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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: Aug. 23, 2013

| Friday, Aug. 23, 2013, 1:23 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Afternoon, everyone, at this fascinating convergence of nearly all of our local sports. And don't forget the biggest local brand of all, that being our high school football that is previewed brilliantly today in our 150-page section. At least a page for every school.

Away we go ...

Comment From SeanAY: With the Steelers trading for Felix Jones, who is the odd man out in the backfield? Or is this strictly them taking a flyer on Jones?

Dejan Kovacevic: Initial inclination is that it's about running back depth and not much more. Jones declined almost every year while in Dallas, he's been banged up a ton, and an expert guest on TribLIVE Radio just now was telling host Ken Laird he's failed conditioning tests.

This isn't the panacea, to put it kindly.

If anything, it might address any lingering concerns about LaRod Stephens-Howling's knee — he's needed not only as a third-down back but also as kickoff returner, two items on Jones' list — than anything else.

Still, weird to see a football trade, huh?

Comment From Davis: Dejan first off congrats on the ESPN opportunity. I really look forward to seeing you on the new Keith Olberman show. With the Pirates in the stretch run, and with the August waiver deadline nearing, do you see them acquiring anyone. Obviously Morneau has been rumored for a few weeks but I've heard that even he wouldn't be a significant upgrade to Garrett Jones. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: I hear that Jones line thrown around casually, too, and I would have agreed with it a month or so ago. But the fact is, this is one of those rare times where small sample sizes and short-term production — or lack thereof — really do matter.

The fact is that Morneau is sizzling right now and, judging by at least one article I read quoting baseball scouts, it isn't an accident. He's actually looking — to them — looser and quicker with his swing, a lot more like the 2006 MVP version. That's pretty striking evaluating, if accurate.

Jones, well, you've seen it. Other than crushing one of Matt Cain's many errant meatballs last night in San Francisco, he's just been dying up there at the plate. Maybe the home run will help snap him out of it, but that hasn't been the case for the better part of the season.

Comment From Davis: What do you make of Jeff Locke's recent struggles? Is it just natural fatigue in a guy's first full major league season or something else?

Dejan Kovacevic: I asked Neal Huntington last Sunday at PNC Park if he thought Locke might be tired, and he rejected that. But wow, watch the kid pitch, and it's hard not to think that.

His bread-and-butter pitch had been the fastball hard underneath right-handed batters' fists, and he just can't hit that spot now. That's fatigue.

Michael McKenry was saying very late last night on the Root postgame show that Locke's arm slow looks a little lower to him. That's fatigue.

Locke came out last night ramping up his fastball to 93 mph, maybe in an effort to show everyone it wasn't fatigue, only to run up a pitch count of 73 and get yanked after the fourth inning. That's fatigue.

Comment From Guest: DK...... I've got a feeling the Pens will trade 2 D-men,

Dejan Kovacevic: Someone other than Matt Niskanen?

That wouldn't make much sense. Why?

You need Niskanen to get under the cap, but I'm not seeing how another moving makes much sense unless you're going to give Olli Maatta a real chance in training camp.

Comment From Davis: Dejan, I'm a pitt student and although I love the panthers, I'm realistic about their chances in a much stronger football conference. .500 is probably is being optimistic, but do they have any shot at upsetting Florida State?

Dejan Kovacevic: There's no reason whatsoever to believe they have a shot like that, no.

Never mind whatever Pitt does or doesn't have. Isolating only on the Seminoles' running game, they've got two backs — Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. — who are better than anything the Panthers have, and they've got four starters back on the offensive line.

Aaron Donald is a wonderful nose tackle, but he's going to handle that by himself?

I'd set the bar low for that one, then look beyond it.

Comment From Papa Croz: DK..... I've got a feeling the Pens will trade 2 D-men, Niskanen and Orpik to allow cap space and give their young guys an opportunity. Also think Jeff Zatkoff should get a shot with big team. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: No and no. If the Penguins were planning to trade Orpik, they wouldn't be talking — openly and behind the scenes — about how they're building this whole corps around Orpik and Paul Martin as their “shutdown pairing” again. Not how they work.

Comment From Brian G: Can I be your assistant for all the Pitt home BB ACC games? Man is that a fantastic schedule.

Dejan Kovacevic: We don't do the assistant thing, but I'll agree it's a really fun schedule in just having Duke and Syracuse at the Pete alone. There'll be almost something surreal about Coach K in the house, and there'll be something familiarly comforting in a Big East kind of way about having Boeheim.

We talk a ton about the ACC impact on football because that matters the most monetarily, but basketball could be a blast in its own way.

