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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: Sept. 6, 2013

| Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, 1:07 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Hi. Much, much ground to cover. We ready?

Derek: I am sure you will get this question 100 times, but do you think it was wise for the Steelers to cut Jonathan Dwyer? He led the team in rushing last year and from what I have heard he is in better shape. You said in your chat last week that he would lead the team in carries in Week 1. Mike Tomlin had a vendetta against him or something?

Dejan Kovacevic: There's almost no situation — barring something personal and unknown — in which cutting Dwyer made sense.

That's not to make him out to be Gale Sayers. He isn't. Talking strictly in this context. Tomlin was asked about at his weekly news conference and basically limited his answer to stressing that the guys they kept were better.

As for fumbles and pass-blocking and other myths: Dwyer had two career fumbles in the NFL and zero in his three-year collegiate career spanning 580 carries. He also was rated the NFL's fourth-best pass blocker by Pro Football Focus last year.


theplanisworking: DK, great work with the 82 column. In your opinion, who was the one person most responsible for the streak, and who was the one person most responsible for ending it?

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks regarding the 82 column. Been waiting to write that one a long, long time.

Most responsible: G. Ogden Nutting. Because he's been the most consistent figure even going back to Kevin McClatchy's earliest days, and someone somewhere with some authority needed to step up and stop this long ago. No one did, in my view, until Bob Nutting's trip to Latin America ultimately led to Dave Littlefield's firing.

Most responsible for ending it: Clint Hurdle. If you could see first-hand the effect this man has had not only on his players and the system — handwriting condolence letters to minor-league assistant coaches when a loved one passes — but also on the gentlemen above him, you'd know what I mean. A true culture-changer.

Matthew: Training camp for the Penguins is less then week away. So why haven't they traded Matt Niskanen yet?

Dejan Kovacevic: They don't have to be under the NHL's salary cap before then and — who knows? — Ray Shero might have better options for shedding himself of the necessary cash. I don't think so, given their depth chart and the addition of Rob Scuderi to the blue line, but we'll see.

Damon: Wouldn't Max Starks be a much more reliable back up at tackle than Guy Whimper - is that an option that would even be on the table (cut and paste)?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd think so, and I'm one who loves Max. But if you read the extremely detailed piece in the San Diego Union-Tribune this week about Starks, written by Tom Krasovic, you'll see that the Chargers weren't exactly out of their minds in releasing him. There are real questions as to whether or not Starks might be finished.

Bernard: What are your thoughts about a potential RB by committee approach?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't like it, but, infinitely more important, the Steelers don't like it. They've left no doubt whatsoever that when Le'Veon Bell returns, they want him to be that guy, possibly even on third downs.

In the interim, though, it's hard to blame them for going Frankenstein here: Isaac Redman can get the tough yards, Felix Jones can be the speed back, and LaRod Stephens-Howling can handle third down.

You go with what you have, not what you wish you had.

Amos Otis: Fantastic writing on the “streak” yesterday DK, it gave me chills and some bad memories, but your article brought me closure. I didn't cry that night but apologies to John Lennon, I did crawl off to sleep in the bath. Go bucs

Dejan Kovacevic: I probably should publish a volume of the mail I got for the 82 column, solely on the stories like that shared by readers. Quite the powerful moment in Pittsburgh sports history, to say the least.

One more to go, and the Pirates will have an 82 that wipes it away.

Sam from State College: It's easy to second-guess after the fact, so I'll second-guess beforehand. Having Locke's first start back from his short rest be against the Cards in St. Louis is a mistake.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, that's still convenient to say, Sam, because you didn't offer an alternative. That's like when everyone complained about Kris Johnson facing the Cardinals but only after Johnson was giving up rocket after rocket.

Who'd be your choice?

Actually, forget that, and look at it in a slightly longer term: You're going to need four viable starters for the playoffs. You've obviously got Liriano, Burnett and Morton. Need one more. It won't be Gerrit Cole. No chance, with his innings being monitored.

