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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: Dec. 20, 2012

| Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012, 9:34 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Afternoon, and happy holidays and all that. This will be the last chat for a couple weeks, as I'm taking a few days next week between Christmas and New Year's. Not missing covering any Steelers games, of course.

Away we go ...

Comment From Brad, Indiana PA: Dejan, What comic book characters would you use to best describe Fehr and Bettman? I say Scarecrow and The Penguin, respectively.

Dejan Kovacevic: Wow. You nailed Penguin. But I'd go for the snarly Danny DeVito version who was chewing off the heads of birds, not the cute Burgess Meredith prototype.


Eh, who can do better?

Comment From Frank: Happy holidays DK! Outside the box thought...what if the Steelers brought in Tebow for 2013 as a 3rd string QB? We need new backups, he brings leadership (that we sorely need) and he could fill the role of a fullback on gamedays that we haven't had in years. Plus with a big name veteran like Ben, there is no pressure for Tebow to replace him. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's really tempting to shrug off pretty much anything related to Tim Tebow as still more Tebow overload, but I've heard worse ideas than the one you just mentioned. Strictly in a football sense.

(ESPN cameras burst into room, momentarily interrupting chat.)

Comment From andrew long island: My anger towards the Pirates is turning into apathy... Very hard to find reasons to care any longer...Do you believe the Pirates will get a pitcher, or go with the status quo?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't think there's any question Neal Huntington has to get a starter, if that's what you mean. Probably two or three. Reading through some of his comments at PirateFest, it sure sounds like they feel a lot better about James McDonald's ability to simply shrug off his second-half meltdown. But even if that's the case, you're still at three starters, counting A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez.

Comment From Brian G: Afternoon Dejan! Thank you in advance for the chance to talk sports. Pitt basketball hasn't played anyone other than seriusly bad cupcakes since Michigan. How does that type of schedule help them prepare for the Big East? Wouldn't a few Mid-Major teams help a little more at least? Delaware instead of Delaware State?

Dejan Kovacevic: We have this debate every winter, it seems, related to Jamie Dixon, his knowledge of RPI and how the Panthers beat everyone by 50 until Big East play.

In the past, I've actually thought it was a worse practice than I do for this specific team. This one is so young, and we've seen even of late that Steven Adams, in particular, has begun to assert himself more. (James Robinson, the other freshman, was doing that from the first tipoff.) Adams is such a big part of what Pitt hopes to do the next two seasons that having that chance probably meant a lot more than if he'd just gotten buried to this point.

In general, though, yeah, there are questions about Dixon's non-conference schedule year after year.

Comment From Rob: Hi Dejan, Merry Christmas to you! The old adage is to play to your strengths and for the Steelers this should be the receiving corp. Granted they aren't having a bad year statistically but there seems to be a lot of mental errors (dropped passes, fumbles, giving up on plays, poor situational football, etc.). Is this due to youth, coaching (Scottie Montgomery), a combination of the two, or neither?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's really hard to lump these three players into a trend, especially since the nature of their errors are so very different. Is Antonio Brown not fielding a punt an indictment of his play as a receiver ... or the positional coach's work there?

To me, plain and simple, none of the three has gotten the job done. Not one. And if that doesn't change beginning, well, Sunday, this season will be in the past tense by the turn of the calendar.

Comment From Ryan M: Are the Pirates really stopping the Hoka Hey stuff? Nutting's comments seem a bit misleading. He just said that they wont be a military organization. Judging from how the FO talked it up at Pirates Fest it doesn't seem like much has changed. Hoka Hey part 4 coming soon?

Dejan Kovacevic: Nutting will not allow the physical SEALS-type drills again. He said the following, on the record in a room with several reporters: “We are not a paramilitary organization. We should not be running a boot camp. We should be focusing on baseball drills.”

That's the full quote. It's not ambiguous.

