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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript: Sept. 6, 2012

| Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, 7:58 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Greetings, all, from a mile up in the sky. Away we go ...

Shawn M: Dejan, I was wondering if Brock Holt could possibly play SS this weekend and what will happen to Brock Holt when Neil Walker returns?

Dejan Kovacevic: Funny, but as I glance over the list of questions here in front of me, it looks like more than half are about Holt. First thing I'll say is that we all need to take a deep breath here. Kid's been in the majors for a seek. Second is that he is capable of playing shortstop, seeing as he's played more at that position in the minors -- including this year -- than at second. He does not have great range, but there's no question he can play there.Third is that, yes, he absolutely needs to stay in the lineup. If that happens at Clint Barmes' expense, so be it. Holt's at-bats haven't been fluky. They've been intelligent.

Jared in MT: Any chance that Barmes is not with the Pirates for 2013 or he's at least on the bench where he belongs?

Dejan Kovacevic: Barmes is due another $5 million. With his caliber of defense -- still outstanding -- there would be no good reason to release him, no matter the offense.

JamesinNYC: I understand that Castro is the real deal, loved the draft pick, but isn't any line without the antics of Keomato a huge improvement? So why the huge worry or is it just fans being fans?

Dejan Kovacevic: Go across the Steelers' line right now and ask yourself, 1 through 5, how many of them don't have some kind of significant issue going into the new season. Coming off major injury (Max Starks), playing at a different spot (Willie Colon, Marcus Gilbert) or filling in for someone else (Ramon Foster). Add in Maurkice Pouncey's ankle history, and you're just about there.

Since a number of Steelers could miss the opener -- Clark, Harrison, Hampton, Mendenhall -- the Steelers are going to have to show their depth. Which backup are you most confident about?

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, that's actually been one of the brighter spots of the preseason, in that Steve McLendon has been very good, Chris Carter not far behind. Isaac Redman being banged up doesn't help your scenario there, obvioiusly.The main guy here for Sunday is Carter. I can't picture Harrison playing a full game. Makes no sense after his degree of practice of late. But Carter has shown an ability to rush the passer, and there won't be much that's more important than applying pressure to Peyton Manning's blind side.Carter can do that.

Troy: Thoughts on Pitt/Cincy Game tonight?

Dejan Kovacevic: If Paul Chryst can someone straighten out his defense's play up front in a mater of four days, he should be Big East coach of the year for that alone.It won't be easy. Pitt got manhandled up front by Youngstown State, one of many reasons I was adamant in the Monday column that this was no upset. But Chryst insisted after looking at film that the issues looked correctable as a matter of strategy or technique. We'll see.Other facet I'll find of interest is whether or not Pitt can get its running game going. I don't have a ton of confidence in Tino Sunseri to find his good receivers, but I do in Ray Graham, Isaac Bennett and Rushel Shell to significantly upgrade the run.

AK: Prediction for Steelers? Hoping they can stay healthy...

Dejan Kovacevic: That's tomorrow's column!

Drew: Dejan, who seems to be the head guy for 3rd receiver for Sunday? Cotchery or Sanders?

Dejan Kovacevic: It has to be Sanders. It was going to be Sanders all along provided he could stay healthy, and he clearly has. But don't be surprised if this fluctuates somewhat because of Mike Wallace just having shown up. Might be asking a lot to have him out there all night in the thin air.

cosmo: If there is an NHL lockout to start the season, Do you really think that Sid would actually go to Europe and play?

Dejan Kovacevic: WAY too much is made of this stuff. If anyone, be it Evgeni Malkin with Magnitogorsk or Sid with, oh, Jokerit of Finland, signs up to play in Europe, the contract ends the moment the lockout does. I know that should be obvious, but it evidently isn't to some.As far as Sid's health, which is what I assume you're getting at, let's take my example. If he were to hook up with Jokerit, which is the marquee team in the Finnish Elite League -- and again, I'm completely making this up -- he'd be playing on a bigger sheet of ice in a league that still isn't terribly physical, and he'd be treeted like royalty by the Finns.On that note, I'll take Teemu Selanne on the wing, please.

Amos Otis: can you refresh my memory on Barajas' contract - is he guaranteed for next year, or is it an option?......chances he returns if it's an option?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's an option. Can't imagine any scenario where it would be exercised. That would leave Michael McKenry and fill-in-the-blank as catchers.Sure would be nice if Tony Sanchez had stepped up after all this time. He's got the tools, but there's no way you could pencil him in there with his offensive numbers. He's going to have to hit first.

