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Chat with Dejan Kovacevic: May 27, 2014

| Tuesday, May 27, 2014, 2:15 p.m.

Dejan Kovacevic: Hello from Steelers HQ on the South Side, site of the first day of OTAs. All were in attendance except for Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor, as well as draft pick Jordan Zumwalt due to NCAA restrictions. We'll go heavy on the football today, but other stuff is obviously open for discussion, as well.

Tyler: Do you think Tomlin and the coaching staff are making a statement by lining up Shazier at the Mack ILB starting spot ahead of Williams? I always expected he'd be the starter by the end of TC, but I was surprised to see his placement there immediately. May not be permanent, but a statement nonetheless?

Dejan Kovacevic: I think they're going with the obvious, Tyler, with all due respect to Vince Williams. Anyone could see Williams wasn't getting the job done, even if only because of the amount of time Polamalu had to spend up at linebacker. That had to change.

Ryan Shazier is No. 1 on the depth chart today, and he practiced that way. To the kid's credit, he just said coming off the field he doesn't accept No. 1 as being handed to him and ‘I'll work every day to make that happen.' But yeah, it's his. Lawrence Timmons confirmed that, as well.

Shazier's a talent. Nothing wrong with that.

Football Penguin: fast is fast?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ha! You mean Shazier or Dri Archer?

Assuming it's the latter, that — like much else — is hard to see in football in shorts. But there's no question Archer's got a ridiculous burst. His first step looks like other people's third. And it only picks up from there. He could be a real weapon. Including at running back.

SteelUK: Shazier #1 in the depth chart? Is that true?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes! Why is this a surprise? The kid's a clear frontrunner.

Newtang: Do you think the Steelers should consider bringing back Santonio Holmes (if he's actually interested like Ike says). He's not that old and if he can stay healthy he could be a good option if Wheaton isn't ready. Hopefully his behavioral issues are a thing of the ancient past.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd have to learn a lot more about Santonio's current status, his shape, his health, his desire, for the best answer. But I'll say, as I have all along, that I can't fathom going into this season with Antonio Brown on one end, Lance Moore in the slot and a prayer at the other end. We don't know about Markus Wheaton. We certainly don't know about Martavis Bryant.

This position should be terrifying for the Steelers at the moment, if you ask me.

Jeff: How did Markus Wheaton look in OTA's today?

Dejan Kovacevic: He referred to his finger as being ‘ugly,' a sign that it's still an issue. We'll see.

Naterosboro: Can Daniel McCullers make an impact in his rookie season?

Dejan Kovacevic: Even with the need for a cemented nose tackle, I don't think so, Nate. McCullers, gigantic as he is at 6-7, 345, is considered a project. Guy's impressive, though. He's colossal but not at all fat, and he's got quick feet.

Menofpaws: Has Jarvis gotten stronger? Has he made the offseason leap necessary to be better?

Dejan Kovacevic: Jarvis Jones just said he hasn't gained a pound since last season — still 245 — which I suppose should be worrisome given that it looks like he gets pushed around at times. But his biggest issues as a rookie were born much more of a lack of technique, so we'll see.

Victor: Dk, without the hire of a new gm yet, are the Penguins actively negotiating a contract with Matt Niskanen, or any impending free agent for that matter?

Dejan Kovacevic: Jason Botteril, who might well become the actual GM, has handled many contracts on his own for the Penguins even under Ray Shero. There's no reason to believe his hands would be tied in an urgent situation.

That said, no, there's been no indication of such movement.

ES: Most likely call-up date for Gregory Polanco? And who will be the odd man out when that happens?

Dejan Kovacevic: The generally accepted time period is mid-June, but anyone who tells you some specific date is uninformed. Truth is, the Pirates still don't know if Gerrit Cole came up after the Super-2 date from last summer, based on my understanding. It isn't exact, and it can take years to figure it out.

Adam: Between the rookies and last years rookies, who do you predict will have a breakout season?

Dejan Kovacevic: Hm. That's a good one. I'll go with Le'Veon Bell. I'm not sure he quite broke out last season, but hearing the offensive linemen's enthusiasm today for the running game — for Bell and LeGarrette Blount both — has me thinking this could be it. Ben also spoke highly of that.

Victor: Who is better? Rafa Nadal or Roger Federer?

Dejan Kovacevic: Novak Djokovic. Nice try.

hankpsu: Following up on your blog post earlier, is Rick Tocchet actively looking to get back into coaching?

Dejan Kovacevic: He most assuredly is. And he'd love to have the Penguins' job.

Napper: Any thoughts on Landon Donovan being left off the USA World Cup team?

Dejan Kovacevic: I can see Jurgen Klinsmann's reasoning. Really. He's trying to build toward a powerhouse group in 2018 that can legitimately contend for the World Cup, whereas this one is stuck in such a nightmarish group it might not see Round of 16. Moreover, he's got quality in the midfield. Lots of it.

