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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript

| Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011

Dejan Kovacevic: Happy noon. So much to discuss, and a bunch of you already crowding the room. Save some chips for the late-comers ...

James_Costa Rica: Dejan, what is the key to winning the game for the Steelers despite missing three starting linebackers• Does Ray Rice run for 150+ this week?

Dejan Kovacevic: Maybe the most heartening thing to come out of the Steelers' practices this week is that Jason Worilds is back on the field. Sounds crazy, but that allows Lawrence Timmons to stay on the inside, which could be key. Rice isn't a run-around-end back. He'll go between tackles, and the Steelers simply couldn't afford to have just Larry Foote in there with experience.

They have to stop the run. If you stop the run, then Joe Flacco is reduced to being Joe Flacco rather than what he was in Week 1.

carl: Given the Stillers tremendous game plan against the Patriots last week, do you think the they will employ a similiar offensive and defensive gameplan against other teams on the schedule• Also i and other i'm sure have noticed all the talk about a no huddle for Ben (it seems like its been going on for years now) just to employ it against the Hatriots, do you think we will finally see more of it down the oad?

Dejan Kovacevic: I didn't see the no-huddle as having much impact against the Patriots, for all the other things the Steelers did well. In fact, it seemed a little odd to go to it with a 13-point lead in the second half.

And no, to your broader question, they won't employ the same game plan. If you look at the differences the Steelers have shown between, say, the Tennessee game when there was all kinds of gimmickry, to the alternating of five wides and three tight ends last week, that underscores that one of the Steelers' strengths is the chameleon factor.

Why give that up?

Chris: How would you rate Malkin's play so far this season?

Dejan Kovacevic: I actually wouldn't at this stage. Way too early. He's been in and out because of the knee, and he's owed some time to get right.

If you set aside the injury -- which obviously is unfair -- he's been OK by his standard. Creating enough offense, but too often careless.

Tom: DK - With the recent "dismissals" of the 4 veterans on the Pirates and with Neal Huntington getting heat from fans to "spend some money", how much say has and/or does Clint Hurdle have in personnel matters• Guys he may want to build his on-field club with his philosophies, kind of thing I'm curious about. It may be a perception, but I thought last season (his first, of course) he seemed to have a bit more say than previous managers...Lamont, Russell, Mac on so on. Thanks for your great work, DK.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, I think you saw that with the cutting of Ronny Cedeno, in particular. Managers can tolerate the occasional aw-he-just-needs-a-hug type of personality on their team, but they generally prefer that it's a star type. Cedeno isn't that. Hurdle is much more interested in the more aggressive personalities, as we've seen from his fondness for Chase d'Arnaud and even an unproductive Matt Diaz.

Mattysteele: We are hearing a lot a talk about the Sterlers D playing a 4-3 and using our big D lineman in that package. And considering the success we had with man to man what are you hearing the Steelers D will look like with or injury issues and new found success.

Dejan Kovacevic: If they do that, it would be the ultimate surprise twist. The mere fact that Mike Tomlin raised it publicly as an option would strongly suggest they've at least considered it. And why not, with both of the star outside linebackers -- James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley -- possibly out• The 3-4 is drawn up to suit their skills.

Still, I'll be as surprised as anyone to see a 4-3 after all these years. That changes what everyone is doing, including an effective defensive line.

MPM: A reasonable compromise to me for the Big East, Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia would be to have those schools compete in the Big East for the 2012-13 year, and then let them leave for the ACC and Big 12 respectively for the 2013-14 year. In exchange for leaving one year early, the schools would pay a $6M exit fee instead of the current $5M. Do you agree?

Dejan Kovacevic: Honestly, I've liked West Virginia's approach to this whole thing. If you're leaving, just leave. It doesn't help anyone to stick around in a lame-duck conference setup. Just get out now, litigate later.

The West Virginia people, in my case, have at least a reasonable argument -- though we'll see how the legal system views it -- that the Big East had lost its viability as a football conference. Pitt and Syracuse might not have the same argument, since their joint departure is a huge part of losing that viability. But Pitt also was at the forefront of challenging John Marinatto to do better. He didn't.

Now, all of a sudden, the guy is out looking to invite everyone from Army and Navy to Clairton and Seton-LaSalle.

Just get out of there.

PensFan: DK, I understand the valid complaints of the West teams with travel but why undue the NHL's current format only to mess with even more teams travel schedules• Wouldn't moving just the Jets be the simpliest move• The NHL is messing with a system and rivalries that have created a winning formula and are quickly gaining national interest and fans. Splitting great natural rivalries like Pens-Flyers seems incomprehensible.

Dejan Kovacevic: The NHL's current alignment is kind of dumb, which is part of the problem. Any sport that needs to republish its standings in a different format -- conference only -- about two-thirds of the way into the season needs to rethink things.

