Welcome back to your weekly mailbag. A special, random edition that was poorly planned and should’ve been posted earlier in the day. I know camp has screwed up our normal schedule and I’ll be leaving shortly for the Friday Night Lights practice. But wanted to get the mailbag up for you guys to ask questions, though I’ve done my best to answer things in the daily reports. I won’t be able to answer most of these live but will get to them tonight and tomorrow morning. So whatever is on your mind, let me know.
To your questions!
Petherson Silveira: K. Green ou K. Dotson? Who is playing better? Are you seeing a great leap with Okurakor and Dan Moore?
Alex: Dotson has been better. It’s not a massive lead but he’s up on Green. Seeing them in-game will help. Moore has made more progress than Okorafor but that’s logical. He had less experience and was poised to make more of a leap. Being more consistent, handling power rushes better, etc.
412Bern: Hey. Alex! — Has Genard Avery been getting any work with the ILBs, or is he working exclusively with the OLBs? Just wondering if he might be a viable option if Devin Bush falters.
Alex: I actually saw one snap of him in a three OLB package with him as an ILB. But I don’t think he’s next man up. Spillane is Plan B for Bush.
Christopher Pokins: Alex,
Steelers organization has done a fantastic job of signing current players/new players this season. But feel the addition of a current FA OT, or one released during preseason is still needed for insurance for Okorafor. The weapons on offense are very enticing no matter who becomes the starting QB. But can’t stomach another season of an OL letting us down. Your thoughts, and who could be tempting or any possible vets becoming available? Thanks.
Alex: I’d have to look at a list. Most teams are searching for OT help. It’s a scarce position. And those who have it aren’t trying to give it away. Haeg will be top swingman unless there’s a long-term injury to him or a starter. Only way I see this team making a serious move. They did it last year. They’ll do it again.
I think I may be too late, but curious how you think the Oline has looked to this point.
Games will help, but any early returns worth mentioning yet?
Alex: Not too late. Rained out practice will help me answer. Overall, they’re healthy and getting a ton of reps. That’s obviously good. Run-blocking has been better than pass pro. But it will be better judged in-game.
Who is showing to have the biggest year two leap so far?
Also, do you think they’re viewing Austin as a WR or more gadget type of guy so far?
Alex: The weird thing is there are so many guys from the rookie class who don’t feel like still young, second-year players. Those guys got so many snaps last year. I’ve mentioned Isaiahh Loudermilk’s focus on power in his pass rush plan and Dan Moore Jr. is off to a nice start. Of course, other rookies like Harris and Freiermuth have barely practiced and the only UDFA from last year is Donovan Stiner, who has done fine but nothing amazing. We’ll see have Pressley Harvin III looks here once he gets more punts under his belt. But Loudermilk/Moore the two I’d give you.
Austin is certainly used in those “space” plays and jets/pop passes but he’s not Rainey/Archer gadget. He’s a defined WR. His 76 yard TD this camp deep downfield shows that.
David Shoff: Alex, do you think Matt Canada is going to be our offensive coordinator 2 years from now? That sure is a tough question to answer right now!
Alex: Yeah, I really have no idea. Talk to me after this year. A lot rides on what happens in 2022. That’s really all where my focus sits. Sorry I couldn’t give you a better answer.
David Rudin: Alex my man! What is your experience like at Latrobe vs the average fan’s? Do you have a special press only spot where reporters with press passes watch the action? Do you get any additional access to players etc…? Lastly, who are your two biggest surprises thus far: one good, one bad from training camp thus far?
Alex: Nope. Nothing magical of mystical here. I sit in the same spot with the same access as everyone else. But it seems to be working well. I prefer it that way. I couldn’t stand and take notes the way I do now if I was on the grass like the rest of the media.
Surprises…I’d say Jaylen Warren and Mark Robinson. Warren’s fearlessness, Robinson’s movement skills. In terms of one bad, it’s still early but it seems like OG James Daniels has had a tough start. Didn’t expect that.
Dennis Nevinsky: With the way the tight ends are playing, is there a chance they keep 4 of them? Pat Freiermuth, Zach Gentry, Connor Heyward, and Jace Sternberger
Alex: Four would be a stretch, especially with Heyward not getting work as a FB. I don’t think Sternberger has earned that spot yet and Heyward still has a ways to go, frankly. Three is more likely especially knowing they probably keep 6 WRs, could (and should) keep 7 DL, etc.
Mike Frantz: Going into the year the questions are “Is the QB going to be good?” “Is Canada and OL good enough to make the offense..acceptable?” and “Have they fixed the run defense through Jack, Bush improvement, DL health?” We aren’t going to know these answers for a while, but are we headed in the right direction from what you can see?
Alex: It’s still so early. I’d like to think the o-line and run defense are moving that way. QB…jury still out, probably not looking great. But what they do at camp versus Week One at Cincinnati are two vastly different things. So hard to gauge.
PaeperCup: Hi Alex! From what we’ve seen thus far, we know we are in a better position with our oline. How much better?
Alex: It’s really hard to tell. They’re healthy, they’re working together, and those are things that didn’t happen last year. That should help speed up the learning curve. Making mistakes and growing now as opposed to when the games count. But I want to see the group in a stadium. Where QBs can get hit, you know?
DoctorNoah: Reading your camp reports, most of the 7v7 and team sessions seem focused on shorter passes. Do we have any indication of whether we are going to have the potential for a strong intermediate or long passing game in Canada’s offense?
Alex: Probably not yet. Sometimes that’s based on the QB. Most route combinations have something working downfield. 7v7 is typically shorter because there’s more underneath windows that open up. No DL to bat down passes. QBs who can step up, no one is scrambling around in these sessions. Ball comes out on time more. But they’ll occasionally take deep shots there too.
DoctorNoah: Alex, two questions; (1) how confident do you feel in our first and second string Outside CB’s right now? Are we clearly in better shape than what we had with Haden? (2) how would you characterize the slot defender battle?
Alex: Well Wallace hasn’t played much so I don’t have much of an evaluation. But Witherspoon and Sutton have looked good. Gotta check on Sutton with that knee but I don’t think it’s incredibly serious, though he probably misses some time. Sutton should be in the slot with Wallace/Witherspoon and that won’t be much of a battle. Behind that, Maulet has been next man up. Interesting to see Damontae Kazee’s role when Minkah returns full. I imagine they want to find ways to get him on the field.
RedzC: How’s Derek Watt been looking in camp this year? Do you think he’ll finally see a more expanded role in the offense this season?
Alex: He’s been fine. Don’t have a lot of notes. But he’s definitely the only FB. Connor Heyward isn’t taking his exact role. Watt may be on the field a bit more, some of that is gameflow dependent, but I don’t think he touches it a lot. Some boots/playactions in the flat so I guess his role could expand but it’ll still be sparse.