Also, I've been assured since then that the owner's stance on this hasn't changed in the slightest. He's open to certain techniques, almost entirely mental, that the military men offer. But not the sand bags and stuff.

I addressed that and a lot of related stuff from the weekend in an extensive blog item that I hope you can check out.

Comment From Ian: Why all the Todd Haley hate, when it's the offense who can't hang onto the ball? Get rid of 2/3 of those turnovers and we might have 3 more wins.

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't know of anyone who “hates” Haley. What an easily and recklessly tossed-around word that's become.

My position on Haley is that it's extremely hard to evaluate the work of a coordinator in his first season. Nothing more than that. I've noted when he's looked like part of the solution and when he's looked like part of the problem along the way, but it's not like 14 games can offer much conclusively.

That said, my other position is that, however this plays out, the QB and Haley have to be on the same page. And if they're not, the QB has to win. He's the franchise player.

I have more on this in both the Monday and Wednesday columns, if you're interested. All decidedly hate-free.

Comment From Zack: Who doe you expcet the starting OF for the Pirates to be? Right now their lineup stinks.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, Huntington had told reporters at the Winter Meetings it would be Cutch flanked by Starling Marte and Travis Snider. But when a fan asked essentially your question at PirateFest, the response was nowhere near that clear. He spoke of good competition and depth and that sort of thing.

I find it hard to believe the GM's mind changed that quickly, so I'd still expect Marte and Snider, the latter of who has done nothing worth being anointed a starter for any team in the majors.

As somewhat of an aside, I had a good talk with both Marte and Jose Tabata — together — at PirateFest, and I can tell you that both agree Tabata aims to make something of his 2013 and be the everyday right fielder. We'll see. I've had Tabata's back before, and he's disappointed. I really like the kid, but I'm going to be a lot more cautious going forward.

He has much to prove.

Comment From Nathan: Any inside whispers for exactly why the NHL lockout has turned into what it has? Everywhere you look, sports writers (and some players) say there is no reason why hockey isn't being played, the sides are so close, the players were privately being told to start getting in town and there was an influx there for a bit. Is it just a matter of one or both sides having a legit, no budge, sticking point that's stopping things, or is it just childish posturing for the sake of being selfish?

Dejan Kovacevic: Your last seven words there sum it up quite nicely.

Each of the two main stumbling blocks — contract length and labor agreement length — are absurd reasons for this to be dragging on like this. (More in today's blog. ) If it wasn't painfully clear before that we're now at the stage where this is solely about personality, it sure is now.

Comment From BigJoeH: Hey Dejan! Looking back on 2012, what column would you say was your best work and what were you most proud of?

Dejan Kovacevic: The three Hoka Hey columns, for me, are the ones I'll remember, obviously. The countless conversations, interviews, emails, texts and everything that led to them took up way, way more time than ever should have put into just three columns. And obviously, there was some impact, too, with the owner eventually halting the physical drills involved based on his own review.

I'll throw out five others here ...

Feb. 15, 2012: If giant steel walls could talk

April 16, 2012: Don't bother showing for Game 4

July 12, 2012: NCAA must pursue death penalty

Aug. 13, 2012: Cheerio, brilliant London Games

Jan. 9, 2012: Steelers never found that spark

Comment From Zack: Do you ask Troy, Harrison to take a paycut to stay. We have guys that are old, making lots of money, and getting hurt all the time. We prob wont be able to cut Colon either.

Dejan Kovacevic: Some challenging decisions are ahead, even if they're not at the scope of pushing Hines Ward out the door like last offseason. There's no doubt in my mind Harrison will have to take a cut from $10 million, but Polamalu is different. His contract was signed just last summer. Not easy going to a player of his pedigree and asking for a slash a year later.

Willie Colon was playing quite well, those early holding penalties aside, but this is significant time missed for a third year in a row. That's not easy, either, but I'd lean toward his return.

