Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: Sept. 13, 2013
Dejan Kovacevic: Football and baseball and hockey and ... only an hour for it all!
Matthew: Do you feel Melancon is a lock as closer for the rest of the season, if so, what do you see Grilli's role as moving forward?
Dejan Kovacevic: I wouldn't say he's a lock, but it's his job to lose. Clint Hurdle isn't saying as much, and he obviously had to turn to Kyle Farnsworth to finish out one of the Ws in Arlington. But Hurdle has managed this, I think, perfectly. There's no reason Grilli should simply be handed the job back. None. This is the time of year where short-term is all that matters, and that means going with your best chance to win that day.
Melancon has shown a couple kinks of late, but the guy's still getting the job done.
Brian G: Please offer us Steelers fans something to cling to other than a top 10 draft pick.
Dejan Kovacevic: Hm. Well, I gave that a shot in the intro to yesterday's radio show, and if you saw or heard that, I failed pretty badly when it came to the offense. It's not a simple scenario to picture how it'll all of a sudden right itself anytime soon, let alone in time for Monday.
That said, it's also fair to remember the Steelers' first drive against the Titans. They zipped right down the field, even popped a couple of runs there. It looked very much like how the Todd Haley offense is supposed to look. And if Emmanuel Sanders doesn't let that ball go through his arms, there's a long gain in there, too.
Haley had a terrible game. I'm not sure right now that he isn't a terrible coordinator. But it's a lot easier to tell those things if you get good play from your tackles as opposed to what we saw from Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert.
We'll see. Sorry. Got nothing at the moment.
Dejans brother: Is Simon Despres in Bylsma's doghouse? Extremely out of shape is not a way to earn a roster spot at a young age. Disappointing to hear that story with how much potential he has
Dejan Kovacevic: Disappointing is about the kindest term anyone can use in this setting. It's dereliction of duty. It's showing not only your coaching staff and your teammates that you really don't care. It's essentially admitting it to yourself. It's a lack of pride.
It's also dumb. I mean, all you hockey moms and dads, if you want your kid to get very independently wealthy and they're good at the sport, for heaven's sake, have them be defensemen. The NHL remains lacking in this area more than a decade and change since the last expansion.
Despres was told — we all were told — he could be top-four on a Stanley Cup contender, partners with a Norris Trophy candidate in Kris Letang. And he pulled this.
He had a strong scrimmage today, according to our Rob Rossi and Josh Yohe on the scene, and that's swell. But you can hide anything in a setting like that. Hockey's easy for Despres. It always has been, and that's been part of the problem.
Where a lack of conditioning will expose you in game settings is down the road, over 82 of those and playoffs and getting hit night after night.
We'll see. But yes, know this: He is very much in Dan Bylsma's doghouse. And I might be putting that mildly.
Zack: Is Despres shaping out to be a bust pick or a lazy talent?
Dejan Kovacevic: Those sound like one and the same to me, Zack.
Michael: Looking ahead to the stretch run and postseason, how do you think Hurdle will address the 1st base position with a righty lefty pitcher?
Dejan Kovacevic: It's pretty obvious this week that Clint Hurdle would love nothing more than to see Justin Morneau be his everyday guy. And it hasn't hurt that Morneau has, out of nowhere, been hitting the lefties with such authority that even his outs look good.
Math will tell you it would be best to platoon Morneau with Gaby Sanchez, who has good numbers against lefties. But I know how much Clint loves that stable presence there.
It'll be interesting to watch.
Oprah: Christian Hackenberg has it all, doesn't he?
Dejan Kovacevic: Penn State's got themselves a keeper in that kid, no question. Strong arm, good presence ... still some maturity issues, a few of which popped up Saturday in that Eastern Michigan game I covered up at Beaver Stadium. But issues like that can and have been easily calmed by simply looking for No. 8 out in the open. Allen Robinson is no less special.
It's yet another testament to Bill O'Brien, by the way, that, under the circumstances, he was able to get Hackenberg to fulfill his commitment to Penn State. Adjectives don't do that coach justice.
Brian G: Thoughts on how Pitt can use Tyler Boyd more? First time I saw him was against Florida State, and I think he is one of maybe 2 or 3 on the team that could start right now on that same FSU team.
Dejan Kovacevic: I'm tempted to just answer your first question there with a simple “yes.”
