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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: Sept. 27, 2013

| Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, 1:10 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Greetings from the Trib's London bureau, or as they call it here, some Starbucks in the Piccadilly section of town.

All topics on the table, as always. Right there with the tea.

Derek: Dejan, I think that the Big Ben in London is far more impressive than the 2013 Big Ben QB. Your article about Ben not grasping the big picture was a spot of tea on. Those turnovers could not be blamed on anyone else but him. He was not taking care of the football.

Dejan Kovacevic: There's more blame than that. Really cringing anymore when I get feedback about assigned blame. It's almost as if only one person can wear the blame cap at a time.

Ben was lousy. So were others.

Blaso: The best Steeler back in protection( and possibly overall) seems to be Dwyer. What does it tell you about the current Steeler regime ability to evaluate talent that they actually cut him ?

Dejan Kovacevic: Football's more advanced studies such as Pro Football Focus and the like consistently rate Dwyer among the NFL's top five blocking backs. I'd assume the Steelers could afford the subscription.

Merrick: You have tweeted pictures of Woodley looking exhausted. Do you think Tomlin's decision to fly out Friday will affect the team come Sunday? Would you have done the same?

Dejan Kovacevic: LaMarr looked a lot worse in person than that pic, trust me. Takes something for a total stranger of a reporter — British guy — to notice that and ask LaMarr out of the blue if he'd had any sleep on the plane.

Two hours, came the reply.

I'm totally with 56 on this one: The Steelers should have come earlier in the week, as the Vikings did. That opinion isn't based on how the game Sunday could play out. I'll feel the same way if the Steelers win by 28. Environment is always within a coach's control, and Tomlin's stated reason for staying in Pittsburgh — wanted to keep practice as normal as possible — is nonsensical.

It takes 2-4 days to acclimate. Anyone will tell you that.

Speaking only for myself, I could barely leave my hotel room. Now, I can't sleep on planes, so I might be an exception. But I'm guessing 56 wasn't the only one who didn't sleep as well as Tomlin apparently did.

Terry: So Ben called Bell to the carpet. Where are you on this story?

Dejan Kovacevic: Are or were?

Rick from Dormont: Lots of talk about who starts the wild card playoff for the Pirates. I think it has to be Liriano. Who starts for Cincinnati though?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll be honest: Baseball's the furthest thing from my mind over here, so far all I know, a rotation's already been announced. If so, apologies.

I'm on record as wanting Liriano in my biggest game. He's the guy with the greatest potential to take the ball and flat-out shove it up the other team's hindquarters. He's the guy you want.

Duck Sauce: Please explain why you chose to cover an 0-3 team over one who is embarking on the playoffs.

Dejan Kovacevic: First off, I don't choose. I have editors. They not only have final say, they get first say and all says in between. That's how it works anywhere.

Second, if I did choose, I'd have picked the Steelers in London 100 times out of 100 at the time such a decision had to be made. You don't pack up the day before and go. You buy plane tickets, book hotels, plan story schedules, etc.

Third, if I did choose the day before, I'd still be with the Steelers. They're my top priority, for one. And the fact they're 0-3 doesn't reduce the interest in coverage in the slightest. An argument can be made, in fact, that more people turn to coverage in search of accountability/answers, that sort of thing. Numbers will back me on that.

Finally, though, I'd be remiss if I didn't thank you for asking. I appreciate and never take for granted that anyone would care where I'd be writing about anything.

Brian G: He covers every Steelers game! Period...record doesn't matter.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yeah, there's that, too. Covering the Steelers was a big, big priority from me in coming to the Trib, and that won't change if they're 0-3 any more than my approach to covering the Penguins and Pirates changed when they were down or even horrible.

Adam: If Vokoun can't come back to the Pens (some scary quotes showing up in overseas papers) do you expect them to bring in a vet or go with an in-house option?

Dejan Kovacevic: Those quotes are horrifying, actually, Adam, and I'll repeat here what I tweeted a bit ago advising caution in taking them too seriously. The Prague papers are notoriously unreliable and often have been caught outright fabricating stuff.

