Welcome back to your weekly mailbag. Our 350th, by the way, so thanks for making that happen. As always, we’re here for the next hour to answer whatever is on your mind.
To your questions!
NohSpinZone: Have been meaning to ask you this hypothetical. Would the Steelers have been a better team with Wirfs (or some other first-round tackle) and Humphrey instead of Najee and Muth?
Alex: I don’t do too well with those questions. I don’t like trying to think back and piece it all together. Who knows. Obviously, you want to build teams inside out and if I could go back in time, I would’ve taken Humphrey over Freiermuth. Humphrey was the guy I wanted this team to take so I’m bummed it didn’t happen. But if Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth are the “consequences” of that, I can live with that. They drafted two really quality players and it’s hard to be too upset, even if yeah, I think the team would be in a better place if Humphrey was a Steeler over Freiermuth.
Thank you for the great insight during training camp with the articles and podcast. I look forward to those every day!
Assuming Larry O has a similar season as he did last year and Alex highsmith makes a jump and finishes the season with better production. Who would you sign to an extension if you could only pick 1?
Alex: Thanks David! Glad you enjoyed. Good question. Good problem to have. I’d go Highsmith though. Younger and those EDGE rushers have always been crucial to the Steelers’ system. You want a good defense, you need good pass rushers. To have him and Watt locked up long-term, that’s a strong place to be.
That doesn’t ignore the need or importance of the d-line, Pittsburgh’s great defenses have had pretty good defensive lines too, but you have some younger guys behind in Loudermilk and Leal. There isn’t that young up-and-comer at OLB. Highsmith is that guy. So I’d take him. But I’d love to have both play well and be in that situation. Those decisions would be at different points too with Ogunjobi a free agent this March and a Highsmith extension likely not happening until at least May/June.
David Rudin: Hey Alex,
With such bad offensive line play across the board, could part of the problem be Meyers the new offensive line coach? It’s not like he’s a Munchak with unassailable credentials. Maybe he’s not doing a good enough job instructing them or maybe his philosophy just doesn’t work in this situation.
Alex: Potentially! That’s something we’ll learn more about along the way. I certainly see the issues in what Meyer’s teaches. It’s a more risk/reward system. Win early or lose ugly. That’s sort of how it plays out. I think he’s a good teacher. I don’t think he’s unclear in what he wants. I think guys are just adjusting to a new way of doing things…again. And there are growing pains along the way. Similar to how things looked last year under a new OC in Matt Canada.
But ultimately, the line goes on the coaches’ resume and Meyer will get blamed if this group doesn’t turn it around. Meyer’s job is to fix it. That’s the bottom line.
srdan: What did the Steelers see in Shoebert that the broncos didn’t?
Alex: I really couldn’t answer that. The Broncos had an injury and brought Schobert in as more flier-depth. Schobert also lives in the area and apparently was knocking down the door trying to get signed by them. So maybe that played a role in why they signed him and why they moved on so quickly. Another year of Schobert’s meh-level play hurt his value. It’s been a couple years since he played as well as he did in Cleveland. The longer you’re removed from that, the less teams think of you. That’s basically what happened. Schobert went from starter to middling free agent. It’s the NFL, that can happen in a hurry.
Steel PAul: Alex, I’m curious what your expectations are with this new offense and QB for Freiermuth. Do you see his usage being increased, and how might it be different than last year (for instance, middle seam routes added, etc..) Thanks!!
Alex: I see Freiermuth bettering the 8.3 yards per catch he had last season. He will be used vertically between the numbers more than he was as a rookie. He will have a catch longer than 24 yards, his long in 2021. But generally, he’ll play the Smith-Schuster role, the sure-handed underneath option and low red zone target. His per-game numbers may tick down a bit if the Steelers are able to run more/run more effectively but aside from the seam routes you mentioned, I imagine it’ll look similar.
stan: What do you think the trade market would be for Mason at this point? If they can’t deal him, do you think the team might cut him to save the $3M in cap space?