Paul Chryst knows he needs to get Boyd, the terrific freshman out of Clairton, more than five touches in the game. He might not have known that before Florida State, though. Fact is, Boyd wasn't exactly knocking anyone out in practice leading up to the opener, but he flicked on the switch for the Seminoles and blew everyone away.
I brought that up with Chryst immediately after the game, and you could just sense that was his feeling, too. Like, man, if we'd known he could do that ...
I also brought that up yesterday with Josh Yohe, our hockey writer who's covered Clairton football for years, and Josh just laughed in explaining that Clairton's practices often aren't that well attended, that a lot of these kids just showed up on Friday night and mauled the opponent. That doesn't necessarily describe Boyd, but it could describe how he was able to ramp it up when it mattered.
Pitt's got nobody like him. Nobody. And I strongly suspect New Mexico will see that on Saturday.
Jimmy D: So after hearing it was only preseason, now I'm hearing it was only one game from the Steelers. Are they delusional? It seems they are getting left behind in the evolution of NFL offensive schemes. No innovation. Can't understand why they won't at least play to Ben's strengths since they don't have the personnel to change the out dated scheme they have chosen.
Dejan Kovacevic: I didn't get the impression of the Steelers being delusional this week, Jimmy. If anything, they sounded like they were plenty tough on themselves, even each other. The meeting room with the offensive linemen, in particular, was one place where paint apparently peeled.
I agree with you on the innovation. If you lack talent — and there's no question the Steelers are short at tight end and tackle, in particular — you'd better come up with something that at least has the other team guessing.
That's the reason, more than any other, why it was so galling to see Haley run play after play after play of the same thing. Even the Titans were remarking afterward how they didn't really have to do anything special to stop it. A blitz here or there.
There's never an excuse for not having a viable plan.
jefft: Hi Dejan...now that the Pirates are on the right track, do you think there's any chance that they'll try to (gasp!) keep their newly-found signee/free-agents?
Dejan Kovacevic: There's a bunch of questions on this same track in the pool today, so I'll take this one and try to cover Justin Morneau and Marlon Byrd.
First, I'd be astonished if the Pirates have thought about either player beyond this season. Really would. It's just not how they operate, nor should it be. All that matters for the franchise is the here and now. (Finally.)
Next, I think you've got to look at starting pitching before anyone else. That means discussing whether or not to retain A.J. and what might be a fair price for that. A.J.'s ruffled a whole lot of feathers with the Pirates — way more than Clint Barmes the other day, believe me — but there's also a genuine recognition and appreciation for what he's done. He's got to be a priority, as is the case for anything related to starting pitching.
Are there openings for Morneau and Byrd?
Sure, there are. The closest anyone comes on the horizon at either position is right fielder Gregory Polanco in Double-A. That's not happening next spring.
And remember, the athletes themselves have to want to stay and have their families here.
Long way to go on this one.
Harrisburg Hal: Has Rob Scuderi been introduced to the Legend of Rob Scuderi? He's in for tough year if he's going to be compared to that other guy. He and the Legend of Hal Gill got better every single year since 2009.
Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! Well put. Nothing to add on that one!
Well, except this: Scuderi can still play. And his style always has been so simple that it's not like anyone's expecting that a lack of precision or skill to his game would have a big impact. Chip in, chip out.
Biz: Dejan, what do you think is the Pens biggest weakness going into the season? Forward depth?
Dejan Kovacevic: Grit. Not toughness but grit, especially up front.
Let me put it another way: When the Penguins skate into Philadelphia, I'd like to know that their jerk quotient is at least half as high as that of the Flyers. I'd like to know that someone will tick them off half as much as Scott Hartnell will tick the Penguins off.
Who's that player right now, Tanner Glass? Spare-part Harry Z?
Don't be surprised to see Ray Shero keep looking in this regard.
And why not Brenden Morrow, for that matter? He's still out there and couldn't cost that much.
Rob: Curious, now that the trade dust has settled have you noticed any difference in the Pirates' clubhouse and what are your thoughts on team chemistry?
Dejan Kovacevic: One of the many reasons I loved both the Morneau and Byrd trades was that both came with reputations as being great team guys. There's been nothing whatsoever to suggest they aren't still exactly that.
Speaking only for myself, I've really enjoyed my time with both. Really bright, well-put-together individuals.
Dan in Ttown: I know the guy the Steelers want to give the ball to is hurt but please no running back by committee! Isaac Redman didnt get the job done last week give it to Felix Jones or Jonathan Dwyer and see what they do consistency is key!