Comment From Joey_Pittsburgh: So in terms of hyperbole, will the headline when the Pirates win #82 be in ‘NIXON RESIGNS'-font or ‘ALIENS INVADE'-font?

Dejan Kovacevic: It will be a very big deal for the simple reason that it is a very big deal. And to anyone who doesn't think so: Welcome to watching the Pirates this summer. It's great to have you, but there are those who did an unprecedented amount of sporting suffering for 20 years.

When I talk to fans in the seats at PNC Park, long-time fans, season-ticket holders, this will be a very special moment for them.

Comment From Rob: Dejan, how much of the poor o-line play can be attributed to learning a new system?

Dejan Kovacevic: New system? None.

I'm prepared to list a few excuses for their play Monday in D.C., but not a bunch. The newly positioned tackles have to do better, and Maurkice Pouncey simply needs to wake up.

And you know, for all the deserved abuse for the line this week, it shouldn't go unnoticed that David Paulson wasn't blocking anything or anyone at tight end. Don't underestimate how much Heath Miller — or even Matt Spaeth — will be missed in that regard.

Comment From Guest: While I enjoy a Tomlinism as much as the next guy... In the realm of the standard being the standard when might we finally hear that Jarvis Jones is going to be the starter against The Titans? I'll take a mistake here or there for the havoc he can cause over anything Worlids has shown. Unless the bar for the standard has been lowered to you need a 3 year minimum and can't cover a receiver with a blanket to play OLB this seems to be a no-brainer?

Dejan Kovacevic: Whether Jones is or isn't formally the starter, the vibe I'm starting to get from talking to the Steelers' players — always more forthcoming than those coaching them — is that Jones, Jason Worilds and LaMarr Woodley will work through some kind of three-men-for-two-spots rotation. Some will be more equal than others, of course. Woodley isn't getting $61.5 million to rotate with Worilds. But this will allow all concerned to be as fresh as possible.

Myself, I'd rather see Woodley and Jones just go berserk, but I can appreciate the thinking.

Comment From yinzer in va: Dejan, Our starters have slipped a little lately. Gomez needs to start. In the last weeks of a pennant race, we need our best five starters, and Gomez has proven, and earned the chance.

Dejan Kovacevic: In light of your first sentence there, I feel compelled to revisit the rotation's most recent turn: Liriano had 13 Ks and made mincemeat of the Padres. Burnett allowed four hits over seven innings. Cole allowed two runs over six innings. Morton allowed two runs over seven innings.

Let's not blow this out of proportion because of being disappointed with Locke. That's way too fan-ish, if I might say.

Locke is struggling, no question. The Pirates need to come up with a solution, and the ideal objective to that solution would be — I think — to rest Locke and let him regain the form he showed in the first half.

Comment From JR Raiser: Dejan...what can us knee-jerk-reaction complaining yinzers whine about once the buccos make the playoffs? Can we complain that the grass at pnc is too green?

Dejan Kovacevic: Can I be totally blunt here?

I really hate how the term “yinzer” has become applied to any particular segment of a fan base with which a given fan might disagree. I mean, yeah, there are some ridiculous, over-the-top, uneducated responses. But that's true everywhere and in following every team.

Being further blunt: I really hate how it gets applied to Steelers fans. The football knowledge in Western Pennsylvania is second to none in the country, for all kinds of reasons. Some of the football fans I hear from are some of the smartest, most analytical people you'll meet.

Sorry. Pet peeve.

Comment From Paul C. from Nashville: What would be the bigger story for Pittsburgh sports scene this year, the Steelers having a bounce back season and winning the Super Bowl or the Pirates making the playoffs (traditional div. series, not wild card).

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, if you want to get into level of achievement, it seems crazy to ignore that the Penguins did reach the Eastern Conference final. Sure, it ended in a big, flat dud, but there's something to be said for expecting a team to win a championship then being crushed when it doesn't.

But if you want to get into the plain and simple biggest story, that's 82. Bar none, it's 82. There's never been a streak like it in the history of professional sports. Its demise is No. 1.

Comment From Rob: Is it still a joy to me to say “when” not “if” the Pirates get 82. Go Bucs!

Dejan Kovacevic: Exactly.

Comment From George Contis: Speaking of the rise of one franchise (Pirates) and the fall of another, your thoughts on Ben Affleck's being named the new Batman?

Dejan Kovacevic: Mostly unprintable. I eagerly await Owen Wilson being cast as Aquaman.

Can you imagine the meeting room where allegedly intelligent people thought to themselves it would be smart to cast the darker actor in the role of Superman, the brighter actor as Batman?

