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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to your regularly scheduled mailbag. Camp is right around the corner, Le’Veon Bell’s contract situation even closer to being resolved. Action finally starting to pick up after a couple boring weeks. Let’s hop to it – we’ll be here for the next hour.

To your questions!

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Recently read that Conner Barwin is waiting to be courted by a championship contender. Given our situation at OLB, is he a guy that you’d have interst in signing to a reasonable 1-year deal?

Alex: Well I assume the Steelers haven’t contacted him given he said only non-contenders have reached out. Am I personally interested? I guess as much as the next vet OLB. But I want to go into camp, see how everyone does, and then possibly make a move. The guys on the team should have their chance to get evaluated.

But sure, Barwin makes sense. I still think I’d take John Simon over him though.

CP72: Alex,
I’ve often said that I think the Steelers need to use more play action. Do you think Ben is getting a little long in the tooth to get away from the center quick enough for it to work properly?

Alex: I bet that’s part of it. That’s why I think/hope the Steelers run some pistol under Fichtner. Under Haley, you would see a couple snaps of it in camp but the only time it was used in-game were the ones where Roethlisberger was playing on one leg and literally couldn’t get away from the center.

Munchak has openly said he would like to see the Steelers run it. Fichtner and Munchak are pretty close. So it’s logical. Ben can keep vision on the field, doesn’t have to cover as much ground, and playaction will be more effective. Win/win.

Andrew Black: 

Hey Alex,

I know you follow the Steelers pretty closely on social media as well. Are you worried about AB at all? Seems like every summer he has a new crew, then eventually has form of a falling out with them. With the recent call outs all over his social media of his ex chef, baby mama, his ex trainer, do you think something’s up with him?

Alex: Nah, I’m not worried. I mean, heck, who am I to say that I’m worried about a guy I don’t know. That’s some shock jock, hot-take nonsense I don’t deal with.

I’m sure if you or I were that big of a celebrity, we’d have similar problems. When you’re famous, everyone wants a piece of you. Some of them genuine, some though, for the wrong reasons. And some of that is just life. You and I have had falling outs with people – they just aren’t public like his are.

From my 30,000 foot view, he’s generally a good dude, a good father, and self-made man. And totally random, I actually know one of his lawyers, and she’s an awesome person, so there are good people he’s surrounded himself with too.

Yeah, he’s got some quirks and a healthy ego, but his vices are a lot more mild than some of the players in the league. If that’s the “cost” for a Hall of Fame receiver, I’ll take it every time.

Trevor: 

Hey Alex,

Looking at James Washington–as a 2nd round pick by the Steelers at WR (where they’ve had such ridiculous success), how high should expectations be? And with Martavis being a disappointment most of last year, is it reasonable to assume that Washington will be at least as effective as Martavis was?

Alex: That’s a tough one. I think you gotta set the bar pretty high because it needs to be high. If he can’t play in 11 personnel Week One, there’s going to be some problems with this offense. He’s not only the best option but sort of the only one. The team will tell you otherwise, of course, and you know I’m a fan of guys like DHB and Marcus Tucker, but they’re not making a huge impact on the Steelers offense.

Washington has to be that Z receiver, that deep threat, who can stretch defenses vertically like Bryant could. Yes, you could compare a Washington rookie year to Bryant’s first 12 weeks (the last month he was close to his old self) but we also saw the offense struggle until Bryant got going. It’s a key component of how this offense functions. They need that true deep threat. Washington can be that guy but who knows. Not everyone is JuJu out of the gate.

One of my biggest worries is that they’re going to lose one of these WRs, JuJu or Washington (AB too, but his impact is obvious to any fan) and not be able to replace him.

One option could be using more 12 personnel with growing confidence in Vance McDonald. But again, that’s not how this offense functions at its best.

Bottom line: regardless of exactly where you place Washington’s expectations, better than JuJu, a little worse, or somewhere inbetween, he needs to have a successful rookie year.

Pghomer: Hey Alex,
Regarding guys who might get extended new contracts before the season. Do you think PS might sign A Chickalo to a V Williams type of deal as he is a good special teamer and backup.
Also thinking about the long term back up quarterback. What do you think of this scenario?
Keep M Rudolph and L Jones and treat L Jones as you did C Batch with multiple years at league minimum contract. This might be appealing to him…there is a precedent and if not careful he could be out of the league very soon.
Just a couple off season thoughts.
Thanks for doing the mailbag.

Alex: Vince Williams is possible. I’m definitely all for it. Chickillo is going to be a no, There’s no reason to extend him out. He’s not going to have a season where his value is likely to shoot up. And someone the team could replace after this year.

The Jones/Batch comparisons are interesting but Jones has a lot more of his career left than Batch did, where Pittsburgh was going to value him pretty much more than anyone else. Batch was 29 when he got to Pittsburgh initially; Jones just turned 29 three months ago. And I would be surprised if he wants to take a backseat and be the #3 the rest of his career. He is a competitor, wants to go out and try to be a clear-cut #2 or even try to be in the running for a starting gig for some desperate team. Better opportunity, possibly more money. So I don’t see that scenario playing out.

Thanks for the question!

Wreckless: Might be a common question, but who are you expecting to see the biggest jump from this preseason and who do you think we might start to see some regression from? I’m expecting Watt and Hargrave to make the biggest jumps and I think we’ll start to see Foster take a step back.

Alex: Definitely looking for that jump from Watt. Excited to see how that looks given the success he had as a rookie. How about JuJu? I know his rookie year was outstanding but receivers tend to make another jump their 2nd/3rd year. How about him with a full preseason/camp under his belt, something he didn’t have last year. He hasn’t hit his ceiling yet, not even close. And a healthy Tuitt will be fun to watch. He hasn’t hit his peak either.

For regression, yeah, Foster is a good answer, but I haven’t seen his play decline yet. I don’t have a compelling reason to think it will now other than he’s a year older.

There are lots of guys who could struggle but I’m not sure many who will regress. Dupree, Burns, Davis, those guys wouldn’t really fit the question. I don’t think there are many candidates and that speaks to the strength of the roster. If Grimble can show consistency, Jesse James may see a reduced role. But that’s a big “if.” Coaching staff likes Jesse.

Lukesaenz: Much has been said about young guys on D needing to take a big step forward in their development. Out of Burns, Hargrave, Davis, and Dupree, if you could choose only one to take a pro bowl level leap, who would it be and why? Assume the other three are at/near their ceiling.

Alex: I’d give the 11 cents in my bank account to get Dupree to turn the corner. And I mean “turn the corner” literally. If he could develop into a top-tier pass rusher, it solves so many problems. Better four man pressure = more in coverage. More in coverage = tighter windows. More in coverage = better tackling. More in coverage = more incompletions/tipped balls/turnovers. Better pressure = more chaos. More chaos = more turnovers. All works together.

And finding a 3-4 OLB is so hard to do, as the Steelers recent draft classes have proven. There’s so much on their plate in addition to being great pass rushers. To have a young Dupree and Watt locked up for the next six years would make my heart sing. But probably not going to happen unless Dupree really figures things out, which, hey, there’s still a chance. I haven’t given up yet.


That’s all for today. Back Monday!

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