AndyNRescueVA: I realize its still a small sample size, but what is your gut feeling about Travis Snider's performance so far as a Pirate, and what do you see as his upside potential and Pirate future?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't like the term injury-prone. It often gets applied unfairly, even to fluky injuries like a guy getting hit in the face. But Snider's injuries have been to the hamstring, and most any athletic trainer can confirm those are preventable with the right work.Right now, THAT'S my dominant impression of Snider.It's pretty clear he can get the bat on the ball. He was doing that with Toronto, and he's done it here. But I'd be surprised if there wasn't some link between that warning-track power you see and his not being able to generate maximum anything into his swing because his legs aren't in the proper shape.

RCH: Is the overall depth of this Steeler team stronger or weaker than last years squad.

Dejan Kovacevic: Overall depth by position or among the starting 22?Assuming you're asking about the latter, my answer isn't that it's better or worse, but just another year older. That's especially glaring on defense, and it's all the more reasonl I'd love to see younger guys up front -- where the best positional depth is -- get a chance. McLendon's got to play. Let's see more of Cam Heyward, too.

Andrew: PSU first away game...are home fans going to be insanely rude? Where do you draw the line from good natured jeers and harassment?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not sure what you mean. Penn State played two away games after Nebraska and everything had burst open last season, at Ohio State and at Wisconsin.Yeah, it's going to be tough. Anyone who's been in or near a college crowd knows that nothing anywhere is off limits. I heard some vicious heckling at a Duquesne WOMEN'S basketball game last winter. But maybe that'll make the players all the more impervious to it.Honestly, anyone taunting these players for the crimes of the previous football or scholastic administration is plenty stupid enough to be easily ignored.

PirateApologist: What is your take on the Strasburg thing? Imagine if the Penguins sat Crosby for the playoffs because they didn't want him to get a concussion.

Dejan Kovacevic: Holy apples and oranges.The science behind preserving a baseball arm isn't complete. It evolves year after year with more information. But the next team that thinks it's a good idea to abuse an arm the first year after Tommy John surgery will be the first. If you think that's where the Nationals misfired here, you're mistaken.Where they can be legitimately criticized, I think, is that Mike Rizzo and his staff MUST have expected this team could contend, given how it's built. If so, they could have put Strasburg through a different preparation stage ENTERING the season. He could have gone to extended spring, built up the arm there, and joined the Nats in June. The innings count could have run right through the fall.Never assume you're going to stink.

znc1: Does Marte go right back in the lineup (and leadoff spot) when he's fully healthy? If he plays tonight without issue for Indianapolis, I feel like he should be in left field and batting leadoff (or second) against a lefty in Chicago tomorrow.

Dejan Kovacevic: If he does that, he'll miss the game! (It's in Pittsburgh. Sorry, too easy.)Marte's going to be brought back slowly because oblique injuries are annoyingly slow to heal, easily aggravated.

Bucke: Gilber played vast majority at RT last year reasonably well. Colon has been a huge upgrade by most accounts at LG. Pouncey as healthy as he has ever been. Decastro still potentially back mid to late season. Foster and Starks have proven serviceable in years past. Dont you think that the oline is in a better position than it has been since the 05 Super Bowl?

Dejan Kovacevic: On a potential standpoint, yeah, you could make that case. You might as well throw Mike Adams in there then, too. But I'm talking about Sunday here. That's a lot of moving parts for what's supposed to be a cohesive unit right out of the chute.You're citing preseason performance for Colon and health for Pouncey, neither of which means a ton. That ankle issue just never seems to go away with the center. And you're describing Max as if he's had more than a couple weeks of practicing in earnest.It's going to be a significant challenge for this group to look good right away. Really will.

Even here in the land of the Avalanche, it's now Tampa Bay Lightning time. Quick Qs, quick As, quicker to the caffeine I still haven't had ...

David: Does Timmons make a step forward this year to become the player he's capable of being?

Dejan Kovacevic: The answer to that is usually related to whether or not he can, once and for all, spend a full season on the inside where he belongs. I liked some of what I saw when he was rushing the passer behind McLendon. Would love to see more of that. We know he can stop the run.

JamesinNYC: Did you see Herredia (sp?) pitch this year? Amazing what he is doing when he would maybe be out of High School no?

Dejan Kovacevic: Luis Heredia is a special talent. Saw that when he was 15 and I went to see him in Mexico. No one should mention the Pirates' top pitching prospects -- Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon -- without including Luis.Really bright kid, too. Head on straight. Mature WAY beyond his years.

Mj: How many more chances does JMac get? I'm pulling for him...

Dejan Kovacevic: Funny, but you look over the Cubs series pitching matchups, and the one that stands out is Jeff Samardzija -- who ate the Pirates alive in the last meeting -- against McDonald on Saturday night. Win that game, and a sweep looks good.He can't blow up again, that's for sure. I'd be surprised if he blew up and Kyle McPherson didn't take his spot in the rotation.

JohnS: Has "Legend" done enough yet to be part of the plan or he is still considered a stop gap by the Pirates?

