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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript Dec. 6, 2013

| Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, 1:22 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Good morning from the very room in which a certain someone with the Steelers traditionally welcomes the group with “Good afternoon.” Apologies for the half-hour early start this week, but I've got some specific work to do over here when we're done. No big deal, but you get your assistant coaches when you can.

Away we go ...

Chris: What do you predict happens with Jason Worilds after the season? Is he a late bloomer the Steelers can't afford like Keenan Lewis? Or can he be re-signed to give the Steelers a 3 headed monster at OLB?

Dejan Kovacevic: Worilds will dictate that. The Steelers want to see more than two jaw-dropping games in a contract year, and that's fair. They want to see if he can sustain that level of pressure, if he can fend off double-teams that might, if he can handle different opponents. If he can, you've almost got no choice but to re-sign him.

LaMarr Woodley's end of this is different. To quote that same man cited in the intro up there ... obviously.

AK: I am surprised to hear that Bell appears to be on track for playing this Sunday. Curious if there is any debate within the Steelers as to whether it might be better to err on the side of caution. Given all that's gone on in the recent past, it quite frankly seems like a poor decision to put him back so soon in what is, realistically, a game that does not matter a whole lot.

Dejan Kovacevic: The most generous way to word this is that football coaches don't overthink things. If the doctor clears a player, they flick on the green light. Now, how the doctors are chosen or what they're advised before being employed -- even the independent ones -- we can't know.

But yeah, I'm with you on Bell. He's been rung one too many times this season for my liking.

ripvanwinkle: Have I been napping?! Did we take a week off to eat turkey leftovers? My muddled memory tells me that the last Chat was on November 22nd.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, there's this little holiday called Thanksgiving! I happened to spend that one in Baltimore, so the day after was invested in having a Fake Thanksgiving with my family once I got back.

Devin: Rarely in the Crosby/Malkin era has the team ever had both players performing at an elite level at the same time. Usually one is hot while the other isn't. Any particular reason for the difference this season?

Dejan Kovacevic: I wouldn't assign that to anything other than the rarity of having both healthy and full-throttle at the same time. Maybe it took Malkin a while to find that comfort zone this season, and maybe he really did miss James Neal that much. Maybe Sid stepped up with a brilliant effort last night because Malkin was out. Maybe not.

I'd say some of that's human nature. If you know you're THE guy, there's another level the great players can find.

This isn't new around here. Don't forget how Ron Francis stepped up in 1992 when Mario Lemieux was chopped down by Adam Graves. Francis had been thought of as a complimentary piece after his time in Hartford, and he brought out the star to beat the Rangers.

Mean Joe: Who are Cody Wallace and Eric Olsen?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ladies and gentlemen, your starting O-line Sunday for the Miami game!

Wallace has been around most of the season. Center is his natural position. Olsen is an emergency signing with NFL experience. Based on precedent over the past month, the Steelers will help them assimilate by having Ben throw the ball even BEFORE it's snapped.

Daquido Bazzini: How do you think this whole sideline episode with Mike Tomlin will affect his status with Steeler ownership?

Dejan Kovacevic: None. Zero. Complete faith and trust in him. Including as it relates to this incident.

JF: What was Malkin's injury, when did it occur?

Dejan Kovacevic: ‘Lower body,' as they say. Apparently, it happened in the morning skate. I'd heard word last night -- though terribly unconfirmed, so please keep it in that context -- that his skate was caught in a rut in the ice.

Matt: Pirates have 66 million committed to payroll already, reports from Rob Biertempfel are there 15 million available to spend. First Question is that enough of a bump in payroll based off last season performance? And Second one is how would you spend the 15 million?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Pirates need a first baseman, and they could use another legit starting pitcher. I'll comfortably move right field into the optional pile, as I can reasonably trust some combo of Jose Tabata and Travis Snider until the trade deadline or, looking beyond that, to when Gregory Polanco arrives. But first base is mandatory.