Even the Joker wouldn't find that amusing.

Comment From Morticia: Will my man Gomez end up back in the rotation? Locke is fatigued, they are trying to prevent Cole from getting fatigued, and we have probably seen the last of Wandy.

Dejan Kovacevic: If there's a replacement to be had for Locke, short or long term, I'd look to Brandon Cumpton or Kris Johnson. Jeanmar Gomez is really valuable at doing exactly what he's doing, as he showed again last night, and not everyone can do it.

Comment From Napper: Did you happen to see the goal-line technology used in the Premier League? The referee knew within one second the ball had not crossed the goal line and play was not stopped. Any chance the NHL/NFL updates their replay reviews to speed things up?

Dejan Kovacevic: No, I wasn't aware of that. I'll have to look into it. Fascinating.

The transition to any form of electronic officiating in North America is by nature going to go slowly because they still want the refs on the field to be empowered to an extent. They'll still want them be the ones looking at the replay.

My own preference is the NHL's model, where eminently qualified people study a play in a room that's infinitely more equipped — if you recall Rob Rossi's excellent piece from New York last winter right inside that room — to make the right call than a bunch of guys peeking under a hood.

Comment From Jared: Do you think Niel Walker could be bumped up to leadoff hitter with his improved at bats? Do you think Marte could be moved to second in lineup?

Dejan Kovacevic: The leadoff hitter last night had three hits and a walk and looks like he's driving pretty much everything right now. Don't leave Jose Tabata out of your top-of-the-order equation.

Comment From Brian G: Why can the Pirates grow grass and have a beautiful playing surface but the Steelers cannot?

Dejan Kovacevic: Taking it you haven't seen Heinz Field yet this year. Looks tremendous.

The biggest difference is the obvious one, the nature of the sports.

Comment From Drew: So what are you saying? That you're a Yinzer?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm a Donnie-humming, FuelPerks card-carrying yinzer to the bone ‘n at.

Comment From Paul C. from Nashville: Dejan, assuming the Pirates make the wild card play-in game, who is the Pirates starting pitcher for this game, Liriano or Burnett?

Dejan Kovacevic: Liriano. No question.

Comment From TK: In the morning chat, you said the Riverhounds were hosting an outdoor event tomorrow. I do not believe you gave a starting time. When will it start?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's at 6 p.m. at Highmark Stadium. Pretty much the same way the Penguins have done it, except that the stadium itself will be the venue and the official scoreboard will be the TV for the playoff match in Orlando.

Comment From theplanisworking: Ties or sweater vests for your ESPN gig?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've been going all ties on WPXI's ‘Final Word' for a few weeks now, and that's been a blast, so I'll stick with that.

Comment From Oprah: Tampa Bay lightning round?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yep, let's do it ...

Comment From jefft: Odds that the Bucs can pull off some kind of trade before the deadline?

Dejan Kovacevic: There's very little indication that they will. Too bad. For all the credit Neal Huntington and Co. deserve for their fabulous offseason, the work doesn't stop.

Comment From theplanisworking: Win, Place, or Show for the Bucs in the Central?

Dejan Kovacevic: All I'll say is that I've thought from Day 1 the Reds were the most talented team in the division, and they've got help on the way to go along with their current surge. They've always been the team to watch.

Comment From Jimmy D: Is Todd Haley on a hot seat this season?

Dejan Kovacevic: He is not, at least not internally. You've never seen the Steelers' management coalesce around an assistant coach like they have with Haley, save, perhaps, telling the newly hired Tomlin he had to keep Dick LeBeau.

Comment From Joe from Blawnox: Are the Pirates being cheap right now? Dejesus, Morneau, not to mention Rios ended up being very gettable. Can't help but think they are blowing some smoke at us. ie “its a tough market”

Dejan Kovacevic: No one wants to hear it when a pitcher gives up a home run that, “Oh, well, he was a tough hitter.”

The business is about results.

Comment From Guest: It's 2013, so why do Steelers always think they need to run more when everyone else is happy passing more?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't hear that from them at all. What I hear is that they feel the need to establish the run, and that's a hard point to criticize the year after you finish 28th in that category.

Comment From Mike: If you could cover one sport other than hockey, which would be your next favorite

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't recall saying I had any sport that was a favorite to cover. I don't.

I'm a hockey guy all the way as far as being an observer, but covering is covering. I'll put everything I have into every assignment.

Comment From George Contis: Speaking of LeBeau - job for life or until he's ready to call it quits?

Dejan Kovacevic: Those are pretty much the same, right?