Dejan Kovacevic: There's no way you could look at Garrett Jones' numbers for the year -- and his consistency, above all -- and not see him as a major-league everyday player for 2013.

Peyton: How awesome is Manning going to be in Denver? Seriously, how badly is he gonna torch the Steelers' secondary?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you saw my feature on Manning this morning, you'll know that you sound a lot more confident about Sunday than he does.

cosmo: NHL season stats on schedule yes or no?

Dejan Kovacevic: Universal thinking among those I've discussed this with is a week or two lost.As long as the Penguins play where they're supposed to on Dec. 15, I can deal with the rest. Nobody messes with my travel plans!

Brandon: What happened to that winger for Sid? Really no one left in FA.

Dejan Kovacevic: The next James Neal. That's how they're thinking. And they acknowledge it's the kind of thing that will take time.

cosmo: Who gets more carries sunday, Redman or Dwyer?

Dejan Kovacevic: Without having definitive knowledge of Redman's health, that's hard to project. If both were fully healthy, I'd want Isaac softening up Denver between the tackles.

Critter: Curious as to why in Denver so soon? I don't follow baseball so maybe the Pirates are in town too. Is there that much advance work on a football game? Just surprised, I guess.

Dejan Kovacevic: I did this in advance of the playoff game in January. Come out early enough to build up an everyday budget of stories on the opponent, then stick around for the main event Sunday night. In addition to the Manning feature today, I'll have a Friday column, a Saturday feature, a Sunday feature, and the Monday game column.

NYJohn: Does the higher altitude have any effect on the amount of coffee you need?

Dejan Kovacevic: I could be working in the mines, and that wouldn't change.

Morrisey: Which professional league is most accommodating to reporters in terms of making your job easier?

Dejan Kovacevic: This might surprise people, but it's Major League Baseball. And no one else COMES CLOSE. Very professionally run, universal-access passes, more time in the clubhouse. Not even CLOSE.

Guest23: Pitt just announced their BB schedule. Give me a reason to go see a game.

Dejan Kovacevic: Out of the opponents on the non-conference schedule, if you've seen it, that would be impossible. But if you need reasons to see the actual Pitt team, that tells me you haven't seen what they've got coming. Could be one of the most fun basketball teams we've seen in these parts in a long time, especially Steven Adams under the basket.Had a great conversation with someone on that very topic last weekend. Looking forward to it.

NYJohn: Among the Steelers, who will be the leader that most reminds his fellow players what "the standard" is when they need that reminding? Heard that was Farrior in the past.

Dejan Kovacevic: Being that they just named Brett Keisel captain, I'm guessing those words will be spoken through a thick bushel of hair.

dillonerd: Will the Steelers generate more turnovers this season on a consistent basis.

Dejan Kovacevic: Have a hard time picturing less than their miserable output last season, but again, I'd like to see that youth up front to create the necessary pressure. The turnovers aren't going to come from the aging secondary.

Edward Dulac: when/how much will rainey be used? He can't block, so he won't be 3rd down back, right? Can he only play when used with another back?

Dejan Kovacevic: Rainey could be used in a lot of strange ways, as Todd Haley showed -- at least a little -- in camp and the preseason. I wouldn't think of him as a back.Two more today ...

cosmo: After seeing week 1, who has a better shot at a winning record. Pitt or PSU?

Dejan Kovacevic: Pitt does. Its loss to Youngstown State was worse, but so was its own performance. And I think we're well past debating whether or not Big East football is any good, so the Panthers will have that going for them, as well.Besides, Pitt has Ray Graham and the running potential. I don't see a position like that right now at Penn State where you can say, man, if only they got THAT going.

dillonerd: Are the Pirates better than the teams they are chasing?

Dejan Kovacevic: Immaterial. All that matters is the best record come Oct. 3.

Suckmeter: Pirates 85 wins. Over/Under (sucks if you say under 82)

Dejan Kovacevic: My only lock prediction so far has been 82. Not willing to go over that yet. They have 10 to go for the Holy Grail. All else is icing.

Big Al: How many questions come into you during the hour?

Dejan Kovacevic: This thing doesn't count, but we're into several hundred from the looks of it. You people all owe your employer an hour of work later in the day, apparently.

dillonerd: Forbes estiamted you would receive 300, were they close?

Dejan Kovacevic: Like everything else Forbes does, they were guessing with no actual information!

NYJohn: Which Steeler are you most excited to be watching this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Easy. Ben Roethlisberger. Always. (But Antonio Brown a close second.)

Thanks to all for participating. Heading out to see the Broncos.The columns run Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The chat is Thursday. The blog burns like the Colorado wildfires year-round and all through the night.Oh, and I'll have a new thing added to the plate next Tuesday, as well.

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