Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly Thursday Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.

To your questions!

CJT: Hey Alex! Who are you betting on to start at QB for week 1? What’s your level of disappointment if Pickett doesn’t crack the starting lineup all year?

Alex: Betting on Trubisky if you’re making me choose right now. He’s currently the #1, he’s the man with experience, and Pittsburgh is paying him a fair amount of money. Not that I’m saying Kenny Pickett can’t be the guy but you’re making me choose right now.

I don’t know if I’d be terribly disappointed. Maybe if Trubisky struggles, the team isn’t winning, and Pickett still can’t see action even over the final 4-6 weeks of the year. Then you start to wonder why he can’t be given the keys for a test drive. But if Trubisky is playing well and the team is competitive, then I’ll be ok with Pickett sitting. If he isn’t starting by 2023 though, then yeah, you start to worry.



I can see into the future; all I’m going to tell you is that Mitch starts 16 of 17 games this year. Good news or Bad news?

Alex: Probably good news. Means this team is in the hunt, that he is playing well. I’m not sure how to take that as bad news, unless the team is sorta “meh” but not so bad they feel the need to make a change. Some sort of, they’re 8-6 and then fade down the stretch, similar to 2019 when they were 8-5 and collapsed.

But overall, it probably means Mitch and the team is hanging around.

falconsaftey43: Hey Alex, why do you think the team has not brought in any veteran RBs? Same crew as last year minus Ballage (about as bottom of the barrell vet as you can find). Plenty of cheap experienced players who could potentially upgrade the room. They did find it lacking enough last year to at least try adding a veteran in Ballage.

Alex: Good question. I really want them too, though I’ve pointed out Pittsburgh isn’t a place a lot of RBs probably want to go too. Right now, they’re seeing Najee Harris being the guy on that depth chart. Come to Pittsburgh and you aren’t playing much unless Harris gets hurt. Go somewhere else and you might be in more of a timeshare, a committee, and rotation, because few coaches have the hardcore workhorse mentality Tomlin brings. So I think it’s probably hard to commit money to a veteran knowing he’ll sit 90% of the time and for a veteran to want to come in ultra-cheap to keep the bench warm. I think that’s a central issue. Takes two to tango. Player has to want to come here.

Greg Payne: Alex, I’m trying to visit training camp this year at St. Vincent. Do I have to worry about tickets selling out? I’ll be making it a stop for a day on a trip between Rochester NY and Atlanta GA. Any tips, tricks to get the most out of the experience?

Alex: I can’t tell you with a certainty Greg because it’s the first year they’ve done tickets at SVC. And it’s not like Heinz Field where there were actual seats. But I know tickets weren’t that hard to come by last year and there was still some COVID protocol to follow. So I can’t imagine it’ll be a huge deal. But I would jump on it on the 27th when tickets are available. Don’t take the chance of waiting. Good news is they’re free.

I would recommend showing up early, especially on a weekend. An hour or so, at least. Bleacher room is limited and can fill up fast. There’s hills to sit on and if you’re getting autographs, the fence line (though get there even earlier if you’re doing that).

Be aware of the weather. Can get really hot and/or rainy there. So be prepared. Other than that, just have a good time. It’s a lot of fun. Happy you can make it out there.

Dan Blocker: Alex: I get a bad feeling about the void Stephon Tuitt leaves in our defensive line. I know it’s not the Steelers way, but I don’t feel we have the horses to fill that void yet. This seems like the year we tried to plug Bostic into the ILB corps. If it were you, would you consider a trade to give the young guys a chance to develop? Or am I not giving Wormley enough credit?

Alex: Understand your point and concern. But the best approach is to take your group into camp and see what you have. Let the young guys compete and grow and evaluate them. If you like what you see, you’ll be glad you didn’t make the trade. If not, you can do something late in the summer, which is pretty common. It’s usually when teams begin shopping players due to injury or guys they know they may end up cutting for talent/cap/whatever reason. Not many teams looking to make deals right now because if they trade away a d-lineman and lose guys in camp, they’ll be kicking themselves. So wait until late August and we can talk about it.

David Slezak: Hi Alex,
Question concerning the use of DE’s. In the past such as 1990’s, DE’s in a 3-4 (Think Aaron Smith) were more like DT’s. Space eaters, run stuffers whose primary job was to make sure the LB’s could flow freely to the ball. Sacks were rather limited. Today, DE’s are putting up solid sacks (Wormley even had 7). Is that because the base 3-4 is used less today so they have more of a chance to rush the passer, Qb’s just throw more or that the Steelers changed the position? Interesting that the role of LB’s and NT remains pretty similar, but D changed a good amount at least on the stat sheet

Alex: All of the above, David. The body types are a bit different, they’re shooting gaps and penetrating more often, you’re in nickel/dime more often, and you just have better athletes. You don’t want to “waste” a Tuitt or Heyward just holding up blocks. You want those guys to make plays because they can make plays. It allows you to blitz a little less too or be more selective when you do.

And as you said, teams throw more than ever so there’s more chances. It also puts an increase on pass rushers across the board. Can’t rely on just one or two guys to get all your pressure. In the 90s/early 2000s, it was about the run game. So you had to stop the run. Big NTs like Ted Washington, Vince Wilfork, Casey Hampton. Now it’s about quickness, pass catching RBs, the horizontal pass game, etc. And so defenses have evolved, in part due to college’s spread system having a trickle-up effect.

Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt: General NFL question for you Alex has there ever been has there ever been a team that had both defensive and offensive player of the year in the same season and if so how did they that season go as far as superbowl?

Alex: In my quick search, it looks like it happened once. 2003 with Baltimore RB Jamal Lewis and LB Ray Lewis. They went 10-6, won the AFC North, but lost to Tennessee in the Wild Card Game. Lewis had 17 tackles but Lewis was totally bottled up that day.

Vance Mac: Let’s say Mitch starts and plays reasonably well next year. Do you try and cash in on him by trading for a draft pick? And if so, how high would it have to be to make you roll with Kenny, and no depth behind him (assuming Rudolph isn’t resign)?

Alex: That would make the most sense. Unless Trubisky is just unbelievably good, it’s hard to see him being on the team in 2023. Would make for an expensive and awkward backup if he’s giving way to Pickett. I don’t know what compensation would look like but don’t expect a second-rounder for the guy. He will be on the final year of his deal. You could probably get a fourth round pick for him. Something like that if he plays reasonably well. Good locker room guy, leader, coaches and teams will like him.

But you’re right, the team would have to sign a cheaper veteran QB because it’s even harder seeing Rudolph on the team, unless he accepts his fate as career backup a la Landry Jones.

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