Comment From Mike: Will the pirates give Lambo a legitimate opportunity next time he is back?

Dejan Kovacevic: No. Don't know how much more obvious they can make it that they don't see that much in him.

Comment From Mike: Is pnc park the most electric place to be? Does it have the atmosphere of other mlb stadiums?

Dejan Kovacevic: It has a distance to go, especially as it comes to awareness of the count and that sort of thing, but the progress this year has been phenomenal.

Comment From Paul C. from Nashville: If you were not a sports writer-columnist, what profession would you have selected as your second choice of interest?

Dejan Kovacevic: I would be in newspapers in some capacity. I tell younger people and students all the time: If you want to get into this business to write about sports, just get out now. The love has to be for the business itself, for reporting and writing and editing and designing. I've been fortunate to do all four of those, as well as covering honest-to-gosh news stories including the Serbian revolution in the late 1990s, the Olympics and other stuff.

That's what gets the juices flowing, not sports.

Comment From Beano: Who wins the most games: Pitt, Penn State, or WVU?

Dejan Kovacevic: Penn State. I could see six Ws, even another seven from Bill O'Brien and the surprising amount of talent he's been able to keep under the most extreme circumstance. There was a terrific book excerpt about exactly that, actually, in the Wall Street Journal last week. Can't recommend it highly enough.

Comment From Evan B: Favorite ballpark aside from pnc?

Dejan Kovacevic: The one you'll watch on TV tonight.

Comment From Zane (not Smith): I get you're a DC guy, but know you're a Phineas & Ferb guy too. Did you see the recent collaboration episode Marvel Madness?

Dejan Kovacevic: Twice. Excellent.

Comment From Steve: Thoughts on the architecture of One Fifth Ave Place? Can't decide whether I love it or hate it.

Dejan Kovacevic: Where it is Downtown, it works. If it were anywhere else, it would be a little cringeworthy.

Comment From Don: Are the people who sell inappropriate shirts on the Clemente bridge after the games legally aloud to do that

Dejan Kovacevic: Not sure. You mean those ones that suggest what Joe Flacco does in his free time?

Comment From jefft: Never knew that about Phineas & ringtone is the Doofenshmirtz jingle...just wanted to share.

Dejan Kovacevic: Oh, I am so there. For real?

Comment From Dejans Uncle: Favorite restaurant in the strip

Dejan Kovacevic: The meatball place right next to La Prima on 21st.

Comment From Joe: Do you see a boost in newspaper sales when a team becomes a big story? i.e. #Bucs82

Dejan Kovacevic: It's obviously a lot more complicated than that. Which is why I laugh when a reader will suggest something was written “just to sell newspapers.” As if single-copy sales are somehow contingent on, say, a sports column that runs on Page C-2.

Comment From Leonardo: What should this team do about the shortstop position? Mercer full time? Barmes full time? Platoon? See if Jay Bell can still cut it?

Dejan Kovacevic: Heck, who's the starting shortstop right now? Anyone know?

Comment From Derek: Dejan, I know it is not Ben's way...but I wish he would just take 2 or 3 step drops and fire the ball to Brown or Sanders on slants. I remember when he hurt his foot they put him in the “pistol” and he did really well with it. I also feel that would give the OL some confidence.

Dejan Kovacevic: Ben will be Ben.

Comment From theplanisworking: DK, do we see Shamarko Thomas and Jarvis Jones on Opening Day?

Dejan Kovacevic: Jones yes, Thomas no way. At least not on something other than special teams. Thomas just flat-out isn't ready, I don't think, even for a nickel assignment.

Comment From Yinzer: Do people notice how good Tony Watson is? Wow he just gets it done

Dejan Kovacevic: Most underappreciated player on the roster. Wrote that earlier this season. But don't feel sorry. He's going to make a pretty penny someday.

Comment From George Contis: Do you ever sleep? Articles and Blogs at night followed by Tweets in the wee hours followed by Tweets in the AM, & appearances on the Trib radio shows and your own shows.

Dejan Kovacevic: Having too much fun. Honestly, George, even on days off, I just find myself wanting to do more of this.

Comment From todd: How long have you been doing a weekly chat

Dejan Kovacevic: About an hour! Ha! No, sorry, I don't know. It's been a long time.

Comment From Marty: What was your college major

Dejan Kovacevic: Journalism.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's it for this week. Appreciate all the participation ‘n at. You're not so bad for pathetic yinzers.

The columns run Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday. The radio show is Wednesday. This here chat is Friday. And the blog is like a pie in A.J.'s hands. Shows up when you least expect — or want — it to.


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