That said, this three-division proposal isn't any smarter. It's basically kowtowing to a handful of struggling teams in the Midwest at the expense of markets such as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

If the Blue Jackets stink, it's not because of the travel. The Red Wings have done just fine with the same itinerary. The Blue Jackets stink because they've been Rick Nash and a bunch of Finnish fourth-liners for the past decade. They've been mismanaged. And now they're paying for it at the gate.

I'm with you: This won't happen. The Penguins and Flyers apparently are fighting this jointly, and their markets -- especially Pittsburgh -- carry a lot of weight, including with the NBC people. How do you think the network will respond to having only two Penguins-Flyers games all year?

Go to two straight conferences. No divisions. Move Winnipeg to the West. Make the standings make sense all year long.

Devin: Does it make sense for the Steelers to get Brown significantly more involved in the passing game and as a deep threat• With all the double coverage on Wallace, giving opponents another guy to fear may help open him up further for future games/seasons.

Dejan Kovacevic: Not until Antonio Brown dramatically improves his route-running. What he's doing now just isn't good enough in that regard for anyone to take all that seriously. Did you see the play last week where he and Ben miscommunicated to a degree of, oh, 40 yards or so?

With Brown, I like what the Steelers are doing now. Hit him with a short pass, put the ball in his hands and let him do all the neat stuff he does on kick returns.

Maddamma: Dejan, you did a great job of explaining the Pirates and internal valuation. The problem, to me, is when internal value does not meet market value. The free agent class is weak at a number of positions - particularly the ones that the Pirates need to fill. Huntington's claim that the Pirates have internal options is laughable. The pitching, maybe. But it's crazy to think that the Pirates will have a productive MLB season with Jones/Hague at first, Ciriaco/D'Arnaud/Mercer at short, and McKenry/Jaramillo behind the plate. The front office is going to have to swallow a few dollars over their valuations if they're going to fill those three key positions. Will they do it?

Dejan Kovacevic: No, and that won't happen. Honestly, a lot of people have dramatically overreacted to the Pirates not picking up those four options. I was critical of the Maholm and Cedeno buyouts, but those were for individual reasons. Many, it seems, are viewing this as some sort of payroll slashing. We won't know anything about payroll until, you know, there's actually a full team.

The Pirates spent $52.3 million this year on actual 40-man roster payroll. They'll surely be at that level again next season.

My criticism related to Maholm and Cedeno came on the blog , and it was aimed at the flaws of individual valuations. It wasn't about the fact that they whacked payroll in October.

Let's see what they do. Obviously, they've been just terrible at acquiring free-agent position players, but there's a first time for everything.

praveen: Let's not forget the Rangers, Isles and Devils. They already cost the PIrates at the box office by removing them from the Phillies and Mets division.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm happy to lose the Devils, actually. Can they just get their own division?

CleveSteelerFan: Dejan, in your Monday article in regards to Ben, you mentioned that "Roethlisberger wasn't great, but his pocket was." Can you explain your comment• Thanks DK!

Dejan Kovacevic: I did, on the blog, but I'll reiterate here. I don't throw around the term "great" in the same way that, say, TV commentators do. To me, great is great. Roethlisberger was very good. He completed 36 of 50 passes, he hit a couple deep ones, and he threw a ghastly interception that resulted in a TD for the other side.

I can guarantee you that one person who wouldn't call that great is No. 7 himself.

My larger point with that line in the column was that the pocket protection WAS great, far better than the five sacks would suggest.

DB: Does Pitt get some respectability back this weekend and beat the Bearcats?

Dejan Kovacevic: No and yes. Really, it's just tough to imagine what the win scenario is for this Pitt team over the rest of the season. If they win the Big East, it will be a mild upset but a broader yawn. Playing without Ray Graham, they won't be fun to watch. There just isn't much there, either in terms of a proving ground or entertainment.

That said, it certainly wouldn't hurt Todd Graham to have his offense show more of the timing/quickness they had after Ray Graham's injury last week against Connecticut.

Yackmaster: Following up Tom's question... you said in your blog post a few days ago about it being the way the Pirates do business, but do you see any scenario in which the declined options can ultimately be a good thing this offseason• Or did an already shaky 2012 just get its death sentence already?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yeah, of course. They could go out and make good free-agent signings rather than bad ones. Maybe they could start by going to Derrek Lee and/or Carlos Pena and making very strong initial offers and shoring up their weakest position, rather than doing that whole wait-in-the-weeds-for-two-months act.

As I wrote in the blog, every once in a while, when you really want a player, just go and get him.

Guest: in your opinion / inside knowledge... who specifically had more to do with steelers playing more man to man against patriots• Tomlin or LeBeau?

Dejan Kovacevic: There really isn't that much separation when it comes to these things. If you think about it, Carnell Lake has to tell the men above him that his corners can handle it. (They did.) LeBeau has to show why Tom Brady feasts off zones but can struggle with man coverage because it throws out the timing element. (That happened.) But ultimately, the head coach has to sign off. It's always on him.

