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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Hey everyone. Unfortunately, doing the first offseason mailbag earlier than what any of us hoped for. But here we are.

To your questions!

Steelers12: I know Safety and linebacker is a need but i believe we need a true NT who can stuff the run and push the pocket. On offense i believe a scat back in the late rounds could turn our offense up another notch. Also if Lamar Jackson falls to us in 1st round would u grab him and have him sit behind ben for 3 years? What are your thoughts?

Alex: Hargrave is fine. There’s no need to try to find his replacement. Bring in a “true” Hampton type and then you’ll yearn for the days of having an extra pass rusher. All DL who want to start need to be able to get to the QB. Remember Hargrave had a bad back down the stretch. Didn’t play a ton Sunday because of it.

Sure, maybe that take that kind of runner. Track record isn’t great. We’ll see.

For Jackson, I don’t think you’ll need to take Jackson that early. I don’t want to take a QB this year anyway. Get talent around Ben for a Super Bowl run instead of trying to find a QB who *might* lead you to one in the next decade. Need talent early and another mid-round QB is somehow even more wasteful.

Intense Camel: Does the steelers FO hate defense?

Alex: Yes. That’s why they drafted defense in the first round in seven of the last nine drafts and in the second round in three of the last four. And why they signed Joe Haden right before the year began.

Micah Walker: If you could have your pick of linebackers to fit our D, and replace Shazier (feel terrible saying this) would you rather have R.Evans, T.Edmunds or M.Jefferson?

Alex: I’m going to need more time to answer that. Edmunds might be at the top of my list. Rangy, athletic, smart guy. Evans probably won’t be the pick. Colbert avoids those Bama boys (hasn’t drafted one in his entire tenure).

My focus has been on Senior Bowl guys. Dorian O’Daniel is interesting. Undersized but super athletic. He’ll jump off the tape and put up big numbers at the Combine.

Scott Prosser: Where would you rank Tomlin’s onside kick in relation to other playoff coaching blunders? I put it right up there with Morninwheg deciding to kick off after winning the overtime coin toss.

Alex: It’s up there. But I guess that just shows a lack of trust in his defense. If it were me, no chance I’m kicking it onside. There’s what, a 10% chance of recovering it? As bad as the defense was, there’s definitely better than a 10% chance of the defense forcing a three and out. I’d say at least, picking out a number, a 33% chance, and that’s from the biggest pessimist.

Chenyan Xiong: 

Hi Alex,
Thanks a lot for your posts.

I am wondering what do you think is the biggest issue that resulted in Bud Dupree’s under performing this year. In another words, if you pick one thing to suggest him to work on, what will be it?

Also, do you think we can get a good edge-rusher in the second day of the draft? If so, what will be the top candidates (e.g. those you will pay special attention to during the senior bowl?)

Alex: Well I’ve wondered about Dupree’s shoulder injury throughout the year. But I’m just looking for him to create more power in his rushes. To find that bull rush, to have that inside threat, so tackles can’t sit on him going wide on every rep. Being able to convert speed to power is big for him. He has the size and length to be successful. Just haven’t seen it yet.

Yeah, good edge rushers are always there. I haven’t watched a lot of pass rushers for the Senior Bowl. There’s a kid from UTSA who is really impressive. Another Wisconsin kid too who is athletic and lined up everywhere.

MattHat121: Alex – Could you list the reasons why PIT defense was unable to slow down JAX offense on Sunday, in order of impact? Or are they too numerous? I know that when it’s that bad there’s usually a number of reasons, but we’re all trying to diagnose it so we can opine on offseason changes that need to be made.

Alex: Oh man, pretty much every reason you could think of.

1. Just not physical enough. Like David Todd said, they got their butt kicked at the line of scrimmage. DL getting carried to the linebackers. Linebackers (Spence especially) not getting off blocks. Guys on the ground. No push at the LOS.

2. Jaguars outscheming Pittsburgh. Just some really good concepts to take advantage of the Steelers’ tendencies. Can’t go into it all here but things like Cole’s long catch, some of the route combinations they used vs zone to flood it. Hackett called a good game for them.

3. Some weird alignment/concepts from Butler. Some blitz concepts that made it near impossible to contain Bortles. Some stuff where the LBs had to work through too much trash. Butler is taking some of the blame, too, obviously.

4. Jacksonville getting a lead. That’s their game. That’s their identity. Get the lead, ball control, wear you down.

PTownSteelTown: What type of players are needed at each position to perfectly fit the Butler/Tomlin defense, and why? Lebeau’s defense and the roles of each player position made sense. Our defense seems conflicted in its design: penetrating linemen with 3 DL on the line; smaller, faster LBs adept at coverage, and man-to-man cover corners with enforcer-type safeties scream a poor run defense unless the safeties are exceptional, but giving up regular chunks on the ground should be expected. Are they banking on making teams play from behind?