In this case, you'd dearly love that to be the case. Vokoun is a good man, a family man, beloved by his acquaintances for a reason.

As for a replacement ... I really want to tell you what I thought of Jeff Zatkoff the other day, but that wouldn't be fair. It was just one preseason game. I'll hold off.

Moose, anyone?

Noel Gallagher: Are there some soccer fans on the Steelers? Giant London Derby tomorrow Tottenham v. Chelsea. Shcdules probably prohibit all (you included) from attending?

Dejan Kovacevic: A lot of people have looked into possible EPL viewing tomorrow, and I'm not an exception. My understanding is that the biggest issue is — surprise — a lack of tickets.

I'm thinking instead of spending the day at the Tower. Been there several times, but there's so much there. Plus, torture chambers being celebrated is so fantastically macabre as to be brilliant.

Keith: Will the cornerbacks ever play press coverage again? They continually play off and allow QB's to throw short passes instead of covering them and allowing the rush to get the QB?

Dejan Kovacevic: Funny that you mention that. Today, Ike Taylor, in addition to being hilarious with the British press, offered what I thought was a striking answer as it related to the defense's zero — count ‘em, zero — takeaways.

“We're not really made for that,” Ike said. “We do practice it, and we do believe they'll come. But we're not made for that.”

No idea what that meant. Any suggestions?

Brian G: How important is it to the Pirates and their fans for them to take the aggressive approach and maybe hit Votto or Phillips first so that the warning happens before they can respond? I think they've been way to passive and the Reds feed off being the aggressor.

Dejan Kovacevic: As an instigation? That wouldn't be important at all. If anyone thinks it is, they don't think much of the Pirates' resolve in the first place.

Davis: What do you expect out of Le'Veon Bell this week? It'd be nice to see him have some decent touches, but I don't expect him to light it up.

Dejan Kovacevic: Ben offered something unsolicited today on Bell — no, not that again — in noting that coaches are having Bell finish all his practice runs by going full-throttle all the way to the end zone. (Usually, such plays are ended by a coach's whistle.) Per the QB, that's a conditioning thing and “he looks good right now.”

Big things?

Crazy to predict for a second-round rookie. I'll go for something a little less ambitious like making it past the opening series.

Chris from DC: Thanks for still having the chat despite your travel and diff schedule. Pens question: What's your take on the bottom two lines? Who's in/out? Any surprises?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll hold my faith in Ray Shero that he sees the same lack of grit on the third and fourth lines that everyone else does and that he'll keep looking throughout the season, perhaps adding someone when the cap isn't a factor.

I'm OK, I guess, with Brandon Sutter and either Beau Bennett/Jussi Jokinen, but there isn't anyone for the other wing that excites. And the fourth line, to me, is Craig Adams and whatever.

Deryk Engelland up front?

Only asking.

Daquido Bazzini: Listening to Mike Tomlin's PC on Tuesday, he spent 10 minutes on the Vikings, and the rest of the time on non-important Q's. I'm not looking for a media confrontation, but how many losses is it going to take to get some real answers about a bad team? Also...Has anyone seen Kevin Colbert lately?

Dejan Kovacevic: As I often say, you can ask questions, but you can't put the subjects in orange jump suits when you do. They'll answer how they answer.

That said, Colbert's policy is that he doesn't talk in-season. He's very friendly, very courteous, and he'll address stuff off the record if background is needed. But no formal interviews.

That blows my mind.

Brian G: Pitt is thinking of being more up tempo this year, isn't that a year to late? They needed to do that last year.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll assume you're referring to Jamie Dixon's remarks yesterday rather than anything related to the football team.

Yes, it's a year too late. He had athletes last year, and he had players who looked eminently comfortable on the run. Even his big man, Steven Adams, could run the floor. Now, he doesn't have Adams and ... honestly, I'm not sure he's left with a choice.

It'll be fun to follow, at least through all the early La Roche College routs and the like. If he takes it into the ACC ... we'll see.

