Ask Alex: Steelers’ Mailbag

Welcome back to the mailbag.

To your questions!

PaeperCup: 

Hey Alex, being the professional that you are your articles are often objective and impartial, your comments often are as well.

But I’d love to hear your personal opinion on the JuJu Suspension and how it compares to the other disciplinary or lack thereof handed down this weekend and in the past.

Prayers to our brother, Ryan Shazier.

Alex: Obviously, the NFL is being inconsistent. Like always. The Steelers have a gripe. No one knows the rules. No one knows what a catch is. No one knows what a punishment entails anymore. Gronk gets a game, JuJu gets a game, Iloka gets his overturned, Richard Rodgers last week doesn’t get suspended for a similar hit he put on Sean Davis.

Like I said, it’s all optics-driven by the NFL. So that’s naturally going to create inconsistency because the league isn’t looking at the actual play itself. Just the reaction. I get Mike Mitchell’s frustration. He’s done a great job of evolving his game to play within the rules. But you’re always trying to catch up and figure things out.

The Tony: Now that Shazier is probably done for the season, what are the Steelers options at middle linebacker? Is Moats an actual contender? Could we see more Randal Gay there?

Alex: Maybe we’ll see Jo-Jo Smith-Schooster….

We’ll see if Spence gets the job this week, assuming Matakevich is out. But I assume that if/when Dirty Red gets healthy, he’ll be given his job back. Moats is more of an emergency because of how thin they are at the moment. It’s not something I would expect to see long-term.

Grant Humphrey: Hey Alex,
Do you think that eventually that Sean Spence could overtake L.J. Fort on the depth chart at some point this season?

Alex: Based on reports yesterday, it sounds like he already has.

Michael Stickings: The Daves have talked about this on the podcast now and then, but I was wondering, as a younger person yourself, and obviously as a huge football/Steelers fan, what do you see as the future of the sport, and of the NFL in particular? What are your main concerns about the game now, and do you see any remedies. We heard what Mitchell said, and he’s right — it’s a violent game, and the players know it. But the future seems bleaker than ever before, and probably for good reason.

Alex: I think those are all very good and important questions and points you raise, Michael. Honestly, I just haven’t thought about it a lot. I’m very much an “in the moment” guy. I don’t like thinking about stuff five or ten years down the road in anything really, even my own life. My outlook is that sometimes, people who focus too much on the long-term don’t spend time on the short-term so they can reach those “down the road” goals.

That doesn’t totally apply to something like the future of football but like I said, just my mindset of not thinking too much about it. I don’t see the sport going away. It’s like a bank. Too big to fail.

I guess my biggest concern, in terms of how well support the sport will be, is how the youth level will be affected. Because it well be. Fewer parents will let their kids play. You’re going to have small high schools that don’t have enough players and end up cutting their programs (especially with budget crunches being felt throughout the country in public schools. PA has been hit pretty hard). And that’s going to have a, I guess, trickle-up effect.

I don’t know of a remedy. I guess just information and knowledge. That’s why the info on concussions is so valuable. You can’t stop them from happening. But you can be a lot smarter about how to handle them when they do. It’s a changing of the culture, which takes time. But it for the greater good.

Don’t know if any of that really helps. Just sorta typing out whatever is immediately jumping to my mind.

Brian Tollini: Martavius Bryant looks like a completely different player than what we saw in 2015. I thought he was one of the more talented players in the NFL that season, but this season has been (mostly) a mess for him. Is this more mental than physical?

Alex: It’s hard for me to assess where he’s at mentally. Like I’ve always said, he seems engaged in the games. He’s doing the dirty work. His blocking this year has been as good as it’s ever been. The effort shows. It’s not like he’s checked out and going through the motions. He knows he needs to play well, get paid, make some serious money in this league.

I’ll just wait for the year to end. For all we know, he has one great regular season game, lights it up in the playoffs, and the conversation shifts.

PghDSF: Do foresee Spence the starter this week and the rest of the year?