Alex: Oh man, that requires a really length answer. But you’re on the right track. DL who are athletes, can rush the passer, smart guys who can align all over the front and for John Mitchell, high effort guys. That’s a must.

Linebackers. Outside guys. Guys comfortable moving in space, rerouting in coverage, not always aligned in the box. Physical guys who can blitz through the interior and set a physical edge vs the run. Inside guys. Tough. Smart. Good blitzers, able to win one-on-ones with the back. Mack has to be able to carry #3 down the seam or get depth in Cover 2. Better zone guys than man.

Corners: it’s evolving. Less of an emphasis on stopping the run. Guys who can press, bump at the LOS, play the ball in the air. Nickel corner has to be great blitzer, anticipator, run defender.

Safeties: SS still needs to be the biggest playmaker on the field. Comfortable being in the box, playing strong run defense. Good instincts to rob crossing routes in zone coverage. Size and physicality to take the Y tight end in man coverage. Also a good blitzer. SS is second most often blitzed position than nickel corner. FS has to have range, play in tons of space. Always aligned deep, rarely in the box. A great communicator.

Jeff Warrenfeltz: If Bell refuses the franchise tag, and the Steelers’ contract offer comes in below what Bell wants, do you see the Steelers letting Bell walk and signing a free agent RB to compete? Someone like Carlos Hyde or Dion Jones.

Alex: No, I wouldn’t let him walk. By the time you get to that sort of impasse, you’re well into training camp. So there isn’t anything in free agency. Bell’s going to have to accept to play on the tag or come down on his long-term number. Mostly the signing bonus.

Darth Blount 47: Hey Alex, let’s take a trip through the multi-verse. I had a bunch of New England Patriot – centric questions prepared for our AFC Championship mailbag, but apparently I’m not the only deity with a wicked sense of humor. So, as Head Coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, the mandate comes down to you that you have to fire Keith Butler. The rub is, continuing an apparent trend, you MUST hire a former Steeler player to coach the D. Who do you now hire and why?

Alex: Ha, wow, so specific. Can I choose William Gay? He might be one someday.

If I can’t choose someone still on the roster (for now)…Kevin Greene? Not sure what my other options are. Deshea Townsend is having success as a coach. Nick Eason? But probably Greene.

MP34: Alex, how can the 2018 defense be any better with likely rookies at ILB and S? Won’t a free agent be necessary at one of those spots?

Alex: Don’t focus on the label of a rookie. Just focus on the talent. Watt has a big upgrade. JuJu had a fantastic rookie year. Sutton did well even after coming back from injury. It’s all about talent. And I promise it won’t be hard to find a better option than Sean Spence.

COSteel: I am in the “Tag Bell and get a long term extension done” Camp, however, if that was not to work out, how viable is it for a tag-n-trade kinda deal? And, hypothetically if that were to happen, could they swing a deal to grab PSU’s Barkley or someone of that caliber? Thoughts?

Alex: It’s pretty rare. I think I read Matt Cassel was the last player traded on the tag back in 2009. So don’t expect it. If Bell were floated in a trade, I imagine you’re getting a nice haul for him. It’s tricky with how much money he commands, not every team will be ready to take that one, especially if it’s late in the year and cap space has been chewed up. But the Patriots got Cassel for an early second rounder…so Bell is fetching a first.

Grant Humphrey: Hey Alex,
I know that the Steelers aren’t a team that’s going to build through free agency, but are there any affordable free agent’s that you like this year?

Alex: I’m sure there will be. But I haven’t spent any time on looking over a list. Season just ended. Let’s see who is likely to become available. No use in talking about it now if half those guys are going to be re-signed.

Michael J Huelett: With teams dominating the league with 4 DL, don’t you think it would be wise for Us to go 1st Round DL/Edge. Seattle was really ahead of the curve. Now you have teams like Jax, Min, Phi, Atl, LAR, & some others.

Alex: Well you’re talking about all 4-3 defenses. That’s why they’re drafting DL. Different scheme in Pittsburgh. I did tweet out the idea of having more of a rotation at OLB. Steelers want guys who can play 95% of the time. Maybe that doesn’t work anymore? Because like you said, the even fronts always have a deep group of pass rushers. Guys stay fresh, both in game and during the season.

Of course, it’s a lot harder to find a rotation of OLBs than it is DE. Linebackers gotta be able to do it all. Rush, cover, blitz from a variety of spots, align everywhere. DEs just gotta get after the QB. There really isn’t a “situational” pass rusher at OLB like there is at DE, a Cam Wake type.

And the Steelers, clearly, have had trouble just finding two OLBs, let alone a third.

steellife007: With all that said, do you see this being another defensive heavy draft like I do? And also, I feel we need to address ILB and cover safety early and maybe even double down on one of them or possibly even both, but I also feel we need to add a pass rusher who can win one-on-one battles when butler’s scheme doesn’t get home. I held our hope for Dupree but he has yet to show me this on a weekly basis…your thoughts?