Dejan Kovacevic: I've got a crazy idea: How about giving the ball to the guy who ran all over the Bengals — in Cincinnati, no less — for 122 yards just last season?
Nuts, I know.
Hint: He was released a couple weeks ago, then brought back.
Ryan: Seriously, Why do the 3 sports have to overlap? Can't we digest one at a time? I'm not the biggest of hockey fans, which I knew more about it, but how much does one need to spend on blood pressure medicine?
Dejan Kovacevic: I can appreciate that! You should see my travel schedule for the final week of September, first week of October, which includes London for the Steelers, parts unknown for baseball playoffs, back in Pittsburgh for the Penguins' opener and who knows where else?
Enjoy it. That's what I'm doing. Not going to see this every year.
yinzer in va: Dejan, After my first and only game at PSU in the early 90's, the atmoshpere, excitement, and electricity captured college football at its best. I changed my loyalties from Pitt (where I had attended many games) to the the Blue and White. What are your impressions about the atmosphere on gameday in State College, PA?
Dejan Kovacevic: I could see what people were talking about in terms of the atmosphere. Looks like it could be wonderful. But in fairness, this might not have been most representative. The stadium was about two-thirds full for Eastern Michigan, so all I could do was extrapolate how that might feel for the whole 100,000-plus.
I'll be back for Michigan. Looking forward to it.
Rob: Do you feel that M.A.F has made any progress in “giving up the ghosts” of seasons past ?. To me the script looks the same.
Dejan Kovacevic: Off a scrimmage?
Assuming that isn't what you mean, given that Marc-Andre Fleury allowed four goals on the first five shots yesterday, I'll pretty much repeat what was in today's column: If Fleury wins the Vezina this season, if he's got a .999 save percentage, even if he plays a full game Gump Worsley-style with no mask and becomes a living legend for it, you're still going to hold your breath on the first 55-foot floater Kimmo Timonen sends his way in the playoffs.
That's just how it is.
Guest 23: Are your editors or publishers scared like little children of any Pittsburgh sports personalities in the manner The State is of Spurrier ?
Dejan Kovacevic: What a story that was, huh?
Well, if you haven't seen the follow-up to that scene I described in the blog a couple days ago, The State's editor manned up and restored allowing that columnist to cover South Carolina football, even in the face of Steve Spurrier's infantile protests.
This bears repeating: Fans who think critical coverage hurts their favorite team's chances of winning are delusional. The readers of The State have every right to expect fair, honest coverage of the Gamecocks, just as you have every right to expect fair, honest coverage of your teams here. No filters, no team approval.
Dejan Kovacevic: I do believe we've achieved Tampa Bay Lightning time. Quick Qs, quick As ...
Brian G: I for one appreaciate honest coverage. Thank you
Dejan Kovacevic: Not everyone does, trust me. Especially not the more sensitive set among the local baseball fan base.
But then, I heard a lot of the same stuff several years ago for having the audacity to make public the Pirates' miserable failures in Latin America and the rotting condition of the Dominican academy. I was being all negative, not helping the team and so forth.
Funny, don't hear that complaint now.
efft: 16 games left for the Bucs. How many do they have to win to secure the division?
Dejan Kovacevic: Only the one tonight, according to Hurdle! (And then the one tomorrow, etc.) No, seriously, I could see 10 or 11 making a really nice cushion, which will mean making hay against the Cubs and Padres.
Ryan: About how many questions are you picking through during these things?
Dejan Kovacevic: Don't have an exact count yet. Matt Neistein of our Web staff tracks that for us, and I could get you a better number next week. But I think it's in the 800 range.
Chuck: DK, I saw the article from Josh Yohe on Pens possible 3rd line and he listed Beau Bennett. If Bennett is not a top 6 forward who would be in line for that?
Dejan Kovacevic: Bennett's with Malkin and Neal now. That's what matters most.
The other, to answer your question, would be Jokinen.
Brian G: I have no idea where to find it but I'm sure it is out there somewhere but what did you predict for the Pirates this year. I think I predicted about 75 wins truthfully. I remember Clint Hurdle said 94 (Fairly certain that was his number) and everyone kind of scoffed at the notion. 94 looks pretts low now.
Dejan Kovacevic: I seem to recall predicting 76 for the reason I thought they'd take a small step back from 79.