Alex: This week. Probably. We’ll see what happens when Matakevich returns. It’s probably his spot but if Spence plays well…

ThatGuy: Reports are that Harrison is dressing this week, how much of a factor do you think he will have the rest of the year, if any?

Alex: Limited. Think of Moats’ role on defense. Couple of snaps.

Will say this week could be different. Baltimore, so if there’s ever a time you want to unleash Deebo, this is it. And on a short week, like the Titans game, you tend to get more of a rotation. So Deebo probably sees 10-15 snaps this week. Beyond that, yeah, limited.

Beaver Falls Hosiery: Hi Alex; sad news about Ryan Shazier; hope he has a full recovery; time for others to step up.
Assuming Ryan is out for rest of season; how do you see the defense playing out – will it alter the schemes?

Alex: No, I don’t think it alters the schemes. Unless Ben gets hurt, the scheme isn’t going to change a whole lot. It’s December. What you do is basically what you do at this point. Can’t overhaul things.

CP72: Alex,
Win or lose to New England do you start monitoring Le’Veon’s usage after that game for a fresh playoff run?

Alex: Well I think you’re always monitoring his usage but yeah, I get what you mean. I would do it whenever there isn’t anything else to play for. When you’ve locked up all you can lock up. The goal is homefield throughout so if that’s still on the table, you operate like normal. If you have gone as far as you can go by Week 16, then you adjust. Keep the philosophy simple. That’s my approach.

Michael: Having said this, the Steelers as a professional organization obviously have to think about the future, too. Did the need for a high-round ILB in the next draft just skyrocket?

Alex: There’s a lot of time to figure that stuff out. We’ll see where his recovery is at in a couple of months. I don’t think anyone knows that answer right now.

stan: Neither Matakevich nor Fort looked ready for prime time on Monday. If Moats is good enough to be in the mix for a starter this week, why didn’t he get a shot on Monday?

Alex: Mostly because he hadn’t taken any reps there. Even as a vet, you can’t just start playing the position on the fly. You play the guys who practiced there. So Fort was the next man up.

Bryant Eng: What is up with the over look!!! And, does it make sense to take a look at FA S Calvin Pryor as a move LB?

Alex: No to Pryor. Over look….yeah, not my favorite Butler scrapped it for a few weeks after Jacksonville. Brought it back and he simplified it (only Heyward lines up as the 3T now) with some better results. But I hear ya, Bryant.

Lambert58: Hey Alex, any chance they try Bud at the Mack? He has the size, speed and explosiveness to be effective, maybe even more effective than on the outside. What say you?

Alex: I hear what you’re saying but I think you want to try to see him at OLB through. He isn’t Jarvis Jones-bad. And for this year, you don’t want to keep shifting around key pieces to fill one spot.

Darth Blount 47: Hey, Alex! I’ve seen the idea of moving Watt inside and playing Deebo/Chick at his spot. Instead of telling me why it won’t happen, can you tell me if you think it is a good idea or not. And therefore what would be the net-positives or negatives of making such a move. I always kinda lean towards getting the best players all on the field, while also enhancing the versatility of a player who can handle such roles. Thanks!

Alex: I don’t think it’s a good idea. Let Watt stay where he’s at. Flourish there. Sean Davis got screwed up when the Steelers asked him to play corner and safety last season. Watt can be a really special OLB. I don’t want to risk or delay that.


Thanks for the chat, guys. Talk soon.

About the Author

Alex Kozora

Full-time blogger from mom’s basement. Marrying tape and statistics. Chidi Iwuoma is my favorite Steeler of all-time.

  • The Tony

    Now that Shazier is probably done for the season, what are the Steelers options at middle linebacker? Is Moats an actual contender? Could we see more Randal Gay there?

  • PaeperCup

    Hey Alex, being the professional that you are your articles are often objective and impartial, your comments often are as well.

    But I’d love to hear your personal opinion on the JuJu Suspension and how it compares to the other disciplinary or lack thereof handed down this weekend and in the past.