Alex: Definitely. If it isn’t defense heavy, there’s a serious problem. Go defense the first four rounds and I won’t be mad.

NickSteelerFan: Hey Alex! I hate that we are in draft season already, but I do enjoy it!
If Mike Mitchell were to be a cap casualty, would you prefer drafting a solid SS and moving Sean Davis to FS, or would you keep Davis where he is and draft a FS?

Alex: Just get me a new FS. It’s like offensive linemen. Don’t move one guy to try to fix a spot. Just find a replacement. I’m not convinced Davis is the FS type anyway. Better athlete but how much has he really shown in coverage? Don’t move him around, make him learn a new spot, and stunt his growth. Focus on SS and have a great year in 2018 – he needs it.

Kevin Reich: Do you use 2019 draft picks to make one last run for next year.

Alex: It’s always an option. The Steelers generally stand pat in the first round (rarely move up, never move down). In the later rounds, it all depends on who is there and the deal on the table. Unpredictable – that’s the fun of the draft. Any 2019 picks getting dealt either happens in the draft or in camp. So that stuff is a ways off.

CP72: Hi Alex,
Thought you made a really interesting point on Twitter. You said the Steelers defense lacks an identity. With the current personnel, that isn’t likely to change much, what identity should they have that would play to there strengths?

Alex: That is a tough question. Some of that will be shaped by the offseason. New face at ILB, could be a new face at FS. That may shape the identity. Beyond that, it’s tough to say. I guess I’d have to think about it. Like I wrote on Twitter, I wrestled coming up with an answer.

Micah Walker: Ronnie Harrison or Justin Reid?

Alex: My draft focus so far has been o the Senior Bowl guys. So I can’t give you a good answer yet. Sorry. We’ll start our draft reports up soon though.

John Westbrook: How big will FA play a part in making this defense better?

Alex: Probably not a lot, considering the tricky cap situation they’re in. Best you can ask for is an Alualu equivalent signing at nose tackle or inside linebacker or something like that.

Zach6432: Who walks in free agency this year?

Alex: Hubbard really the only guy you’d like to have back who is going to test. But that’s fine – he’s certainly earned it and should get paid.

jger15: I keep thinking about David Todd’s point on Monday’s podcast regarding Team IQ. Curious on your thoughts on the best way to quantify that.

Alex: I generally agree with what David Todd said and how he explained it. Making smart plays in situational football. Being good communicators. Nor hurting yourself or the team. All the details.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, are you afraid of making too many cash over cap moves and moving too much salary into the future? Are you fearful of going back to the salary cap pergutory we were in towards the beginning of the decade?

Alex: Well it’s not my money so I don’t worry too much about it. No, I’m not. You need to win now and those moves make it possible. What are your other options? Don’t tag Bell?

Once Bell is gone and Ben retires, you have a LOT of money off the books. And the cap probably going up a bit more. That’ll reset the books pretty good, I imagine.

RMSteeler: Hi Alex! Have you taken a look at possible compensatory draft picks for this year yet?

Alex: I haven’t and honestly, probably won’t. Even the experts who examine this stuff really closely get it wrong. The formula is so secretive. I’ll just wait for it to be announced and hope for the best outcome.

JohnB: Might be late but i ask every year. Whats your Top 3 Steeler games this year win or lose and why?

Alex: 

1. Second win over Baltimore. Bonkers game. Comeback win. Win the North. Beat the Ravens. For Shazier. Perfect.

2. Win over Detroit. Not a perfect game but JuJu’s 97 yard catch and run was crazy. The defense so impressive in the red zone. Gave me hope…for a little while, at least.

3. Loss to New England. Just because that was a classic game that’s going to be remembered for a long time.

Brian Tollini: Martavius Bryant and our 3rd round pick for Darron Lee of NYJ? : ) Just sittin’ here dreaming…

Alex: Ha, I’ll dream with you man.

Spencer Krick: Any prospect in particular you’re looking forward to seeing in person in Mobile?

Alex: Hey Spencer. Mentioned him last week but definitely Cedrick Wilson Jr. I know WR won’t be a big need, especially with Bryant to return, but I was impressed with him. Also Isaac Yiadom, the corner from BC. Big, physical, plays the run. I’ll have a whole list on the site Monday morning.

stan: I’m still not certain Ben’s fumble was actually a fumble. It looked a lot like a tuck rule situation to me. What do you think?

Alex: Nah, definitely a fumble. To me anyway. Arm never went forward with the ball secured in his hand.


That’s all for this week. Appreciate you guys coming out and chatting me up. Not sure the mailbag situation with me at the Senior Bowl next week. Will try to keep you guys posted. Could be different day and/or time.

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