Comment From Jason: I really like the Trib's sports coverage and prefer it to the PG. I subscribe to the PG and would like to support the Trib's sports division but can't bring myself to subscribe to a right wing propaganda paper just for the sports page when I can get it online. What would you say to change my mind?

Dejan Kovacevic: Kind of a multifaceted question there, but I'll give it a shot.

When I worked for my previous employer, the number of times I ever brought up politics was zero. The number of times politics were ever brought up with me was zero. The exact same thing is true at the Trib. The sports section in both cases had absolutely nothing to do with any political leanings.

OK, that's one thing.

Two, you're starting to see around the country that newspapers are charging for online content. This should have happened a long time ago. Someone made a really bad decision a long time ago that giving stuff away for free was a great idea. To an extent, it devalued our product in the eyes of our own customers in that they quickly expected to get it for free, despite the large amounts of money it costs us to gather and report the news.

That can't continue forever. The free site will never, ever pay the bills in this industry through banner ads and the like. I could bore you to death with numbers I've heard and read from national examples, but it just doesn't work.

Not sure if that helps address your concern. But that's the best I've got. 1. I don't do politics. 2. I'm proud to say I feel that newspaper companies, including their online versions, produce a product that's worth paying for.

Comment From Rob: How do you think DeCastro looked in his first start? All things considered I thought he did alright.

Dejan Kovacevic: Mike Tomlin called an awesome “arrow up” designation for both David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum on the right side of the line Sunday, and he did so in a hearty tone. Each blocker made one big mistake in the game, from my view way high up at Cowboys Stadium, but overall did very well. Highly encouraging.

Oh, and Beachum ... if you're attending the next couple of Steelers games, watch him after a Steelers TD. Guy goes positively nuts. It's really cool.

Comment From Brian G: Best column was the soccer one.

Dejan Kovacevic: I have no doubt the Riverhounds column stood out in the eyes of the local soccer community. That was one of the top 10 for the year in terms of page views, and top five for feedback on the blog and emails. Amazing response.

Comment From Scott: What chance do you give the Steelers of making the playoffs?

Dejan Kovacevic: I still think it's excellent, though not of their own doing. Plain and simple, if all you've got to do is beat the Bengals and Browns to get in, those are odds you'll take 100 times out of 100.

Oh, and let's not get too caught up in the Bengals being on some roll because they've won four or five. Anyone who's seen some of these games — and I watched Bengals-Eagles in its unfortunate entirety last week — knows that Andy Dalton is well off his game, and the team is a whole is really nothing special outside of an aggressive defense.

Comment From JohninOshkosh: If you had to do something else in journalism besides sports-what would it be: editor? politics? music critic? sideline reporter? other? I am of the belief that almost every human alive is a frustrated movie or music critic.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd reunite the Dead Kennedys and take East Bay Ray's place at lead guitar. I can play every Kennedys riff in my sleep, so I wouldn't even ask to be paid.

Comment From Matt in Ann Arbor: Given how Adams has come on lately and the consistency of Zanna, I'm gaining more confidence that Pitt will challenge for the Big East Crown. Do you think their ‘Bigs' are now Big East worthy? Will they beat Cincy?

Dejan Kovacevic: I can't mention often enough how much I'm enjoying the Talib Zanna Breakout storyline. Seeing him mature from such a raw talent who could do so much physically but had so little poise, to what he's doing now ... it's yet another illustration of what makes Dixon a truly special coach.

The improvement in Zanna's shooting, his patience on the floor, his rebounding ... night and day.

Oh, that's not what you asked: Yes, Pitt will compete in the Big East. But I say that only because I believe that Adams will continue to have “arrow up.”

Dejan Kovacevic: Actually a little overdue for Tampa Bay Lightning round ...

Comment From Jack: “Right wing propaganda “ as opposed to liberal rag It is all in the eye of the beholder

Dejan Kovacevic: Like I said, no politics, please.

