Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Steelers logo

Welcome back to your weekly edition of the Steelers Mailbag. Our 300th one. So thanks to everyone for hanging out with us over the years. Like the 299 times before, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind.

To your questions!

BurghInPhilly: Hi Alex, thanks again for your great work covering the camp and in general. Based on your observations, where is this team better and where is it worse than last year’s? Net-net, is it a better team than the 2020 squad?

Alex: Whew, good question. All that matters is Week One so it’s hard to gauge it right now. Certainly running back and hopefully run game will be better. TE is stronger overall. The d-line is a bit stronger overall as their young guys have developed. ILB is stronger with Bush’s return + Schobert. But we’ll see how it all looks together.

Jake Sas: 

Hey Alex,

How you feeling about the secondary. On paper it look fine, but the depth is terrifying to me. Which position which you upgrade first, corner or safety? And I guess which player do you feel best about taking over for Hilton?

Alex: For sure, there’s concern there. All offseason we’ve talked about the two X Factor areas with this team are the offensive line and sub-package secondary. I’d get a safety. I’m cool with Sutton in the slot, Pierre at RCB. The team seems really gung-ho about finding a Mike Hilton clone so they may target a slot guy and maybe someone with some FS versatility (as those guys often do).

Sutton seems to be the obvious, and sort of the only, choice right now. I’d take him at slot and Pierre at RCB over Maulet in the slot and Sutton at RCB.


I liked your article on potential slot options from other teams. Would you swap James Washington for one of them?

Alex: I wouldn’t. I don’t know if I’d even sign either player, to be honest. But the Steelers are super interested in having/adding a guy like that. So I wanted to lay out options of what they’re looking for.

But no, not trading Washington. WR depth is too important. I’d really hope that either guy gets cut, I think it’s plausible for either, or maybe something else. Trade a 2023 pick, maybe a player and pick, it gets a little messy from there. But Roberts isn’t on most roster projections and Stewart is missing a lot of time with a hamstring injury and the Browns have added to the secondary with Troy Hill, Greg Newsome, etc. So that could squeeze Stewart out.

stan: Do have any background of the Brooks injury/ release? Was it a situation where he was seriously injured and none of the beat writers picked up on it? Or did the team just conclude that he wasn’t the guy for the nickel back job?

Alex: Assuming it was the same injury and not a new ailment, it was a left leg. Looked like a thigh but I couldn’t get a great read or fell for it. He might have had a setback because he practiced for one day and I think that was it. But I don’t know all the particulars.

David Levesque: 

Hi Alex,

Thanks for all your great training camp coverage. Do you think the Steelers trading for Joe Schobert has to do with the ravens and browns being so run heavy? Steelers might not need to be in dime personal that often and don’t want to either?


Alex: I don’t know if it’s that explicitly connected. Certainly they need to stop the run and Schobert will help with that. But that wasn’t really Spillane’s big problem either. They just had the chance to upgrade the position and not give up much to do so. I think a consequence of the talent there and less talent/depth in the secondary will have this team playing less dime defense this season, as Keith Butler said yesterday. But we’ll see – Butler also said they play dime against 4 WR sets. Which is the furthest thing from the truth.

Matt: Might’ve come up before, but do you know the actual story behind why the Steelers play Carolina the last game of the preseason every year — how did it come about and why the last game? Answers I’ve heard always seem like speculation (e.g., “there’s lots of Pittsburgh transplants/Steeler fans in NC” — there’s lots of transplants/fans in lots of other places, too) or that both organizations have had people with history in the other area (e.g., Cowher having lived in NC). None of that explains how the arrangement came about and why it’s the last game. Any idea?

Alex: I’m not sure of the real reason. At this point, I think it’s just tradition. Some stuff I found looking it up was former Panthers owner Jerry Richardson had a good rapport with the Rooneys and built the team after the Rooney and Mara (Giants) model. Bill Cowher was also friends with John Fox and Fox was the Panthers HC when the preseason tradition began in the early 2000s.

Helps today the new owner of the Panthers is David Tepper, former part-owner of the Steelers. So that relationship remains strong.


Thoughts and prayers to those in Afghanistan right now.

Do you think there are any players on the team that is ripe for a position change, or at least anyone that you think would do well at different position? Not counting plug and play linemen or hybrids like Marcus Allen.

Alex: Aside from Dave and I floating the idea of making Zach Gentry an OT a la Larry Brown a la Alejandro Villanueva, nothing comes to mind. Miles Killebrew is a safety for Pittsburgh but was more of a linebacker with Detroit. Short of making Pressley Harvin III the team’s fullback, I don’t have a lot else to speculate about.

Henry Mondeaux as a FB/TE? But I think Gentry is the one who makes the most sense.

Steve Anderson: Hi Alex-
Anthony Johnson has snared everything within reach in both practice and games as any student can see in stats and on tape. Do you see him playing against some of the Panther’s first team defense tomorrow? If he lands everything from Haskins and Dobbs, I can’t imagine him flying under the radar on the practice squad when opponents are absent of even a #2.

Alex: He should play a lot. I assume at least JuJu and Diontae Johnson will suit up. Maybe Claypool gets a couple of snaps since he missed last week and he’d be going about a month between games if he doesn’t suit up. But probably 2-3 series max for him. Leaves a lot of playing time for the likes of Anthony Johnson, Cody White, Rico Bussey, Mathew Sexton, etc.

But I still don’t think he’s in danger of getting claimed. There’s so many good WRs in this league. It’s probably deeper there than anywhere. And athletically, he’s not gifted enough to really have long-term value and potential.

To Top
error: Alert: Content is protected !!