Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your Thursday mailbag. Gameday edition. Steelers’ preseason opener is just a few hours away. We’re here for the next hour for your last-minute inquiries.

To your questions!

falconsaftey43: Hey Alex! Can’t wait for football!
Has McCloud been used more as a traditional WR in camp this year, or still just a screen/gadget guy?

Alex: It’s been more traditional. But in his actual role for the offense, I suspect it’ll be much more of the latter. So wouldn’t read much into it. Have his yards per catch this camp at 8.7, for what it’s worth. He doesn’t just one jet run this camp. Kinda surprising it’s that low.


hey Alex,

If everyone’s favorite, Rico Bussey continues to flash, who’s spot would he take on the roster? (ESP. knowing Juju is probably gone next year).

Alex: He’d probably just be the 6th WR. So he’d take away a 4th RB job, I suppose. Bussey had one really nice day of practice but that’s about it. Beyond that day (and it was the one they were in shells, no less) he’s been relatively quiet/normal from a production standpoint.


Hey Alex! Would you rather see Sutton out wide at CB or inside at the slot? Personally, I think his body type is better suited for being on the outside.

Part 2: assuming outside CB is best for Sutton, do you see Pierre as an inside guy? I know Brooks and others are fighting for the slot role, but I would want my 3 best defensive backs in the field at the same time if possible.

Alex: I just want them to play the best five. Ideally, Sutton is a better fit on the outside. But if Pierre is playing so well and so much better than Brooks/Maulet, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the field. So there’s a weird calculation there. Lot of moving pieces. The good news if you have options and some flexibility. Better to have too many guys worth playing than not enough.

I don’t see Pierre as an inside guy. He’s an outside corner. So if they want Pierre on the field, Sutton will have to kick inside. He’s already going to do it in dime. So you could do it in nickel too (though those can be very different situations. Nickel can be any down/distance. Dime usually in obvious pass situations).

But bottom line. Play the best five/six. Rest will fall into place.

David Shoff: Hey Alex, you are doing GREAT work this year!! Are you getting concerned about the OL not practicing together at all yet? Also, what’s up with Dotson? Is he hurt, and will he and Chukks be back soon?

Alex: I am. It’s still relatively early and they have the benefit of the extra game/earlier camp. But the sooner this group gets together, the better. For them to work as a unit and for them to work individually. It’s not like this is a proven, established group. Essentially none of them are, at least not in Pittsburgh. A guy like Kendrick Green hasn’t worked with his presumed starting LG at all in camp. How they pass off stunts, pick up blitzes, how they combo block on man and zone schemes. He hasn’t played with his left side of the line yet. Hope that changes sooner than later.

Couldn’t tell you what’s up with Dotson. Dude is in pads and just doesn’t do much, if anything. If it was a weight thing, that was the reported issued 7-8 weeks ago. He didn’t fix it during that time between OTAs and camp? Hard to believe. Okorafor is “nicked up” according to Colbert. He’s at least done some work in individual sessions. Hope he can return over the weekend or early next week.

The Bus Fan 36:

Hey Alex,

I’ve been reading your stuff for a long time now (really enjoy it!), but this is my first time posting.

During camp, do the quarterbacks spend a lot of time throwing to the wide receivers besides in the team sessions you write about. Wondering how much time Ben has to get his timing down with the receivers outside of the team sessions. Thanks!

Alex: Thanks man! So glad you decided to write in.

Yes, they spent a good amount of time doing that. Most of it before team sessions begin. They do a warmup/install session at a very slow tempo to begin practice. Then they’ll throw in individual and “on air” sessions with the defense working in their own groups.

Once team sessions begin, they don’t usually throw a lot to each other. In-between sessions are special teams so a lot of WRs get pulled to do that and the starters/non-special teamers are usually just hanging out. QBs do tend to work and stay loose, throwing to catches, but not a lot of interaction with the WRs. After practice, usually Dobbs or Haskins will throw to a couple guys. Haskins spent about five minutes throwing to Tyler Simmons post-practice the other day.

