind. The recent ones like Ola Adeniyi, Tuzar Skipper, Damoun Patterson. Duck was such a fun guy to watch and grow into this cult status. I’m trying to think back to earlier names. Guys like Ian Wild, Kevin Fogg, guys like that who were run to root for.
But I try not to root too hard for any one player. My rooting won’t change their play. So I just try to have my attention on everyone, good or bad, and report whatever I’m seeing. And back it up with as much facts and data as possible. That was one driving reason behind the camp stats. Partially, because I think there’s value in them but also so we can back up what we’re saying. If a dude is catching a bunch of passes downfield, that’ll be reflected in the stats. If a guy is struggling with accuracy, that’ll show up in our stats (or maybe my eyes are wrong, the numbers will tell us that).
WeWantDaTruth: Hey Alex. Do you see situations where the Steelers have Watt, Ingram and Highsmith all on the field at the same time?
Alex: Yes. Not a lot but they ran from 3-5-3 packages last year. Added that package in mid-way through the year, starting with Week 8 against Baltimore, as Highsmith got up to speed. Mostly against Baltimore and their run-heavy attack (20 snaps) but also against the Browns and Cowboys. That’s more of a gameplan thing than personnel thing and it was done to stop the run, not to get after the QB (26 of the 29 snaps came on first or second down).
But Ingram gives this team options and flexibility. And he’s comfortable lining up all over the front. So I think you can see it here and there, sure, especially in the AFC North games.