    Prayers to our brother, Ryan Shazier.

  • falconsaftey43

    Haha, I see what you did there.

  • Grant Humphrey

    Hey Alex,
    Do you think that eventually that Sean Spence could overtake L.J. Fort on the depth chart at some point this season?

  • Hey Alex. I’ve been a football fan since the mid-’70s, when as a kid growing up in Montreal I fell in love with the Steelers. And I still think it’s an amazing game. But as for a lot of people, it’s becoming more and more of a guilty pleasure given not so much the violence itself but what we know about the harm that violence is doing to players. I’m not talking about the Shazier incident as much as I am about the longer-term damage of playing — head injuries, mostly, but not only that. The Daves have talked about this on the podcast now and then, but I was wondering, as a younger person yourself, and obviously as a huge football/Steelers fan, what do you see as the future of the sport, and of the NFL in particular? What are your main concerns about the game now, and do you see any remedies. We heard what Mitchell said, and he’s right — it’s a violent game, and the players know it. But the future seems bleaker than ever before, and probably for good reason.

  • Brian Tollini

    Martavius Bryant looks like a completely different player than what we saw in 2015. I thought he was one of the more talented players in the NFL that season, but this season has been (mostly) a mess for him. Is this more mental than physical?

  • PghDSF

    Do foresee Spence the starter this week and the rest of the year?

  • ThatGuy

    Reports are that Harrison is dressing this week, how much of a factor do you think he will have the rest of the year, if any?

  • PaeperCup

    Although I think his strengths are in that deep ball, I’m happy they are using him in other ways, because those long shots just weren’t working out.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Hi Alex; sad news about Ryan Shazier; hope he has a full recovery; time for others to step up.
    Assuming Ryan is out for rest of season; how do you see the defense playing out – will it alter the schemes?

  • PaeperCup

    James playing ILB?

  • ThatGuy

    If they decide to play him at all.

  • CP72

    Alex,
    Win or lose to New England do you start monitoring Le’Veon’s usage after that game for a fresh playoff run?

  • Thanks, Alex. Yes, it’s a tough thing to think about, and it’s certainly okay not to have firm answers. I certainly don’t. I try to enjoy it because for whatever reason I spend more time thinking about football and the Steelers than about any other sport or favourite team, including the Montreal Canadiens. I just don’t think I could stop being a fan. Even when the league frustrates me, or the team does, or whatever. Sure, maybe some singular event — like, say, a more devastating injury to a player — would convince me, but I just know I love the game, and I can tell simply by how I feel watching the Steelers play (that pit in my stomach), how much I look forward to reading this site and listening to the podcast, etc.

    That said, I don’t play the game other than throwing a ball around now and then. I’ve never played it competitively (I’ve stuck mostly to baseball and soccer, with some hockey as a kid), and I know I wouldn’t want my kids to play (at least the tackle version). I’d even be concerned about my kids playing hockey these days, and over time I think this will even weaken that sport here in Canada — maybe not by much, but to some extent. And I see that happening in the U.S. with football as well. Funny, as the NFL continues to be the country’s biggest league, football may actually be shrinking into more of a niche sport for players — popular in places like the Rust Belt and the South, but weakening even there.

  • Michael James

    First of all: Prayers for Shazier and for a full-recovery!

    Having said this, the Steelers as a professional organization obviously have to think about the future, too. Did the need for a high-round ILB in the next draft just skyrocket?

  • Alex Kozora

    Right. I won’t stop being a fan.

  • stan

    Neither Matakevich nor Fort looked ready for prime time on Monday. If Moats is good enough to be in the mix for a starter this week, why didn’t he get a shot on Monday?

  • Bryant Eng

    What is up with the over look!!! And, does it make sense to take a look at FA S Calvin Pryor as a move LB?

  • Bryant Eng

    No one said he is in the mix to start, just needs reps there in case of injury.