There's no way, after the season the team just had, that management could justify putting a Band-Aid there -- meaning a platoon with Gaby Sanchez -- and calling it an offseason. Not there.

That said, I'm also not going to join those hyperventilating over what the Pirates have or haven't done on the 6th of December. Most free agents remain unsigned. Trades are a possibility, too, of course. Plenty of time.

theplanisworking: Bigger deal for you next June: Stanley Cup, or World Cup?

Dejan Kovacevic: Why pick? One happens in the daytime (for us), the other at night. Should be a spectacular month.

Victor: What's your favorite US road city to travel to when covering Steelers/Pens?

Dejan Kovacevic: Hm. Well worded. Keeps me from going with the standard San Francsisco answer, as well as the usual Canadian spot. I'll have to go with the same answer for both: Nashville. Wonderful little place with so much character, and both the Titans and Predators play right there in town.

Victor: Do you think Brooks Orpik will be back with the Pens next year?

Dejan Kovacevic: I think a reasonable attempt will be made to keep him. He's a Penguins lifer, and there's still enough to his game that he can be a solid NHL defenseman, if not necessarily top-two or shutdown pairing. But breaking the bank on him, in context, wouldn't make much sense.

Mean Joe: When you say Mike Tomlin isn't “likable,” is that a recent phenomenon or has he been that way since the beginning? And how does Tomlin's likability compare with Bill Cowher?

Dejan Kovacevic: That remark in the Thursday column got a lot of attention, and I can't say that's unexpected. My larger point there is that Tomlin isn't all virtuous just because someone suggests he wasn't a cheater and a liar as it relates to that kickoff return. He's got his flaws, and I was listing some of them. He's also gotten gradually worse with some of those, and I listed that, as well. It might even have affected the Steelers' on-field performance the past couple years, most important.

I'm not going to compare Tomlin with any coach, current or former. I was merely making a point that, just because I say he's not a cheater and a liar, it doesn't mean he's flawless. He isn't.

None of us are, actually.

Alan Gifford: Sour grapes from the Sharks, saying Pittsburgh wasn't impressive but that they just beat themselves?

Dejan Kovacevic: Nah. I think it was Logan Couture who said that, and my first thought upon hearing that was he was finding a code way to say that Antti Niemi stunk. You can't criticize your goalie in hockey. Ever. He's always great, and you've always let him down when things don't go well.

The Sharks had every reason to feel good about the attack they mustered -- 45 shots -- and that's probably the genesis of that comment in the non-Niemi sense.

That said, if you rewind the video, both Kunitz goals and the Megna goal were on defensive lapses.

Matt in Ann Arbor: Will Olli Maata spend his Christmas in Pittsburgh or Sweden (World Jrs)? I say there's no way you can let him leave Pittsburgh. He's one of their top 4 d-men now, with Scuderi and Martin hurt.

Dejan Kovacevic: It would be insane to send Maatta to World Juniors for the same reason it would have been insane not to keep him out of training camp. He's exceptional, and he was again last night.

If Finland wants Maatta's services, they can wait for the far bigger tournament in Sochi.

Pete: Any talk of dropping the City Game? I think PITT would be better served showing the nation how good we are by beating up on overrated Big 10/12 teams instead of wasting a game with the Dukes.

Dejan Kovacevic: Dropping a game that draws 11,000 even when Duquesne is still down?


You should know that Pitt season-ticket holders don't have the City Game as part of their plan. That means it's all extra money. On top of that, it's played in one of the better arenas in the U.S. -- especially when the quality of the actual ice isn't a factor -- and could VERY easily become a lot of fun again if Duquesne can get back to being competitive.

As I wrote in the Sunday column, the Dukes' arrow under Jim Ferry is most definitely pointing up.

Matt: With RMU cutting the seven varsity sports do you think the reallocated money will lead to RMU hockey becoming an elite program? I think coming off hosting the Frozen Four, this could solidify and maybe even enhance Pittsburgh as THE hotbed of amatuer hockey.