That worked out really well, huh?
Brad, Indiana PA: Why does Ben never take any heat for the Steelers' offensive shortcomings? He's not exactly lighting it up and hasn't been for awhile. I know he doesn't have HOF receivers, but he's part of the problem, too.
Dejan Kovacevic: I could dig through my links if this weren't a live chat and come up with three full columns I've written critical of Ben, two for on-field play, one for off-field pouting.
Obviously, it wouldn't make much sense for me to speak for others.
I thought Ben played OK Sunday. The high handoff might have been his most egregious mistake.
Ryan: Oh you know you love Morneau for his hockey love as well? What did you think of him choosing 66? Great class on his part.
Dejan Kovacevic: Didn't move the needle much for me either way. Different sport.
When that kid in Calgary wore it for the Flames, that was different. No way it should be worn in the NHL by anyone.
Guest: How much trouble do you think the Pens will endure with Despres until he gets Gologoski'd, magically transforming into the next James Neal and Matt Niskanen?
Dejan Kovacevic: Ah, if only Joe Nieuwendyk were still employed.
Ryan: If you could cover anything in sports that you haven't already covered, what would it be? Kinda hard to beat the Olympics I imagine, but surely you have something you've been wanting to do?
Dejan Kovacevic: Nothing's better than the Olympics, but I'd say the only one I've got left that hasn't been checked off the list is the World Cup. Not that this would be a possibility — can't imagine that much of the Trib's readership would be invested — but I'd love that.
Did you catch that crowd in Columbus the other night, by the way, for that fabulous display of American soccer?
Wow. Jurgen Klinsmann is all that and more.
Rob: We hear blame being spread around in regards to the Steelers play. Do you think any of it should fall on the Rooneys trying to dictate who the coordinator should be and what type of team they should be?
Dejan Kovacevic: Of course. But a question here: Why are we always looking for complete lists of blame?
I swear, about 80 percent of the reaction to any column I write after any loss — regardless of the team — is about how to divvy up the blame and what percentage of it should go to whom.
When you lose, you lose. There generally aren't exceptions from blame. But no one's going to run through a complete list.
Patrick(ri): Should owners be allowed to buy local newspapers (a la Red Sox/Globe example)?
Dejan Kovacevic: If they preserve the impeccable, fundamental American tradition of a free, strong press, I'm all in favor.
Rob: Would it be fair to say that Hurdle has done a pretty good job using all the players he has at his disposal?
Dejan Kovacevic: Just a little.
Guest 23: Do you anticipate any problems or distractions with Shero and Bylsma's obligations and commitments to the US Men's National Hockey Team ?
Dejan Kovacevic: Surprisingly, yes. And it shouldn't be.
Napper: With Carolina in a desperate need of a defenseman with Pitkanen out for the year, will Rutherford dare call Shero? Any wingers left there they Pens could deal for?
Dejan Kovacevic: Rutherford should hire Nieuwendyk as his assistant GM and have Joe give Ray a call. There, how's that?
JamesinNYC: Is there a more gracefull player to watch in MLB then McCutchen? Since 20 years is over, the signing of McCutchen was the turning point for the franchise, they finally put up and said this was the GUY.
Dejan Kovacevic: The signing of McCutchen or the drafting of McCutchen?
Let's not rewrite history here. McCutchen was the 11th overall pick, and a tremendous one at that. No one ripped on Dave Littlefield and head scout Ed Creech more than I did during their tenure, but they deserve full marks for this one. Not easy projecting a baseball player out of high school but, in a departure, they did exactly that based on potential.
Delaware Ed: Will Despres go to Wilkes Barre?
Dejan Kovacevic: He should.
Dan B: I am not trying to jump the gun or anything here, but do you think that if the Steeler offense does not at least improve in the next couple weeks they would make a change at OC?
Dejan Kovacevic: Let's cross that once we get there. I'll just keep asking the same question until then: What's Haley doing to help the Steelers win through maximizing their greatest asset?
Dejan Kovacevic: That's it for this week. Thanks to all for participating.
The column runs Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday, though I'll also have a Tuesday one next week for Steelers-Bengals.
The TribLIVE Radio show is Wednesday, 2-3 p.m.
The Subway Final Word is on WPXI-TV Sundays at 11:35 p.m.
Oh, and I'll be on MLB Network today at 4:35 p.m. live from PNC Park.