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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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Welcome back to your weekly mailbag. We’re about to enter training camp month and this offseason frankly, has flown on by. As always, we’re here to answer whatever is on your Steelers’ mind for the next hour.

To your questions!

falconsaftey43: 

Hey Alex! Thanks for doing these as always.
I’ve got a criticism about the defense I’ve had for awhile, and wonder if you think it’s real or not, and if there is anything the charting could possibly tell us.

I feel that the defense does a bad job of rotating players. Not that they don’t rotate enough (they don’t) but that they tend to do whole unit swaps. So you get snaps with all backup DL and OLBs on the field, rather than just replacing one starter at a time, and staggering it more. Have you noticed that too?

Alex: Of course, thanks for being such an active member in the comments!

Yeah I think off the top of my head, that sounds fair. Pittsburgh doesn’t have situational players. You see that a lot with pass rushers. They rotate by series, generally, and swap out in the middle of long drives when guys get tired. But you won’t see a guy come on the field just in third down or at least, we haven’t.

To get into the specifics of how well they do or don’t stagger would be tough. And everything is relative so you’d have to try to compare it to the rest of the league and that feels like a mountain of a challenge. It’s always tough for teams I’m sure to come up with the right combination. You want to play your best guys as much as often as possible, of course because hopefully that means you’re getting off the field and playing fewer snaps and not relying on that second-string talent as often.

It might be something worth looking at just one position, like EDGE rusher. But I don’t know how to best go about gauging or rating their “stagger” ability. Interesting thought though.

hdogg48: 

Alex…

Where do you envision the Steelers biggest improvement in 2022-2023?

A. QB play
B. OLine play
C. Stopping the run
D. All of the above

Alex: Hey man!

Gotta go with C, stopping the run. If only because they’ve dug themselves the biggest hole. It’s pretty easy to improve from “historically bad.” But I’ve been optimistic about this group for awhile, writing this article back in February that got a lot of pushback at the time. Probably more people on my side now.

Even without Stephon Tuitt, you have Alualu back, Ogunjobi in Pittsburgh, Myles Jack will be better than Joe Schobert, Devin Bush can’t be worse than last year, Adams is back, Loudermilk has more experience, and Brian Flores was hired. I can see this run defense returning to the top ten and frankly, they need to. But I’m still confident.

ÄB: Hey Alex,

Do you have a way too early WR group prediction? Wondering where Gunner, Boykin and Miller fit? Is Calvin Austin III a lock for a spot?

Thanks!

Alex: This is what I laid out in my way-too-early-roster prediction:

“Wide Receivers (6) – Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens, Calvin Austin III, Miles Boykin, Gunner Olszewski

Analysis: A crowded but improved receiver room compared to even the start of last season. The two established starters in Johnson and Claypool along with draft picks Pickens and Austin. All four should see the field plenty this year. Boykin has good special teams/coverage value and can rotate with Claypool as the Z as a jump-ball power forward. Olszewski is the more experienced and proven returner and he should hold off Austin, though the rookie’s skillset is interesting in the return game. Still, Austin wasn’t a big return guy at Memphis and never did kicks.”

And that’s where I still sit today. Can’t forget about Anthony Miller and Cody White has hung around but Boykin and Olszewski’s special teams value makes for a compelling case as #5/6. But we’ll see how it looks in camp. Long ways to go.

Austin 98% chance to make the team. Fourth round receivers have been cut before, Fred Gibson and Danny Farmer, so that’s why I don’t put it at 100%. Gunner will be a kick/punt return and coverage guy, Boykin will be a James Washington-type rotational Z receiver and gunner/jammer, while Miller’s work will come primarily in the slot.

Dan Blocker: Hi Alex! Sorry, I’ve been away from the chat for few weeks. Work has been getting the best of me. Anyways, with our inside linebackers, is correct to assume that once you get past Mack & Bush, and maybe Spillane, the remaining guys are pretty much fighting for two spots, or is Allen or Johnson still pretty much locks to make the team? Have a great 4th!

Alex: Hey Dan! That’s ok, hope things have calmed down now. Here are the buckets I’d put the group in.

Locks To Make The Team (100%)

Myles Jack

Near-Locks To Make The Team (95%+)

Devin Bush (if the dude is truly awful this summer, maybe the Steelers just cut their losses – I don’t know what you do with him as a backup)

Inside The Roster Bubble

Robert Spillane (80%)
Marcus Allen (75%)

On The Roster Bubble 

Ulysees Gilbert III (55%)
Buddy Johnson (50%)

Outside Looking In The Roster Bubble

Mark Robinson (25%)

A long way for me to say I see Jack, Bush, Spillane, and Allen making it. Which leaves three names: UG3, Johnson, and Robinson fighting for one spot on the 53 with the other two likely making the practice squad. It should be a really interesting battle this summer and one flying under the radar.

Steelers Depot: 

Alex, can I eat my tacos now?

Alex: It’s not Taco Tuesday but I’m gonna allow you this one time.

stan: If you could add a decent veteran at the minimum salary to two position groups, what would they be?

Alex: I’m more focused on the 90 guys on the roster than a fringe player that won’t move the needle too much, that was the subject of yesterday’s Terrible Take, but RB for sure. A vet there would be nice – finding that name is a bigger challenge. No other position really jumping out to me but I’ll say CB because they’re a little weak depth wise on the outside and you can never have enough corners.

Bill Sechrengost: Hey Alex. I know most of the talk for contract extensions have been either Boswell or Johnson now that Minkah has signed. Do you see anyone else as a possibility for an extension? One guy i thought about was Gentry, but just for second-string money since Freirmuth is going to be number one. Not sure what kind of contract he would generate, though.

Alex: Hey Bill! Nah, I think those are the two dudes. Boswell will get done. Diontae could go either way. I don’t see them doing that with Gentry unless he wanted to take zero money. I think he’ll keep waiting and build his value.

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