Dejan Kovacevic: I love what both the men's and women's hockey programs at Robert Morris have become, but if you're talking about the next level, then you're talking about getting off Neville Island. Or building a real facility that's on par with other Division I programs. Or playing a couple more games at Consol.

Tim in Arlington: Which football program has more reason to be optimistic for next season? Pitt or Penn State?

Dejan Kovacevic: Uniquivocally, it's Penn State. The Nittany Lions have Christian Hackenberg, and the Panthers don't. Quarterbacks win in college football. Without Tom Savage, Paul Chryst almost surely will turn to Chad Voytik, who's a smaller guy and doesn't have either Savage's arm or presence.

On top of that, Pitt will lose BOTH of their top defensive guys in Aaron Donald and oft-underappreciated Jason Hendricks. And the rest of the defense, you might have noticed, wasn't particularly strong.

And on top of THAT, Bill O'Brien can make another stride toward getting past the scandal because new recruits can be told they'll only have to go through a couple more years of the sanctions. And few play as freshmen, anyway.

Dave in Ross: Really liked your Letang column today. But anybody could see throughout his career that he is inconsistent. Can he ever get that shot on net consistently enough?

Dejan Kovacevic: Honestly, I doubt it. It's been a shortcoming, not just of his shots but of his passes since he's been in the league. One play last night, Matt Niskanen -- who's not always great at it -- had three bodies between him and the San Jose net. Rather than just putting his head down and firing, he looked up, found a path, took one stride to the top of the right circle ... and got it through. Created a scoring chance, too.

When you see Letang do that, let me know.

Gary Barndollar: You also remarked on how unprepared Tomlin had the Steelers to start the season. Is that related to Pouncey, and a lack of a go to plan in the event of his injury? Or was it your sense the team just wasn't ready for the season period?

Dejan Kovacevic: They weren't ready. Not in any capacity. And very few individuals, to boot. Of everyone, in fact, the one guy I'd say has been consistent from the first snap to now is Antonio Brown.

That's on the head coach. Always.

Gary Barndollar: Peter King is reporting that he expects Gary Kubiak to be fired today. Next year's Steelers offensive coordinator rumor starts...?

Dejan Kovacevic: Why fire Kubiak now? He's got the Texans in the driver's seat for No. 1 overall in the draft!

Is it Tampa Bay Lightning time yet?

Bernard: How would the NFL justify taking a pick when similar actions were not taken against Jets where the intent was clear and evident?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll be astonished if anything is done with a pick. If you're going to mete a punishment that can be meted right now, what's the delay?

They just want everyone to think about it, know it's real, know it's been put on paper somewhere. That's it.

Bernard: B10 fan wishing the conference would've added Pitt rather than Rutgers. From Pitt's perspective, would they have fit culturally in the B10 moreso than ACC?

Dejan Kovacevic: Culturally?

I'll be really candid here, and I don't care if this is unpopular: When I first heard of the ACC move, I thought about basketball. I know football is the money-maker, but I've got about a billion more reasons to see basketball as having a shot at an NCAA title someday than football. So I thought about basketball.

I think the ACC will be great for basketball, much better than having moved to the Big 10.

theplanisworking: US World Cup group has Germany and Ghana. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Who's the fourth team? Been busy chatting.

Don: Any chance Bortuzzo will be back in the lineup anytime soon and do you think not playing is hurting his development?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's reaching the point of being weird. He's a young defenseman who opened the season doing some legitimately good things. The coaching staff told him they didn't like his performance in one game against the Flyers -- as if his somehow stood out -- and he's banished for almost a month.

Man, this practice in general has to change with the hockey team. Really does.

theplanisworking: 4th team not announced. So far, Germany, Ghana, unknown team, USA.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll take the Jurgen Klinsmann's organized attack against any African nation, based on history, but the Germans will be a formidable challenge. Should make for a phenomenal story, though, obviously, with Klinsmann having been the national star there for so long.

