Welcome back to your weekly Steelers’ mailbag. We’re just a little over a week from the start of the regular season. With roster cuts and the team’s 53-man group (mostly) set, there is a whole lot to talk about. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything on your mind.
To your questions!
falconsaftey43: What’s up Alex!? Going into the first game, what is your biggest concern and your biggest reason for optimism?
Alex: Hey Falcon! Thanks for being here. Biggest concern has to be the o-line. How can it not? Especially against a Bills’ defense that’s chewed up the Steelers’ o-line the last two years. McDermott/Frazier running the blitz schemes that Jim Johnson killed Pittsburgh with when he was the Eagles DC. Banner’s out, Chuks at RT is going to make this run game even tougher, and there will probably be two rookies starting and a front five who hasn’t played a lot together as a collective five. Yikes.
Optimism is hey, this team sorta figures it out. It’s a strong front seven, that’s the strength of the team, with a top pass rush in football. That pressure leads to 3rd and long and lets the secondary eat. And I can’t wait to see Najee Harris run….hopefully there’s room.
adam_nyc: Hey Alex,
If TJ does in fact sign prior to Week 1, at what point do they start speaking with Minkah’s people about a new deal? How many big contracts are due to come off the books and cap for 2022?
Alex: Not until next year. It doesn’t even sound like those two sides have talked so there’s no time to put together a deal right now. That’ll be a next-summer thing we’re talking about a year from now.
In terms of contracts coming off the books, it’s really Ben and his deal. JuJu is on a one-year deal so it’ll be “off the books” though again, it was just a one-year agreement. Ebron’s contract will be up/void and Terrell Edmunds (though not a big salary) will also become a free agent.
Watt is yet to sign.
Tuitt will start out on IR.
How ineffective will that make the Steelers vaunted pass rush
at the beginning of the Season?
Alex: It’s blunted but it can still be effective. Watt is going to play against the Bills. Will he play his normal amount of snaps? Probably not. All the more and better reason to have a guy like Melvin Ingram ready to soak up those reps. And with the talent along this deep defensive line, they can stomach the loss of Tuitt better than a lot of teams or past Steelers’ defenses. This scheme does a great job creating pressure too – it’s Keith Butler’s best trait as a coach. So I’m not super worried about it though yes, Tuitt is definitely a loss. Can’t overlook how good he was last season. Third most sacks by an iDL.
Matt Manzo: Happy Thursday Alex!!!
Do you have any clarity on the Stephon Tuitt situation? Is it in fact an injury or is there some emotional healing he needs?
Alex: Hey Matt! Yes, there is an injury. It’s to his knee. I don’t have really any information beyond that. What the injury is, how he hurt it, how long he’ll miss (besides the IR minimum of three games) but there is an actual injury there on top of the grieving I’m sure he’s still working through.
esma225: What is a realistic expectation on the kind of season Harris will have with this oline?
Alex: Well he’ll get a lot of volume. If he’s healthy, should be around 275 carries and 50+ receptions. Even at just 4 yards per carry, that’s 1100 yards. So you could see a 275 carry, 1100 yards, 6-8 touchdown season on the ground with 50 receptions for another 400-500 yards and a couple of scores.
In short, statistically the best season ever by a Steelers’ rookie back. That remains my expectation.
sdale: Thanks again for all the work. Assuming Watt is signed, how many snaps do you think he gets week one?
Alex: Thank you! That’s a good question. It’s hard to put a number to it because that’s obviously dependent on the total number of snaps for the defense. Based on game flow, circumstance, etc. When 100%, he usually sits around 80%. Don’t think he will for the Bills game. More like 60%. So if the defense is out there for 65 snaps, Watt will be out there for about 40.
zbluez1: Alex , given that your waiver wire/cut list shopping list you have posted has been exhausted/folks signed to other teams practice squads/etc … Do you still see an additional signing of an outside player soon?
Alex: Maybe another DB. But that’s about it. It’s smarter for them to bring back Finney/Coward than it was to go after a release o-lineman. Talent wasn’t great (it rarely is, teams hold onto the scarce o-line talent that’s out there) and you’re bringing in someone new and trying to get them up to speed last second. I think they’re just about set with the exception of maybe another DB, though if they promote Joseph and don’t cut another DB, they’ll be at ten. Which is about the max.
Upon reflection does it feel like Kendrick Green was the target for C over the more highly rated prospects due to his athletic traits? Furthermore what does he and Dan Moore Jr show that the new coaches are looking for?
Alex: I do. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. They had an athletic center in Pouncey. Nothing wrong with looking for someone with similar tools. I want my big guys to move well.
