Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly Pittsburgh Steelers’ mailbag. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer anything and everything on your mind.

To your questions!

Chris Janssen: 

Is it reasonable to expect a punter to make the “2nd-year leap”, or is Harvin III who he is at this point? Do you think the Steelers look to upgrade the position this summer?

I bet you can’t wait for a punter battle at training camp 🙂

Alex: Sure, he can. It’s still a guy from the college going to to the NFL. And it’s a different game. Even from a general workload standpoint. The NFL season is a lot longer than the college one and you have to adjust physically and maybe just as importantly, mentally. And remember for these rookies, this offseason has been their first chance to breath. Draft-eligibles go from their fall ball to the regular season to draft training to Combine (except for the 2021 class like Harvin since there was no Combine), to Pro Days, to any pre-draft workouts, to the draft, to rookie minicamp, to spring work, to getting ready for their first camp, to training camp, to preseason, to regular season, to playoffs.

That is a lot. Now they’ve had most of the last four months, save for 2 1/2 weeks of OTAs and minicamp, to take a step back and breathe. That’s good for all those guys, including punters.

More specifically, Harvin went through a lot last year. Death of family members, including his father. So there was a lot weighing on him, more than the typical rookie. Everyone can get better, technically, physically, mentally. And Harvin should be in a better place. He’ll need to be. Like you said, you know I’ll be watching, though he may be competing with the waiver wire as much as anything internal.

Henning: Why do you think are we a decade behind interms of constructing a good RB room? Always these non explosive 2nd and 3rd stringers. What have yinz done to deserve this? It’s such a long time ago we had guys like LeGarrette and DeAngelo

Alex: Well I don’t know how you lump LeGarrette “leave the team mid-game” Blount in with D-Will. One worked out much better than the other.

But short answer. Tomlin has always had the workhorse approach. Mendenhall, Bell, Conner (injuries always got in the way), and now Harris, he wants a true #1. And that devalues the need for a good #2 and #3 because there is no committee or timeshare. Now, sure, there’s a risk there because if a guy gets hurt, you’re kinda screwed, but that’s his philosophy. Get the #1, keep him on the field, and the rest doesn’t really matter. If you can find that vet willing to come here, great. But most don’t because they won’t get to play and won’t get paid well to sit on the bench as insurance.

David Shoff: Alex, im on a trip to israel and we are on the sea of Galilee right now. I sure wish i would have brought my terrible towel so you could all see me walking on water with it! One question. If you had to choose one wr to keep between Claypool and DJ, which one would you choose? I

Alex: Hey David! Sounds like fun. Ah man, that would’ve been really cool to see.

Give me Johnson. More well-rounded, more proven, more established. More expensive too, I suppose, but he’s a #1. Claypool is a feast or famine #2 that’s a lot more frustrating. But good news is both will be on the team in 2022 and we’ll go from there.

George Hareras: 

Hey Alex!
Quick question but for Pitt:
What are your thoughts on Slovis? I liked him a little while back at USC. Should I be excited?

Bonus: Will you watch an early steam of DBS movie or wait for the English dub?

Alex: I’m probably not the best guy to ask about Slovis. Like you said, there was some buzz while at USC. But I really haven’t watched the guy. Big shoes to fill, for sure. But change in QB and no Jordan Addison…it’s hard to feel super excited.

Ha, I think I’ll wait for the dub. But I’m sorta desperate to watch some new Dragon Ball stuff. Can only watch the Freiza/Cell/Buu sagas so often. I’m even giving GT a try, even though I know it’s not nearly as good.

David Shoff: Alex, back in the days of Hampton and Smith we used our defensive line mainly to keep offensive lineman away from our ilbs. Now we let them penetrate and that seems to expose our ilbs. Do teams ever mix philosophies and tell defensive linemen when to occupy offensive linemen and when to Penetrate, in the hopes of helping the ilbs make the run stops?

Alex: Oh sure. And the Steelers do that too, even if it’s a lot less frequent than a decade or two ago. Teams will mix and match. And sometimes the way o-lines block things up determines that. If a run call is asking for a double-team on the first level, think a gap run or a combo block on a man run, that defender might not be able to penetrate. He’s now gotta take on the block and not get washed out. It varies but sometimes how the d-lineman attacks is based on how the o-line blocks. If a lineman steps away from you, you may shoot the gap and try to pernitrate. But if you’re getting double-teamed by the guard and tackle as the three-tech, you’re not going to shoot the gap. So there’s always variance.

Christopher Pokins: Alex,
Big fan of Dionte Johnson. But what’s the rush for an extension? Why not play out the contract, if he is great again, tag him, then decide if you want to extend him. This year costs roughly $3M, tag next year would be roughly $20M. So $23M for two year. You extend him now if will cost at least $36M for the next two years. Also thinking if Claypool bounces back, and the two rookies play well, Johnson may end up like Mike Wallace and have to move on due to the talent behind him. Your thought? Think he gets a contract before week 1? What would you do?

Alex: You could. But typically, and maybe this would change under Omar Khan, but if someone is heading into an offseason as a free agent, they aren’t coming back. Especially for big money. Small deals, unusual circumstances (JuJu in 2021) do happen but if no deal is struck now, it’s usually an sign there’s no real appetite to retain the player, at least at the number they’re looking for. At that point, the tag becomes a more likely way to retain a player, but no team really wants to use the tag, especially if they look back and say “man, this guy had a great year, I wish we would’ve locked him up last year – now his rate is even higher.”

If a player is about to hit free agency, they’re usually going to test and see and often price themselves out of the Steelers’ market. So there’s good incentive for Pittsburgh to try and get the deal done now.

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