But most of it comes before that first team session. And like you said, a lot of that is focused on routes and timing.

HardPunkKore: Alex, any surprise players in camp? Follow up, who are the dark horses to make the roster?

Alex: Sure. Always are. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from CB Stephen Denmark (#38), OLB Jamir Jones (#44) and ILB Calvin Bundage (#33). Denmark has that WR background and tracks the ball in the air. Jones has shown a lot of power for his size, putting Najee Harris and Derek Watt on their butt once each in backs on ‘backers, and has been running 2nd team LOLB ahead of Quincy Roche. And Bundage is a plus athlete with versatility who isn’t afraid to hit.

The latter two don’t have a strong path to the roster. I could see Denmark latching on though. His weight/weight/speed/ball skills profile is pretty rare if he keeps playing well once he steps into a stadium.

Greasy Wings: Haven’t heard much about Bush. Is he being held out some as he works his way back from his knee? How’s he looking when he’s on the field?

Alex: He’s being limited to a small degree. He’s working in team most days but often gets taken out 2-3 reps in when the rest of the first-team defense is in for another 2-3 more reps. But he’s basically all the way back. They’re just being careful and managing Bush’s workload. He’s moving well. Carried Claypool vertically on one rep early in camp. Kinda checked that “he’s good” box to me. No worries about his availability for Week One against Buffalo.


Hey Alex,

Apologies if you’ve already addressed this elsewhere, but regarding the slot corner battle, is anyone standing out above the rest as of yet?

Alex: Still jumbled up to me. Could be Brooks, could be Maulet, could be Sutton if Pierre is going to come on as the RCB. Tonight will start creating separation, I think. Can Brooks cover slot WRs and the entire route tree? That’s the big question I have there.But they have options. So someone will emerge. And I think the picture will begin to clarify tonight.zbluez1: Alex. We be back for another year, another McFlurry and more McNuggets !!!!! And another weird question on the edge, which backup edge rusher spells TJ based upon what you’ve seen at camp so far ?Alex: Here are the top three guys. Watt, Highsmith, and Ingram. Watt is obviously the starting LOLB. I still think Highsmith will be the starting ROLB. He’s been pegged as their guy since Dupree left, he’s had a good camp, and he’s younger with fresher legs than a 32-year old Ingram. So that makes Ingram the backup and he’ll rotate in behind those guys. Spell them if needed.

Maybe there are times where Highsmith could flip over and Ingram at ROLB when Watt needs a breather. Give Highsmith a different look, a new matchup for the RT. But to answer your question, Melvin Ingram. Those are your three. Guys like Cassius Marsh won’t play snaps on defense unless there’s injury.

Anthony Palmerston: Hey Alex, what’s the difference between an extension and a new contract?

Alex: They often get used interchangeably. But an extension would mean additional years added to a contract. So a player who say, is in the final year of his deal, gets three “new” years tacked on beyond that final year. Think of how Kevin Colbert or Mike Tomlin receive an extension. A one-year extension. So they’re already under contract for 2021 (in Colbert’s case) and he had another year “extended” onto it through 2022.

A new contract would mean a brand new deal, taking the place of the current contract. Ripping up the old one and starting new. Or someone who wasn’t under contract getting signed, like a free agent being brought in.

Hope that helps.



Is ILB now appearing to have 5 guys worthy of roster spots? Any take away from the new OL coaches and their drills/practice presence, etc? Harvin or Berry? What a treat to have Faneca and Franco on the podcast! Than you!

Alex: I had 5 ILBs on my pre-camp roster. Sticking with that group now. Bush, Spillane, Johnson, Allen, and UG3.

Not any huge differences from what I can tell on the surface. I’m sure there are, like any coach. It seems like they’re repping less stunt/twist pickup. Munchak would do it basically every day. The Steelers have done it this year, to be sure, but it’s not part of the daily schedule.

Are you asking for practice differences with Harvin or Berry? Or the winner? I’m leaning Harvin. But tonight really starts that competition, just as it does for everything STs related. Hard to sim that in practice. For sure, really cool talking with both of those men. Glad you enjoyed.

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