Bottom line: The U.S. is good enough right now to PLAY with anyone. Winning is a different matter, but this an American side unlike any we've seen.

justin: how do you feel about gal gadot as wonder woman

Dejan Kovacevic: Awful. Just terrible. Feed her, and we'll talk.

Guest: How long will the Pirates wait on Burnett? Is the uncertainty of his return hampering them either via trade or free agency?

Dejan Kovacevic: I don't believe it is, and that's Neal Huntington's stance, as well. What that means, rather transparently, is that the Pirates have a set amount they're willing to pay A.J., and that's that. Take it or leave it. Since that money hasn't yet been spent, it's still there. Once it is spent, maybe it won't be.

Drewski: What bowl do you predict Pitt? Detroit, Dallas, Annapolis?

Dejan Kovacevic: I predict whichever bowl is willing to produce a quality consolation prize for a team that goes 6-7.

Dan B: kubiak officially canned

Dejan Kovacevic: Enormous mistake. Well, there you go, Houston. You blew it by missing out on Vince Young, and now you'll miss out on Johnny Football.

Wait a minute. Blew it on Vince Young?

Paul C from Nashville via Altoona, PA: Will the NCAA reduce the bowl sanction penalty to Penn State in the upcoming months and allow them to play in a bowl next year or the year after next?

Dejan Kovacevic: I couldn't see that next year, but maybe the following. Whatever they decide, be very sure they'll make sure that absolutely no exoneration is given to anyone -- including Joe Paterno -- involved in the Jerry Sandusky scandal. It has to be aimed at how the current university administrators have handled the aftermath and the current team.

Eastbound and Down: Think the Kuibiak firing will bring The Chin out of retirement?

Guest: Portugal rounds out the group

Dejan Kovacevic: Wow, that didn't take long.

Gary Barndollar: Do you believe Tomlin still has the full confidence and support of everyone who's opinion matters within the Steelers hierarchy?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes.

Drewski: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA. Wow. Fifa really has it out for the USA.

Dejan Kovacevic: Portugal? Ugh. That's really, really tough. A little deflating, to be honest. If the U.S. make the round of 16, it'll be impressive.

Guest 23: DC needs to get out of the movie business. Marvel beats them out on every move from casting to marketing.

Dejan Kovacevic: Just let the Marvel people make the DC movies. Been saying it for years. Fantastically clueless about their own characters.

Drewski: How much respect would the USMNT get if they make it out of the group stage?

Dejan Kovacevic: Beating out either Germany or Portugal?

Yeah, that'd be just a little big.

Steelasaurus: DK - I don't see where the coaches think Sanders is a better option than Wheaton. Yeah, he runs good routes, but can't catch. Wheaton could stretch the field, create opportunities for AB, Cotchery. I see AB, Cotchery and Wheaton as the best 3 WRs, if I were a QB. Your thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Been hoping for more Markus Wheaton since the first snap. Hasn't changed. On top of not being the answer, Sanders isn't even going to be here next season.

Andy: Interesting to see the Pens give Kennedy a little tribute in the 1st period. Was he THAT important to the team that they had to honor him in the middle of the game. Where do you draw the line?

Dejan Kovacevic: Wherever that line is drawn, I'd definitely make room for a long-time contributor, including a key player with a CHAMPIONSHIP team. It was no big deal, either. Lasted a few seconds. Two quick highlights and a thank you.

Dejan Kovacevic: One more today, and I have to bolt ...

Steve: Is Robert Bortuzzo the Pens' version of Jonathan Dwyer?

Dejan Kovacevic: He'd only be that if he played at least once in a while and at least got something of a fair shake. Bortuzzo isn't even getting that.

Which isn't to make him out to be Bobby Orr. That's not the point. Rather, it's that he's young, has energy and has legitimately out-performed Deryk Engelland. Sitting him, again, makes no sense.

Jandy: Are you off for Christmas?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, but that's still a ways off.

That's it for this week. Thanks SO much for participating, and apologies again for the early start. The column runs Sunday, Monday, Thursday and Friday, and everything else is just everything else.

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