The traits he and Moore showed were toughness, athleticism, and physicality. All three things missing from this group last year and all three things OL Coach Adrian Klemm requires. Those obviously aren’t super unique to Klemm, what team doesn’t want those traits, but that was the focus. They were ok with a guy like Green who didn’t have a lot of technique and needing coaching considering he was a junior and hadn’t spent a lot of time at center. And Moore had the solid resume of being battle tested in the SEC which is always attractive on paper.
Matt Manzo: I’m goin in for another question!!!
Regarding the slot dbs: What’s your take away after seeing Brooks, Maulet and Norwood? Do you see either of those guys helping out Sutton or are we still expecting an outside signing or trade?
Alex: Well Brooks could circle back to the team but he won’t even be eligible to re-sign for at least a couple of weeks. Maulet is really average. I like his versatility, I think there’s use for that, but I can’t justify giving him time in the slot which keeps James Pierre on the bench. They like Norwood, I like Norwood, but I don’t view him as Day One ready and the slot isn’t his ideal home. He’s better at FS. On the outside, I don’t know who you bring in at this point and get ready in ten days and again, will they be better than Sutton and worth leaving Pierre on the bench?
Answer has been under their nose all along. Sutton in the slot, Pierre at RCB. That’s your best five.
What’s your guess on FULLY guaranteed $ % in TJ’s deal? AAV gets overblown, imo. All about the guarantees, baby!
Any chance that’s NOT what they are still haggling over, knowing how this team feels on the subject?
Alex: I defer much of that math to Dave. What he says, I usually roll with. But you’re right. Guaranteed money is most important. AAV is what looks good in the headline. But this isn’t the MLB or NBA. Whole contract isn’t fully guaranteed. It’s what’s guaranteed (and not the injury guarantee either) that matters most.
I couldn’t tell you what points they still need to come together on. It’s probably a lot of little things.
srdan: AK, what should we expect from ‘muth in the first outing? Seems like Tomlin shelved him before Ebron in the preseason. 50% of the snaps possible? They are going to have to help a young left tackle somehow.
Alex: Some of that is gameflow dependent. It’s hard to put a stamp on how much 12 personnel they lose. If they run well and play with a lead, they’ll do it more and he’ll play more. If they fall behind 14-0, they’ll be in 11 personnel trying to catch up. But my expectation for the season is for Freiermuth to play around 500-550 total snaps which will put him in that 45-50% range this season, barring injuries.
Douglas Prostorog: Hi Alex! So, I’m curious about the OT situation. With Banner apparently having a relapse of some sort, why do you think that they chose Chaz Green over somebody like Hawkins for the PS? Related question–with Banner’s status in limbo, Chuks either pricing himself out of the Burgh or jsut not being offered anything from the team, and Haeg being basically a rental, how much does the team need to find a new OT in the draft? Is it a first round priority?
Alex: I guess that’s hard for me to answer. Green is a vet, versatile, and they’ve watched him all camp. They moved on from Hawkins for a reason. I think this team was looking to start anew with the o-line. And they basically did. So don’t bring back guys who you didn’t succeed with. Find someone new and hope for better results.
Yes, this team could be looking to draft an OT next year. Moore is showing promise but Chuks probably won’t be here (at this point, it might be he’s not worth brining back talent/production wise) but Banner…who knows what’s going to happen. Super good guy, worked hard, has talent, root for him all that but he’s been in the league since 2017 and played just over 300 offensive snaps. And only a fraction of that has been as a true OL, not a tackle-eligible.
HinesWardFan: Alex, how good do you predict the OL will be by midseason, assuming no serious injuries?
Alex: I mean, we’ll see. That feels like forever away. My stance is this line will be better run blocking than last year, worse in pass pro, and have a whole lot of variance. Up and down type of play as they develop and grow. There will be growing pains. Count on that.
Marcel Chris Chauvet:
Which Steeler had the most disappointing training camp/preseason in your opinion?
Alex: UG3. And he made the team, lol. Will he stay there especially since Allen didn’t go to IR? We’ll see what happens when they elevate Joseph, which will probably occur next week. Gilbert stayed healthy which was great but I don’t think he played well. Maybe got a bit better later in the preseason but he wasn’t the same guy I watched dominate as a rookie.
Jeff P.: Assume UG3 gets released when Joseph is activated and no other moves are made before Banner, Tuitt, and McFarland are activated. Who are the 3 that get waived when those 3 come back?
Alex: I really don’t know. Couldn’t even venture a guess. Who knows if they all come back right away, what the team will look like, what other injuries are, etc. There are so many variables at play. Obviously, they won’t have a 53 of eight defensive lineman. So if there’s still seven when Tuitt returns, someone is going to go. But beyond that, any sort of speculation just feels like wasted breath. The landscape of what we think and are talking about now will be a much different a month from now.