James_Costa Rica: A lot can happen in eight weeks but do you see the AFC as the Steelers to lose?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ask me at about midnight on Sunday. The rest of the AFC besides the Steelers, Patriots and Ravens doesn't look like much. Winning Sunday will put the Steelers in a fine position, especially with the bye week coming soon.

Unless, of course, you're taking the Bengals seriously.

McManus: i told some friends this weekend that willie gay is now part of the solution and not part of the problem. what do you think is the reason for his much improved play?

Dejan Kovacevic: A-ha! A chance for a cheap plug. That's the subject of my Friday column.

Mustard Man: If Sid is cleared for contact and making the $$ he is making, doesn't he have some sort of obligation to get out there on the ice• I'm reading some people ripping into Harrison for not playing when he is cleared to practice and I'm wondering why people aren't calling for Sid to play right now?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sounds like you might have missed my Wednesday column on Crosby .

Steeler fan in ATL: Hi Dejan, So Flower looks really good and aggressive this year and he cuts down the angles and makes some really good saves, except he seems passive at his puck handling behind the net compared to Brent Johnson who will even make an outlet pass to help the offense. What are your thoughts. Thanks

Dejan Kovacevic: Marc-Andre Fleury would do well to be "passive" at handling the puck, for the simple reason that he isn't very good at it. When he gets in trouble, actually, is when he ventures out to do too much of it. Johnson is better in this area.

Really, though, the Penguins' goaltending has been good. Fleury's been on his game from the opener onward, and I give Johnson a ton of credit for starting that five-game winning streak with the very strong showing in Minnesota. I covered that game up there, and I can tell you the locker room really needed the pick-me-up he provided.

Paul Griser: With Crosby close, and Kennedy seemingly right behind him, what do you think the team does with Letestu• It seems as if Vitale is in better graces with the team, and I simply do not see room for Letestu once the team is healthy.

Dejan Kovacevic: Mark Letestu will be out. And based on his play so far, he'll have earned being out. I wrote in that Wednesday column that Crosby is likely to stay with Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz, and the next two lines will stay intact. So what we're talking about here is the fourth line.

Remember, too, that the Penguins might be tempted to dress Steve McIntyre when Crosby returns, if only to send a message that anyone so much as breathing on him risks a pummeling.

JohnCangelosiSuperFan: Dejan, Do you expect any breakout performances by the Pitt Panthers BBall squad this year• Moore, Taylor, Woodall, Patterson?

Dejan Kovacevic: You left out Khem Birch• He's my choice. Big man in the middle, terrific athleticism. I also happen to be a fan of Talib Zanna, though I know I'm in the minority. He has the best athleticism on the team, and all he needs is time to develop it. Season-ticket holders will know what I mean, I think. There were times last year -- scarce, I know -- where he looked like a man among children.

Anthony: Where can the Steelers make improvement to get the run game going?

Dejan Kovacevic: Right after they get done passing for 400-plus yards.

Couple more today ...

Yinzer in VA: Dejan, If the Steelers use a 4-3 or 4-2 defense because of their injuries at LB, I would think that would offset, maybe even give us a slight advantage. The Ravens have never seen us in those formations. Who blitzes, who stunts, who drops back in coverage 'n at.

Dejan Kovacevic: This isn't a video game. You'll be asking players to do something they haven't done, in some cases, ever.

The Steelers' best scenario here is that Woodley somehow is healthy. Next-best is that Worilds has a great week of practice. He's a talented kid. Don't count him out. So is Stevenson Sylvester.

Jim: Has the ice surface at the Consol Energy Center improved this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, but that's because the Power haven't come along to soften it. A couple of the Penguins' players told me recently the Consol ice is good right up until they have to start draining it out regularly for indoor football.

We'll see how it is next week. The circus is up there right now, and the ice has been drained. (The elephants hate ice.)

Jandy: Anyone wanna bet Sullivan gets a goal tonite?

Dejan Kovacevic: He's certainly due. But he's getting his chances, and any hockey player will tell you chances show you're still playing well.

One more ...

Brill33: I look at the tremendous rivalry that has developed between the Stillers and the Ravens and wonder if the same would not work in baseball• Do you ever foresee a time when we see the Pirates, Indians, Orioles, Cubs, and Phillies in the same division?

Dejan Kovacevic: The NFL does just about everything right, don't they• Look at the NFL's divisional alignments, and even where geography doesn't make sense, the rivalries and history do.

No, what you're describing won't happen. But we just might see the day when at least the Pirates don't have to fly to Houston for divisional games. Sure sounds like the Astros are headed to the American League.

Thanks to all for participating. My column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, the chat is here every Thursday, and the blog is kind of like Kramer: It's always barging through the door, even when you don't want it to.

Get out and enjoy the beautiful day here. No one does autumn like we do.

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