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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

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

To your questions!

PainIsOrange: Who makes your remaining practice squad wish list?

Alex: I don’t have many names. I knew there weren’t going to be 16 Steelers coming back and this team would add from the outside relatively aggressively. Would be nice to see WR Tyler Vaughns on there but he may exploring other options knowing how deep the Steelers are at receiver.

Billjump: Who do you prefer to start at qb against the bengals?

Alex: I’d go with Pickett. My criteria for when a rookie QB should start is when he’s ready. Not out of the gate, not sit for a year. A case-by-case basis and I think Pickett’s proven he’s ready to start his NFL career. But I understand Mitch Trubisky is highly likely to be the starting QB and I’m ok with that. I understand the decision. But asking me, let’s start the Kenny Pickett show.

hdogg48: 

Alex…what player on O?
What player on D?

Do you project as this coming year’s most pleasant surprises?

Alex: I’m not sure offensively. Feels like either you’re a pretty proven guy like the skill positions, been hyped up like Pickens, or have question marks like the entire o-line. I’d say Mason Cole. A guy I figured would play ok at center but I think he can be a bit more than that.

Defensively, I’ll say Tre Norwood. More comfortable in his second-year, has increased his physicality though still has to become a more consistent tackler, but he’s an important asset in sub-packages. Good man coverage skills despite average athletic tools and traits. He’ll carve out a key role in the team’s third down/obvious passing package this year.

LonePine JB: Eric Fisher or Daryl Williams to bolster the OL?

Alex: Don’t hold your breath on either. But I am certainly worried about the total lack of tackle depth here. Is Jesse Davis really going to be the team’s swing tackle? To play left tackle? Yikes. Still figuring out why they dumped Joe Haeg. Feels like the wrong move.

D.j. Reynolds: Are you hearing any rumors or speculation on a specific outside target for Steelers PS (or the roster) right now?

Alex: I’m not. But they did just reportedly sign DL Renell Wren to it, who was one our radar back in 2019 when he came out. Checked all the criteria the team looks for.

stan: What do you make of the Steelers only announcing 8 internal PS signings yesterday?
Also, what are the chances that Mason Rudolph plays a game for the Steelers again? I’m still shaking my head that we held onto him. Taking a roster spot and $4M for a third QB when we have two guys clearly ahead of him is just mind-boggling.

Alex: That their depth was poor and some guys got injured, like CB Carlins Platel. So they were going to go outside the organization to fill it, something I predicted and discussed during Wednesday’s podcast. This is the first time Omar Khan and Andy Weidl have really had firm control over the roster so the extra shuffling is of little surprise.

Injuries will dictate if Rudolph plays but he’ll be the #3 QB to open the season. So he’s not in line for snaps out of the gate. I hear what you’re saying but they’re protecting themselves against a 2019-like season when they dealt Dobbs and probably regretted it ten days later when Ben went down for the year. With all the transitions there, they want to be conservative at the game’s most important position.

Daniel Moon: Hey Alex, I just don’t see how you can go with LT Moore. I don’t know what he did during offseason, but he just looks bad out there. The right side should be o.k. with Chuks and Daniels, but the left side will be our weak link unless something is done. What would be your solution for this mess?

Alex: There isn’t a good one. No magical left tackle you can bring in. Just have to work and coach Moore up and hope he gets more comfortable. There was some progress made last week. He’s still a young, second-year guy with another new o-line coach. So hopefully it just gets better. But there’s so overlooked upgrade staring this team in the face. Generally, who you have is who you have. Trades aren’t really an option. No one is giving away quality LTs. O-line talent is so scarce.

PaeperCup: Hey Alex, not sure if you’ve been paying attention to the incredible preseason rookie punters have been having (including araiza before the scandal). Do you feel Presley Harvin was a bad pick, or do you think he can be one of the better punters in the league now seeing what’s out there.

Alex: I was fine with the pick. But how he plays this year will tell you how good of a one it ended up being. Will he be a top punter in the league? I don’t know, probably not. Just getting consistent and average is where I want it to at least reach, though I acknowledge how important the punter might be this year for an offense going through growing pains. Harvin is the first component of the Steelers’ defense.

Henning: Hey Alex, the regular season is almost here! We’ve almost done it, one meh weekend left.^^
If you’d have to give our 3 QBs a rating from 1 to 10 on the QB scale in the NFL. What would you rate each of them going into week 1?