And never mind the scenario in which you'd need more than one guy in the event of an injury.

You want Brandon Cumpton or Jeanmar Gomez starting in the playoffs?

No. And that's why it's imperative that Locke gets back on his feet. He has to be that guy. He just has to.

Cody: Are you hearing anything new about who Penguins might be trading? Is there any reason to keep Glass around?

Dejan Kovacevic: No, of course there isn't. Tanner Glass was a waste of money and a uniform last season, not even anywhere near the not-all-that-great player he was in Winnipeg.

That said, those guys don't get traded for the simple reason that the other 29 teams don't want them at a seven-figure salary.

SlackBoss: Has Locke made any adjustments, minor or otherwise, to his delivery or approach over his 10 days of rest? What are his chances for getting back to his earlier results?

Dejan Kovacevic: I watched Locke and Ray Searage during a flat-ground session in left field at PNC Park right before the team left on this trip. Searage was emphasizing again and again for Locke to raise his arm slot. The arm tends to sag with fatigue. Locke's not a big guy, and fatigue was going to be a factor.

People talk about his luck way too much. Fact is, Locke stopped pounding the ball precisely inside on right-handed hitters. That's when everything changed.

Liz: Can you help me calculate propulsive efficiency?

Dejan Kovacevic: You're on your own, lady!

JoelfromWV: Dejan, The steelers D throughout their history have always had that next young star “in the making in-line”, a la James Harrison, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, LaMarr Woodley etc... Whether it be through the draft or unsigned FA.. Who do you envision being the next in line? And will they make an impact this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: You mean other than Jarvis Jones?

DNY: Column yesterday was some of your finest work. Towards the end, you rattle off a list of ignominious events. Is there one that for you crystallizes the era? (For me, it's gotta be either Operation Shutdown or Mondesi.)

Dejan Kovacevic: Worst of all: Ramirez trade.

Dumbest of all: Rule 5. Yes, even dumber than Matt Morris.

Ugliest of all: The Al Martin thing that's described in there, which surprisingly few people seem to remember. I don't know, maybe that game wasn't televised. Those of us inside Three Rivers that day will never forget it. Quintessential Bucco-dom right there.

Polish Falcon: DK, what's your opinion on the futue of TribLive radio and other internet radio staions? I for one think it's going to explode once the internet is readily available in every vehicle. I love TribLive by the way, best talk in town, and its not even close.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm sure everyone at TribLIVE Radio appreciates that. And I'm glad you asked about this because it's a topic I find fascinating.

The prevailing thinking has been that Internet radio would have to wait until it's in car dashboards to take off. But what happened in the interim has kind of superseded that in that more and more people are listening to everything through their smartphones, including in the car. That's why our focus has been on the TribLIVE Radio app more than anything.

Our numbers are growing exponentially, by the way, and I'm using that term conservatively. It's a real pleasure to play even a very, very small part in it.

Brian in Brooklyn: Man, I can't believe you have never been to Beaver Stadium in the fall. Please go up during a big game such as homecoming vs Michigan this October. It really is an atmosphere unlike any other.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yeah, if you missed it on the blog, I'm driving up tomorrow for Penn State-Eastern Michigan, along with beat man Chris Adamski, and it'll represent for me the first time ever being inside Beaver Stadium. Been to State College before, including for the scandal coverage two years ago. But not for football.

Really, really looking forward to it, even if it's a non-conference opponent.

Daquido Bazzini: How long do you think it will take for this young Steeler OL to really jell?

Dejan Kovacevic: Asked Ramon Foster about this yesterday, and his response was that the O-line actually might have been a little lucky to have its “mistakes” — his term — exposed in the preseason. He sounded very confident all that will be corrected in time for Tennessee.

We'll see. The Titans shut down the Steelers' running game in Nashville last season.

cvillekidinhershey: Denver that good or Baltimore that bad?

