Welcome back to your mailbag. Apologize for not having one last week due to me covering the Senior Bowl in Alabama. To make up for things, we’ll have an emergency version today for the next hour and of course have our regular one this Thursday at 2:30 PM/EST.
As always, fire off whatever is on your mind and I’ll be sure to check in and answer the best I can.
To your questions!
commenter:Fun hypothetical. Pick one for next year: T austin actually run defense or mid tier FA QB signing/drafting rookie qb who falls to slot 20?
Alex: Ha, I dig it. I’ll take the latter. I don’t mind Tomlin being the playcaller. I don’t have the issue the way others do. Lots of coaches call plays on their side of the ball and the Steelers’ defense was an elite unit (granted, built by elite talent) in 2019 and 2020 until all of the losses/injuries in 2021. This will be a good defense and bounce back in 2022. Confident in that.
The bridge veteran and rookie QB is probably the best way to go about it. Ideally, trading for a top QB would be nice but comes with risk and its own downsides. So yeah, I’m good with that scenario if you could lock me in on it.
Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt: If Kevin colbert were to ask you which path they should take as far as QB in the draft/FA or both what would your advice be
Alex: I don’t have any concrete advice. They’re waters the Steelers are swimming in for the first time since 2004, 18 years ago. I would just say to keep all your options and avenues open. Not to shut anything down. Draft, sign, trade, etc. And that seems to be the approach they’re taking. Largely, I don’t want to put blinders on in this process because it’s a situation the Steelers haven’t been in before. So they need to go in with an open-mind.
It’d be easy to say “go get ‘X'” but it’s harder in action. I will say the obvious. This team needs a franchise QB and can’t be in the Super Bowl conversation until they get one. So they need to be aggressive about it. That alarm has to be constantly going off in their head right now. It’s a siren that’s been loud since last year’s draft, to be honest, and I wrote as much at the time.
Marcel Chris Chauvet:
Alex, the two dominant theories on how the Steelers should handle the off-season seem to be:
(1) Focus on finding your next QB first and foremost.
(2) Build the rest of the team and find a QB next year.
Where do you stand on this debate? Any personal feelings on how you’d address it? FA or draft…
Alex: I don’t think you can force either scenario. The bottom line is if you can find a franchise QB, you’re aggressive in going after him. That’s the most important piece and you can’t pass up on the chance. So that lends itself to the fist point. But if that guy isn’t there, he isn’t there, and so you fall to the second point.
Bottom line, like I wrote above, is your franchise is at best spinning its wheels without a franchise QB. And if you’re in position to get one, you do it. But if that isn’t an option, you don’t take a guy just for the sake of taking a guy. That’s when you really set your franchise back years.
Jake Sas: With all the QB talk, let’s ask the real question: Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich
Alex: Tough one. I gotta go with Chuck though. Hometown kid who was with the team longer. Calls a good broadcast in the preseason, too, and I like he’s not afraid to criticize the team, which several who work for the team are hesitant to do. Batch is a pretty straight-shooter.
Still can’t believe Leftwich didn’t end up in Jacksonville though. But maybe a blessing in disguise for him.
sdale: Of the guys you watched at the Senior Bowl, which of the off ball LB do you think fit the Steelers as:
1.) A 2 down buck thumper.
2.) A 2 down buck to start his Steelers Career, but has the athletic ability to work into a 3 down LB in a year?
Alex: Hmm, you don’t get a lot of those classic thumpers anymore because you have to be able to move and cover in today’s NFL. So the top prospects are usually pretty good athletes and that was well-represented in Mobile. They didn’t have a lot of tough but slow guys. Darrian Beavers from Cincinnati is a big dude at 250 pounds and looked best downhill. But I don’t know if I would call him a two down thumper. Maybe he fits into that latter camp of being a bit unrefined in coverage but having the traits. He’s explosive with a big lower half and covers ground as a long-strider.
I don’t know who best fits that first question. There wasn’t a Vince Williams type there this year. Maybe Chad Muma but he’s a little more finesse than he is run-you-over.
Bill Sechrengost: If Stephon Tuitt doesn’t return next year, are you comfortable with who they have left or do you want to sign a veteran DE or draft one high?