Alex: Based on where they stack up heading into the year? Oh man, I don’t know if I have a good way of answering that. All three played well this summer but none of them are getting 9s-10s for where they’re currently at. Pittsburgh’s quarterback play, right now, isn’t the strength of this roster. Hopefully Pickett can get there. Trubisky can play well and will have good moments but I think it will be up-and-down with him. So I dunno, give him a five or something. Rudolph a 3 and Pickett…we’ll see how it looks once he gets into the regular season.

Sensayshunn: Do you feel like the team as a whole has done enough to compete with a team like Cincinnati?

Alex: It’s hard to compete and sustain and overcome without high-level QB play. QB and o-line are so critical to success and the Steelers’ biggest question marks come at both those spots. I think Pittsburgh will be in the mix, they always are, but how far can they go…probably not as far as Cincy. Their QB is better and their line now is too. They’ve been more aggressive rebuilding it.

Baltimore might take the AFC North crown though. Big proponent of the Ravens making a playoffs this year.

Dan Blocker: Hi Alex! I started about 6 different questions on the O-Line. (I couldn’t view the video you did on Meyer’s system, still trying.) The System? Player Communication? (Assignments to QB cadence)… Why cut Joe Haeg? Will another move be made? **AND**… they’ve all been kind of answered here. Um, Have a great Labor Day!

Alex: You got your move. Trent Scott is back. ….yay? It’s not looking great depth wise on this o-line. Which I guess isn’t a surprise considering the shakiness of the starters. Teams with iffy starters generally have worse depth. Haeg was more expensive and Scott knows the Pat Meyer system well. He’s played under him his entire NFL career. So that’s the reason, I think.

Anthony Palmerston: I was watching one of your youtube videos and you mentioned that everyone is high on Mark Robinson to the point of saying that he should start and you felt like people were gassing him up too much (paraphrasing). Where do you feel that he’s too much of a reliability to start compared to Bush and Spillane?

Alex: Just recognizing the fact that he’s a rookie who played one-year of LB in college. There’s so much he doesn’t know. How to gameplan, how to watch film, they’re all understandable things I’m not holding against him, those will improve, but we can lose sight of some of that stuff over a couple of impressive hits and clips. I like Robinson, I definitely think there’s *something* there but I just want to pump the breaks on him. Plus, he’s never going to be stellar in coverage either. Spillane is next-man-up behind Devin Bush.

Gluebucket: With Calvin Austin on the IR, I know he’s out for 4 game weeks, but when can he start practicing? The impression I had was that he was almost recovered from his injury, so maybe the 4 weeks are so he can “catch a moving train”?

Alex: Good question. Not 100% sure. I believe they can’t until that four-week window has ended and then the player becomes eligible to practice and return. But double-check with Dave because I don’t know if that’s a solid fact.

I think Austin just missed too much time, that foot still wasn’t 100% of the way there, and this is good patience to get him healthy while taking advantage of the good WR depth this team has. Instead of cutting someone like a Steven Sims, who can be used in the receiver perimeter run game like they were going to do with Austin until the injury.

Petherson Silveria: Which pick Eagles would ask Steelers to trade Dillard? A 3rd, a 4rh or a 5th? I think Dillard have already reach his ceiling. Do you agree with that? Do you think he would be a upgrade over Moore?

Alex: I couldn’t tell you. He’s a backup and a free agent to be but still, teams don’t trade good tackle depth and Dilliard has improved. I haven’t watched his game closely but I don’t know if he’s at his ceiling. He’s made real strides this summer. I’m betting they want to hold onto him unless some team made a great offer. They’re trying to push for the NFC East title and get into NFC favorite contention. Not a team trying to sell. Would he be an upgrade? Don’t know how he’d fit into Meyer’s system but yeah, he probably would be.

SteelDodo: Hey Alex,
What percentage of offensive snaps do you think Freiermuth will play this year? Also, do you think he’ll be the same red zone target as he was last year or will his red zone use decrease with Ben gone?
(I’m trying to get ready for my fantasy draft, and I’m thinking Pat will be a great pickup! lol)

Alex: A high amount. I don’t know the exact number. Upwards of 85%+. Don’t see a lot of times where he comes off the field. He’ll be the starter in every personnel package. Maybe give him a breather every now and then but he’s the full-time guy.

Overall targets could be down a bit just given the team’s hopefully not playing catch-up quite as early and often, the terrible 1st quarter/1st half team they were in 2021, and more of a commitment to the run game. They don’t want to throw 600+ times again. He’ll be a good red zone target although he’s competing with a lot of teammates. Freiermuth should make more downfield plays this year. That’s one thing I’m confident in. His YPC will be up from the 8.3 of a year ago. Should be around 10.5. They’ll work him down the seams.

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