Paul fron Nashville, TN by way of Altoona, PA: As for the lack of grit on the 3rd and 4th lines for the Penguins, do you think that the Penguins made a mistake by not pursuing Brendon Morrow this year? I think he would have been a good fit and would have brought the toughness that is lacking presently.

Dejan Kovacevic: So did I, Paul, but that's why I mentioned the cap up there. Morrow just got $1.5 million from the Blues. That's money the Penguins don't have under the cap, which means they'd have to move someone to get it.

I like Morrow, but not enough to devalue someone on the current roster to cut the cap, if that makes any sense.

If only Joe Nieuwendyk were still employed, you could send Tanner Glass to the Stars for something really good.

Brian G: Sorry I did mean basketball.

Dejan Kovacevic: OK, good. Thanks!

yinzer in va: Dejan, What happens if the Bucs and Reds tie, which would happen if the Reds win 2 this weekend? Boy, it sure is fun to wonder about these scenarios, isn't it? I haven't had the opportunity to get excited about this kind of stuff since.....

Dejan Kovacevic: Swear to God, I really don't know. I know the Pirates had the tiebreaker on the Cards, but I don't know about the Reds.


Adam: Think the lack of sleep catches up with the team more in the first or fourth quarter? The Vikings have not been playing well this year, but they're not a terrible team. Fresh legs outrun tired ones, every time. Is this already a L?

Dejan Kovacevic: With Matt Cassel starting now for the Vikes, if you haven't heard?

No, that's not an L.

And say what you will about Adrian Peterson's awesomeness — all justified — but the Steelers still don't give up much on the ground.

Davis: Dejan, I bought tickets for the potential wild card game at PNC, and would obviously love to see that game in Pittsburgh. But do you, think if the Pirates were to lose this upcoming series, that having the WC game in Cincy would be the end of the world? Can't playing on the road sometimes allow the visiting team to relax and not get overwhelmed by the emotions?

Dejan Kovacevic: Bluntly here, I can see why in Pittsburgh, of all places, it would matter that the Pirates get that wild-card game at home. PNC Park has never seen anything of the kind, and it sure would be weird to go 162 games, achieve all this, then not have a single home playoff game.

But from the baseball standpoint, it really doesn't move my needle much. The Pirates have been a very good road team, they've fared well for a while now in Cincinnati, and — to repeat — I'll take Liriano against anyone anywhere when he's on.

Jerry: The first tiebreaker is head-to-head record, and the Pirates and Reds currently stand at 8-8, so the winner of this weekend's series gets homefield for the WC game.

Dejan Kovacevic: And there you have it, from the Jerry bureau. Stool next to me is open, if you're up for a coffee. (And a long flight.)

Dom: Can I get your MLB post season predictions?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's almost impossible not to like the Dodgers in the National League, given all they've done since the slow start. They've been just overpowering at times.

No idea in the American League.

shnuff: Sacks breed mistakes, mistakes breed turnovers, turnovers breed short fields, short fields breed scoring. This formula has been largely absent. Nothing will change unless the formula changes.

Dejan Kovacevic: Yeah, exactly. Just saying “that's not how we're made” doesn't really cut it. If you've got a defense that isn't “made” for takeaways, then you need to “make” a new defense.

Daquido Bazzini: Where might the Friday eve take you in lovely London Town??

Dejan Kovacevic: When I'm done here, I'll take a walk through famous Hyde Park and the back park behind Buckingham Palace — sorry, don't know what that's called, but I really liked it during the Olympics on the day I covered the race walk — then back to the hotel.

You get tired pretty quickly, really do.

Mind the gap: Is it time for a jiffy round?

Dejan Kovacevic: Come on down!

Daquido Bazzini: Green Park

Dejan Kovacevic: That's it. Thanks.

Dejan Kovacevic: Tampa Bay Lightning, anyone?

Navy Chris: Dejan, if the news about Vokoun (as scary as it is) is true, where does that leave us with cap space?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ugh. Really?

No, it's a fair question. I take that back. There is a thing in the NHL called LTIR, or long-term injured reserve in which the player (obviously) still gets paid, but the money doesn't count against the cap.

JamesinNYC: I am late but loved the soccer reference about 6 year old kids being a pack of wolves with a steak...yep that would be a great reference.

Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! Thanks. And understand that wasn't a knock on the kids but on the people who think coaching soccer is just rolling a ball out there and yelling really loud.

Napper: How are the Steelers addressing the lack of tunovers produced by the defense?

Dejan Kovacevic: Apparently, by admitting they can't produce them.

Paul fron Nashville, TN by way of Altoona, PA: Does Suzie McConnell Serio as the new Pitt Lady Panthers coach give the Lady Panthers a fighting chance of having a break even record in her inaugural season?

Dejan Kovacevic: Suzie's got a deep hole to dig out of. Even after her departure at Duquesne, Dan Burt's program is going to have the upper hand, I think. That's to Suzie's credit, obviously, but man, Agnus Berenato didn't just leave the cupboard bare. She didn't even leave a cupboard.

TDubb: How long until we see some of the young defenseman playing in Pittsburgh, seems like Bylsma has no use for working the young guys into the rotation?

Dejan Kovacevic: I wouldn't pin that all on Bylsma. The passion for having the young D spend a year in Wilkes-Barre comes from Shero. He's a strong believer in that.

I'll repeat that when I asked Bylsma the other day about Olli Maatta being NHL-ready, Bylsma came right back with, “We thought he was NHL-ready last season.”

Guest: Defense pairings on October 3? Who is in the press box?

Dejan Kovacevic: Orpik-Martin, Scuderi-Letang, Niskanen-Bortuzzo.

Nick: Do you think any early 90s era Pirate ever gets his number retired?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd hope not. I've said many times, the next retiring of a number the Pirates need to do is to un-retire Billy Meyer's No. 1.

Not to speak ill of the long-dead, but his career merits nothing of the kind.

Paul fron Nashville, TN by way of Altoona, PA: Who ends up being the starting tackles for the Steelers after the bye week?

Dejan Kovacevic: Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert actually graded out OK against the Bears. Not all that fair at this point to lump him in with Mike Adams.

Bob: Dejan...what is the first big move the Steelers make if they keep losing?

Dejan Kovacevic: D. None of the above.

Chris: D.K. keep up the awesome work. I don't always agree with you, but I always read and respect your work. Does Zolnierczyk clear waivers? Pens need the grit.'

Dejan Kovacevic: They should hope so. He showed good speed, in addition to that grit. Could use a bit more of that, too.

I'm at least a little surprised at the move.

JC: How do you see the Pitt-Virginia game going on Saturday?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd look for big things from James Conner, and no, I'm barely counting anything he or anyone did against Duke. I'm talking about a legit great rushing performance against a more evenly matched defense.

This might sound stupid because they aren't built the same at all, but Conner reminds me a bit of Chris Schneider, Pitt's bullish back from a few years back. Really hard-nosed style, falls forward.

Jack: Dejan great to speak yesterday. Great artical today. What's your opinion on London as a potential NFL franchise and who would you see as the most obvious to come over here permanently

Dejan Kovacevic: London Jaguars, baby!

Really, Jacksonville is the sorry stepchild right now. And not just because they're lousy, though that doesn't help. It's a tiny market (though parenthetically our largest in terms of land mass, no kidding), and it just doesn't pull in enough dollars or eyeballs to matter.

Zane (not Smith): Can Landry Jones play tackle?

Dejan Kovacevic: Can Tyler Boyd play defense?

Nick: Is Mike Tomlin as unpleasant in person as he seems in his press conferences? He seems more pleasant in national TV interviews...

Dejan Kovacevic: Wow, for an outsider, you're reading that with remarkable clarity.

The coach loves the national guys, a couple in particular. Doesn't hide it all that well, either.

Doesn't affect me in the slightest, you should know. Never does. One of the warmest, sappiest pieces I've written all year was about an athlete who's been an epic jerk. You just do the job.

Dejan Kovacevic: Wow, look at the time. Had no idea.

OK, thanks for joining in. Alan Robinson, staff photog Chaz Palla and I are here for the game, and I'll be sending you some extra London-type stuff on the blog ‘n at.

Thanks for participating!

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