Alex: I’m relatively comfortable considering the talent I’d be losing. You have Wormley, who held his own, and Loudermilk impressed. I’d probably look for a DE with some pass rush and sub-package juice because Loudermilk is underdeveloped as a pass rusher and I don’t know how much progress he’ll make (he’ll make some but enough? I’m not convinced) so that’s the type of player I’d look for. Even if it’s another DT-looking and experienced type player who can rotate in, like a Carlos Davis but better and more proven guy.
Desmond Ridder experience at the senior bowl seems to have a been a tale of two stories. He faltered at practice, looked less than impressive. But at during the actual game her was arguably the best qb. What do you find more telling, his performance at practice or his performance during the game?
Alex: Well no quarterback has ever gotten paid because of the way they practiced so it has to be the game. That’s when it counts. But it’s not one or the other. It’s a combination. Practice, game, and off the field, the interviews, how they carry themselves, etc. The draft is a sum of its pieces, not one individual one. But sure, for the game, that carries a little more weight from an evaluation, though coaches can value practice because they are right there and can hear and see everything is happening.
Chris Casey: Had Mason been our QB this past year – removing Ben’s ability to call plays at the line of scrimmage and having to rely on Canada’s calls – do you think our O production would have been better or worse than it ended up being? Kind of a possible preview for 2022?
Alex: Worse. Roethlisberger could push the pace and run the show himself in second halves, which is about the only time the Steelers’ offense looked decent this season. Rudolph couldn’t do it to that degree. But it’s not like a Rudolph-led offense would’ve been that much worse. Pittsburgh’s offense wasn’t very good this year. That much is obvious.
Jerry Reid: How much did the two seconds to pass YAC offense the past couple years effect the development of DJ and Claypool? In other words, do you think they improve if we manage to move from that style of offense, especially Claypool? Or does it fall back on coaching, personnel, and that sort of thing?
Alex: I think it’s a little less about that and really just about the players themselves. It doesn’t inherently fix any of Claypool’s issues. A QB with a better arm and deep ball would make him look better but it doesn’t cure or solve issues and that isn’t 100% tied into the Steelers’ quick-pass offense. They took deep shots. They were just ineffective.
Guy Breton: Hi Alex. If we read news and “expert” reviews, there seems to be no QB worthy of being tagged “future franchise QB” in the next draft. So, if there isn’t, do the Steelers will draft other needs in round 1/2 ?
Alex: Sure, if they don’t deem anyone franchise-worthy, then they won’t draft one. Can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. So they’ll look elsewhere. That’s really true of any position or any need if your board doesn’t support it. That’s the way it’s supposed to work, at least.
Cody: Hey Alex,
What are your thoughts on Oklahoma State’s LB Malcom Rodriguez? He’s a safety that was converted to LB and he is a former wrestler so he tackles really well. Do you think he can be a sleeper pick in the mid to late rounds?
Alex: I don’t have any right now, Cody. Sorry to say. My focus the last 2-3 weeks has been on the Senior Bowl guys. But he sounds like an interesting name we can hopefully talk about later on in the draft process. Remind me.
ÄB: Hey Alex,
With Pickett and Willis being the projected top 2 QBS in this draft, if the rumors of Pittsburgh’s love for Willis is true, where do you think they have to move up to to get him? I am a firm believer Kevin Colbert wanted to stay and leave this team with its future franchise guy as a parting gift.
Alex: There’s the trade value chart (though there are different ones and Colbert claims he doesn’t even use one) to give you some sense. But it depends on how high you have to move up and what other teams are competing as well. Teams you have to leap, teams also trying to move up, teams actively looking to meet back. So I can’t give you a concrete answer but generally speaking, to trade up significant spots to get a QB, the cost is…a lot. It’s not something you do on the cheap.
Stephen: Hey Alex, how come when the kicker kicks off and the ball stays in bounds and dies near the sideline but inbounds, the receiving team can have a player put one foot out of bounds and one in and touch the ball and it’s ruled an out of bounds kick and the receiving team gets the ball at the 40 yard line.
Alex: Because the players is considered out of bounds. He can’t advance the ball, he has a foot on the sideline, so that makes him out of bounds and means the ball has been fielded out of bounds. It’s just one of the weird quirks of the rules. I’m not sure of its origins and intent when it was written but that is the rule and you occasionally see players take advantage of it from time to time. The Packers have had several such plays over the years.