Comment From Brian G: Who was/is your favorite sports announcer on the radio or television? I remember listening on the radio at night to Dodger games (AM) and watching the game of the week on NBC so Vin Scully has always been that guy for me.

Dejan Kovacevic: Mike Emrick is a friend, but that won't stop me from picking him. He's the best.

Comment From Rob: You don't know what you got until it is gone. The beginning of the season Ike needed shipped out as soon as possible now we begging for him to come back as soon as possible. Oh what a fickle bunch it is to be a sports fan!

Dejan Kovacevic: In fairness, sometimes what sounds fickle can be based on reality. Ike Taylor was legitimately tormented in Denver, to end last season and to open this one. He then continued to struggle right through Tennessee.

It's not fickle of anyone to point out extremes, and that's what Taylor exhibited. He's been brilliant since then.

Comment From Tom: Malaka Liki Maka, Hoka Hey, Hey Ho - I'm already anticipating the sick feeling I'm going to have in the pit of my stomach when they include Garrett Jones in a trade for a mediocre starting pitcher. Please tell me you think that even this GM would not make that mistake (although you probably can't write that type of fiction).

Dejan Kovacevic: I have a lot of people in here today getting mad about moves the Pirates haven't even made yet. Lord knows there's enough real things to criticize.

A trade of Jones presumes Gaby Sanchez to be your everyday first baseman. To presume that, you've got to presume the Pirates would get a legit starter for Jones. I'm not sure they would.

Comment From Ryan: Your choices for top male and female sports figure in western pa

Dejan Kovacevic: Male is easy: Evgeni Malkin, MVP.

Female is ... funny that you ask, but it's tomorrow's column.

Comment From Joker: Drop dead date for a hockey season, Dec 31st , Jan. 15th or Jan 31st?

Dejan Kovacevic: The middle one. Sink or swim. You still get 48 games squeezed in.

Comment From Brian G: Better drama...Zombie apocolypse or Mayan Apocolypse?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's a great day to die?

Comment From tim m: so dk are we going to have hockey this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've believed all along that we will, and I've been wrong all along. To date. We'll see.

If you ask me, this will start with players getting antsy. The owners aren't budging.

Comment From Brandon: If the Steelers end up one game short of making the playoffs, which loss will you look back on and cringe the most? For me it has to be Oakland.

Dejan Kovacevic: Oakland set the tone for a string of lousy losses, but man, it's hard not to give that to Cleveland, especially coming later in the season.

Or San Diego because of how ugly it was.

Oh, I'll take all four.

Comment From Jon D.: It sounds like the Cubs are close to signing Edwin Jackson, which leaves the Pirates with arguably the worst rotation in the division. I agree with you that they have to add 2+ starters.

Dejan Kovacevic: The question I've been asking this winter: Do the Cubs right now have a better everyday lineup than the Pirates?

Not talking pitching here. Just the lineup.

Take a look.

One more today ...

Comment From kibab1979: I know it's a different crowd, situation, etc., but what kind of reception do you think Franco gets on Sunday?

Dejan Kovacevic: I think it'll be mixed.

We're all guilty of inflating in our minds the things that get discussed on talk radio and Internet circles, assuming it's somehow reflective of the general public. It isn't even close. If we spend weeks talking about Franco's cardboard cutout, doesn't mean the Cheese Lady at Penn-Mac is discussing it. And yet, the Cheese Lady might well have seats on the 50 this weekend. (She's earned it!) Besides, is the moment bigger than the man in this case?

The Immaculate Reception wasn't just about Franco, and I'm sure Franco won't be the only guy out there. Have a hard time imagining Steelers fans dumping on the actual ceremony.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's it for this week. Again, the chat will be back after New Year's.

The columns run Monday, Wednesday, Friday. The radio show is Tuesday. And the blog wants whatever Gary Roberts is getting for Christmas. Which is whatever Gary Roberts wants.

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