Dejan Kovacevic: Probably neither. But — and I hate to go told-you-so here — it's been blowing me away for weeks that so many national outlets were ranking Baltimore among the top two teams in the AFC, as if they hadn't paid the slightest attention to the Ravens' huge losses this offseason.

This much is for sure: That offense is in trouble. Joe Flacco's down to one viable receiver in Torrey Smith after Jacoby Jones went down, and if he has to throw 62 times a game and Ray Rice has to touch the ball 1,000 times a game, they're going to wear down by the end of September, never mind 16 games.

tim m: you predicted that blow out last night know you are not a gambling man but could we please get a column each week on what you see as pertinent issues about the upcoming games

Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! Nice try. No, I'm not doing lines, and I'm not sure you'd want me to, anyway. Not sure the blowout call was the gutsiest thing of all time, either. Again, I just don't think people were paying attention to the fact that Baltimore's an entirely different team now since they decided to hand all their money to Flacco.

BurghSteel: Does Matingly or anyone have a chance to overtake Hurdle for MOY

Dejan Kovacevic: Wow, I sure hope not. Mattingly would be getting credit for digging out of a self-dug hole, when his bazillion-dollar roster shamefully underachieved in the season's first quarter. The Dodgers couldn't have been this good all along, but neither should they ever have been that bad.

I've got a Manager of the Year vote, and while I'll wait till the end, I'd have a hard time casting it for Mattingly.

Rob: Should the Pirates consider giving Liriano some rest?

Dejan Kovacevic: If there are tangible signs of fatigue, absolutely. That can't always be measured by results, though. Liriano couldn't make his changeup do what it normally does and, when John Buck inexplicably kept calling for the changeup, it kept getting hit. This isn't ... um, passing the buck, but Buck was just as bad in all facets that game as Liriano.

theplanisworking: Who will be the biggest ballhawk this season? Woodley, Jones, or Polamalu? And, if they arent ballhawks, will you revise your 10-6 prediction?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's got to be Jones. That's what he does.

And who revises preseason predictions? What a copout!

Bernard: There were a few scenes during HBO's Hard Knocks where James Harrison appears to be intimidating not only team mates but also coaches. Was his demeanor that aggressive towards Steelers' coaching staff?

Dejan Kovacevic: He's pulled that garbage with everyone everywhere. It's why, after more than a decade with one team, you never once heard his name associated with the term leadership. Not liked at all.

I'll make this preseason prediction right now: James Harrison will be a terribly lonely man in retirement.

Sam: Dejan, I noticed WR Derek Moye on the field in Latrobe and in the Steeler pre-season games. I'm glad he made the team. Will his size be utilized in the Red Zone during the regular season?

Dejan Kovacevic: That's a great idea. Love what Moye's done. But then, you'd first need to convince Todd Haley to go four- or even five-wide in the red zone. Good luck with that.

Dejan Kovacevic: Tampa Bay Lightning time? Yeah, they're doing rookie games now. We can still call it that ... Quick Qs, quicker As ...

tim: Why don't you cover PSU wrestling more? They are 3x defending national champs with WPIAL kids on team.

Dejan Kovacevic: You know, with covering the Steelers, Pirates, Pitt football, Penn State football, the Riverhounds until recently, the Penguins starting next week and prepping for the Olympics before long, I can honestly say that one hadn't crossed my mind.

But then, maybe you mean the paper as a whole.

RISPy K: Do you think the reason for the young Pirates poor offensive performance with RISP is largely mental? Is there any chance that the new veteran acquisitions can pass on some helpful advice?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's not about RISP. It's never about RISP. And RISP is not a skill, innate or teachable. You need baserunners, plain and simple.

Guest: Dejan - Your prediction for the final NL Central standings? Thanks and loved your “82” article.