Alex: I could see a team or two interested. It’s not going to be hot but a team may inquire. I think that’s realistic. Other teams are surely well aware of Rudolph and the Steelers’ situation. No, I don’t see him being cut. He either stays as the #3/insurance policy or is traded.
Jake Sas: Alex is it even possible at this point to add a quality starter? Seems like we need help along
all positions of the line and I just don’t see anyone dropping or trading any quality starters at this point.
Alex: It’s sure tough to do. Everyone’s looking for o-line help and the few teams who have it aren’t looking to give it away. At least not cheaply. I haven’t gone through a list of options yet but the Eagles’ OT Andre Dillard might be their best bet. First-round pedigree, still young, pretty cheap, and Andy Weidl knows him from his time in Philadelphia. Dillard is in the last year of his rookie deal though, which does complicate things a tad. I do expect this team to at the least add a waiver claim before Week One. Who and where, I’m not really sure.
But generally speaking, there aren’t any White Knights bursting down the Steelers’ door. What you got is what you got. And they gotta try to make it work.
Jerry Reid: There will be an even larger caveat when it comes to any success players have against the Lions than usual. With that considered, do you think its better or worse for the Steelers’ last preseason game to be against a hungry team looking to prove itself with unproven players? Or would it be better to see them against a proven team whose starters might not be playing with 100% effort?
Alex: I don’t think about that a lot. I’m more concerned about what the Steelers are doing. I assume that anyone on that field is playing pretty hard. No one likes to lose, to get beat. It’s a pride thing. There’s a point about evaluating who you’re facing, a starter versus backup, and how good the man across from you is, so I’m happy they’ll go against starters. But hungry vs not hungry, that’s all just a lot of guessing.
jger15: In addition to Roche, any outside EDGE options you see the team pursuing if Rashed/Scott/Carter have below-the-line performances on Sunday?
Alex: I hadn’t yet looked at names. Roche was just an easy one to dot-connect. But the Giants are dealing with injuries to their DEs so Roche may stay. I’ll look more after this week.
Training camp thoughts about this year’s draft picks? We know the QB in Round 7 appears wasted (even if you predicted it correctly) but did you see why the other picks were made and hope for their success?
Alex: Oladokun aside, and it’s not his fault, the draft picks look good. Pickett’s progression, Pickens’ potential, and Leal looks quick with good hand usage. Something I was worried about when he added 20+ pounds. He runs hard to the ball. Still need to see more from his run defense, that was my primary concern, but it was a good camp for Leal. Austin made plays before he got hurt, Heyward is a niche player but an interesting one at that, and Robinson is equal parts high-energy and high-impact. Have to see how it looks when the games count but this class is showing early promise.
falconsaftey43: What’s your over/under for combined offensive snaps that Derek Watt and Conor Heyward have?
Alex: Hmm, good question. Watt played 87 snaps last season. I do expect this team to run some more heavier sets this year, though when you have Johnson/Claypool/Pickens as a top three, you’re not going to want to ignore 11 either. Both their time will be sporadic and a bit game-dependent. Neither will be playing a lot if the Steelers are down 17 mid-way through the third quarter.
I’ll say 175 combined between Watt and Heyward. About 16% of the total offensive snaps (assuming 1100 total). A combined average of ten per game. That feels about right.
Jarvis Ragdoll Jones: Alex, the Steelers are crawling along at say 2-5 or 3-4 but Mitch is playing well. A team sitting at 5-2 loses their starting QB. Wouldn’t it make sense to trade Mitch? He would still have a year and a half left on a team friendly deal and would be a high value acquisition for the trade partner. Based on the small sample we have seen, Pickett will be the starter next year. Why not get max value for Trubisky while giving Pickett a half a season tune up. What do you think?
Alex: I get the thought, though I’m wondering how the team is 2-5 and Trubisky is playing well. But that’s a pretty heavy disruption in the middle of the season. Trade your starting QB. Not something I’d expect to happen. That’d be more of an offseason thing where a Trubisky trade would become a bit more realistic. But you’re offering a lot of variables that are hard to speak on here.