  • stan

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen a middle linebacker picked on as much as Matakevich was in his brief time on the field. It seemed like every run and throw was at him. And, though he made the tackle on a lot of those plays, the tackle came after there was a big gain. It made me question whether he’ll ever be good enough to play regular downs given his lack of size and speed.

  • Lambert58

    Hey Alex, any chance they try Bud at the Mack? He has the size, speed and explosiveness to be effective, maybe even more effective than on the outside. What say you?

  • Darth Blount 47

    Hey, Alex! I’ve seen the idea of moving Watt inside and playing Deebo/Chick at his spot. Instead of telling me why it won’t happen, can you tell me if you think it is a good idea or not. And therefore what would be the net-positives or negatives of making such a move. I always kinda lean towards getting the best players all on the field, while also enhancing the versatility of a player who can handle such roles. Thanks!

  • Lambert58

    Was thinking the same thing, except for Bud. Chick has been very good at times.

  • LucasY59

    is The Tony Gruden? WhoTF is Randal? since when did the Steelers use a MLB?

  • Ray Istenes

    If Spence can walk in here and start against Baltimore. Then why was he not on this roster in place of Fort 4-6 weeks ago.
    I know Fort is a STer but so was Spence during his limited time in Pgh.

  • stan

    I was thinking the same thing. I guess the team wanted to give Matakevich and Fort a chance to see what they could do? Maybe its because Spence is due the veteran minimum and is therefore more epxensive?

  • Darth Blount 47

    Yeah, it’s a bit strange, if only because I could have swore we were in “Win now” mode. I get that long-term, Watt is going to be a good OLB. But is he really so explosive and good at the spot right now, where he couldn’t be moved? Timmons started his career on the Outside and then moved Inside and I think that worked out pretty well.

    If Watt has the athleticism, smarts, and speed to play ILB, and that means we can get Harrison back on the field, and let Chickillo play more, I think that may be better FOR THE TEAM than Sean Spence or LJ Fort or Tyler Matakevich, being on the field for a ton of snaps every single game. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe Spence or Fort or Dirty Red will surprise, but ILB is going to start getting attacked over our middle and Watt has already flashed the ability to cover the field and make heady plays.

    Like I said in my question, if and when possible, I always lean towards wanting the BEST players on the field when I can get them out there.

    To be honest, I never thought about moving Bud, but I see your reasoning as well.

  • Sam Clonch

    If I was the opposing OC, I would have done the same thing. Just the drop off from Shazier, probably the most athletic LB in the league (ever?), to a guy who by all accounts has always been a sub-par athlete with good instincts. Actually, we did do that every time Burfict was out, went right after his replacement. Wasn’t as obvious because the drop off wasn’t as severe. No, I think Tyler’s ceiling is backup and maybe ST ace. Which is as much as you can really expect from a 7th round pick.

  • Sam Clonch

    Need definitely went up a notch. Too early to say Shaz won’t be back next year though. FA is always an option as well. (James Farrior maybe the best FA signing in Steelers history)

  • Lambert58

    I’m with you, Darth. Absolutely, we are in Win Now mode. And I concur that getting the best players on the field is a good idea, and moving them wherever necessary to solidify this defense. Watt would be great inside, but I said Bud because his straight line and side to side explosiveness is even better than his ability to turn the corner on the edge. But having said all that, I hope the coaches are open to whatever adjustments need to be made to keep this defense at a championship level for a Super Bowl run. We can worry about next year, next year.

  • Ray Istenes

    True but we are saving $1M with the Gilbert suspension.
    Then again you don’t expect to lose your starter and backup in the same game.

  • John

    At least he finally looks competent. He will catch a deep ball on someone. He should also have an underneath catch and long run. Maybe against Houston.

  • John

    The spinal stabilization probably means the end of Shazier’s career. That is a real shame but hopefully he will be healthy for other things. And yes, I think it means we need to draft ILB in the first three rounds next year. We also need a new best defensive player which makes it hard for the future.

  • WeWantDaTruth

    Can we coax Patrick Willis out of retirement?….only 32 yrs old. 49ers probably still own his rights.