Dejan Kovacevic: My preseason pick was the Reds, so I'm not going to revise it. Cincinnati's been by far the best team in the Central in the second half and, to be candid here, I find it amazing that some Pirates fans spent the past few nights hoping they beat the Cardinals. No, no, no. St. Louis is losing players and losing steam. Cincinnati's got the upward arrow.

Nick: How quickly do you think Markus Weaton can become an impactful part of the Steelers offense?

Dejan Kovacevic: After what we've seen the past five weeks, there's no intelligent reason why that shouldn't be Sunday. Kid's for real.

cmat0829: DK: Pedro, Pedro, Pedro. Since the ASB he is hitting only .195 with 8 HRS, and in August he swung and missed 40% (FORTY!!) of the time, most in the majors. Is he ‘who he is' at this point? Is he regressing? Or is there hope he can put it all together at some point? Not complaining about 32 HRs and 86 RBIs, but post ASB he is not contributing.

Dejan Kovacevic: This is what Pedro does. Rinse, repeat.

tim m: Hurdle is bu all accounts the manager of the year, yet a weakness of his has been his handling of players during the game, do you think he can adjust his thinking to use all of the available players down the stretch? example letting Buck hit with bases loaded against Milw with Jones Snider and G Sanchez still available?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm curious: Can you cite an example of a move Hurdle made that worked?

Damon: Who will be playing on the 3rd line with Sutter this year? Jokinen? Is Jeffery really a 3rd liner?

Dejan Kovacevic: Bennett and Jokinen.

Tommy from Whitehall: Favorite part about being at Heinz Field on a Steeler Sunday?

Dejan Kovacevic: Easy. I love the walk from the Trib's parking lot to the press entrance. The things that get cooked out there ... you'd swear some of these people were trying out for those Master Chef shows on Food Network.

These aren't your pap-pap's tailgaters anymore.

Adam: What were your first impressions of Tyler Boyd & Christian Hackenberg last weekend?

Dejan Kovacevic: Impossible not to love what both of them did. Boyd was sensational with all five touches, like a TD waiting to happen. And Hackenberg had a bit of a rough start, but Allen Robinson settled him down.

George: If both Bennett and Jokinen are on the third line, who's on the Malkin-Neal line?

Dejan Kovacevic: My mistake on the previous answer. Here's what I've actually heard: Jokinen-Malkin-Neal for the second line, D'Agostini-Sutter-Bennett for the third, but Bennett has a chance to move up. They don't necessarily want Bennett getting overwhelmed by Malkin and Neal in the early stages of camp. Not entirely sure what that means, but there it is.

Apologies for the mistake earlier. I was thinking about how Sutter actually likes playing with Jokinen. We'll see how that plays out.

Harrisburg Hal: Lighning Round: Enjoy Happy Valley - Best defensive defenseen of the following: Doug Bodger, Rod Buskas, Jim Johnson or Randy Hillier?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yikes: I'll go with Hillier out of respect for the fact that he carried it over so many years (and because he's just a great guy). Love the question, though. Begs the further question as to who's the best defensive defenseman the Penguins have ever had.

Turner Ward: I know people like playoff hockey, but seriously, what's better than a pennant race?

Dejan Kovacevic: I think you answered your own question there.

SlackBoss: One that Hurdle nailed - Snyder PH for a homer. Even a blind pig finds an acorn!

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. Hurdle is a blind pig who never has a thing to do with the Ws. Just an innocent bystander. (Groan.)

Dave Burrows: The answer is Dave Burrows

Dejan Kovacevic: Brooks Orpik might have something to say about that before it's all done. But right now, Burrows, yes.

Dejan Kovacevic: That's all for this week. Columns run Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Friday. Penn State tomorrow, Steelers on Sunday, then more and different kinds of football in the middle of next week, and then ... wow, training camp. Incredibly short off-season for the NHL. Septembers used to be much simpler.

Thanks for participating! Really appreciate it.

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