That said, I think there's something to be said for a known commodity when it comes to creativity, and the Americans have lacked that at this level more than any other trait. So yeah, I'm uneasy with it.

ES: Nice burst from the Pirates this week and glad to see them cut Wandy loose. Will they have enough talent to get in the hunt in the second half?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's fun to look at the past four non-Liriano starts and say, well, if the Pirates get even decent starting pitching, they win. But Frankie's status just looms so large over that. If he's got something wrong, physically or even mentally, you might as well push the plunger. Nothing will save the season in that event. He's just too important, and it would be unreasonable to expect anyone — much less a still-wobbly Jeff Locke — to replace that.

Big, big start for Liriano coming up in Los Angeles.

Ron: Do you read books or have other sources that you turn to in order to learn the strategies of the sports you cover? Or all been on the job training from your coverage and talking to coaches and players?

Dejan Kovacevic: Everything for me is about asking questions. Even at the Olympics, where I — and most everyone who covers some of those events — am flying blind, the best resource is always the one right in front of you. Nobody knows better.

Mack: Is Ben, as we speak, the best QB in franchise history?

Dejan Kovacevic: Over the guy with the four rings? Is this for real?

Guest: Would you have liked the Pens chances against the Canadians and now looking like the Kings?

Dejan Kovacevic: I wrote it back when the Penguins were still playing, and I feel even more strongly now: They'd have been wiped out. Maybe not by the Habs, but my God, the Western Conference hockey right now is at so much a higher level than the East that it's almost farcical.

Bello: I can do my work from anywhere. What is your best short pitch for relocating to Pittsburgh?

Dejan Kovacevic: I've been all over the world. Nothing compares. Even the one thing we lack — massive population — is a plus.

I'll meet you for coffee when you come. See you soon.

The Capital of Greenland: Do you foresee any Steeler signings after June 1st with the extra cap room - are there any other holes they want to try and fill?

Dejan Kovacevic: Top priority from the freed LaMarr Woodley cap money will be the draft picks. (Obviously, as a great man once said.) But to repeat myself, man, find me a wide receiver somewhere. I'm pretty sure the $8.5M can go further than just the remaining picks.

Tony: We all know about your #KopitarManCrush. Is Anze Kopitar better than Malkin or Crosby?

Dejan Kovacevic: If I'm drafting a team right now to play a single Game 7, he's the first forward taken. And unlike some other players, you genuinely don't care if he scores. He's brilliant, commanding at both ends, he's winning draws at close to 70 percent, and he elevates everyone around him. Including on the power play.

In that sense, from the current playoff perspective alone, Crosby and Malkin don't come close. There are others I'd place ahead of both of them in this context.

J.J. Davis: If Gregory Polanco played for the Steelers, which position would he play?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes.

Zack: How soon can we expect the new Pens' GM to be hired?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll be surprised if it isn't this week. Remember who's at the helm here. Neither Mario Lemieux nor Ron Burkle are the type to sit static in one office for any great stretch.

Guest: For years I was a purist with the NL East with the Pirates in that division. Loved those old battles with the Phillies and Mets. Cardinals, Reds, Brewers...who is the biggest rival now?

Dejan Kovacevic: You mean other than the Brewers?

Stiller_Steve: Calling lots of screens is usually the sign of a bad o line . Now that we have archer and munchak is creating the best line ever will we actially use screens NOT out of desperation?

Dejan Kovacevic: Mike Munchak is pushing the O-line to get hungrier, nastier, based on a couple conversations today. He wants them to think aggressively first. I can't say how that will work, but I can say that these guys much prefer that style to passive pass-blocking. We'll see.

Like every time the O-line is raised with this team, it's about health more than anything. In all candor, the mere sight of Maurkice Pouncey on a football field has the feel of a mirage.

JJ: what are your thoughts on trading Paul Martin for younger, cap friendlier players?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'd do that with Kris Letang before his limited-movement clause kicks in.

cosmo: Does Neil Walker make the all star team this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's not a given. I think only Andrew McCutchen is in that category. If the team is still swimming with the Cubs in the standings at that point, taking only one from the Pirates wouldn't be unthinkable.

Guest: Dejan - The Brewers - yes - I know it should be pretty obvious. But, they have dominated the Pirates for YEARS up to last season. A rival has to be a give and I wrong on this?

Dejan Kovacevic: You're right. Otherwise, it's a nemesis and not a rival. But there's been more give and take the past couple seasons. I think we all just emphasize the losses at Miller Park.

Craigger: Ok...hypothetically, Mario makes you GM. Who do you hire as coach and what philosophy changes do you make to the Pens?

Dejan Kovacevic: My first act would be to fire myself and allow them to hire someone qualified. From there, I'd hope to see a total overhaul of draft philosophy, as well as an emphasis on grit and character. Because, you know, grit and character.

@The_Best_Smart: If Michael Sam doesn't make the Rams, is it ok for everyone to hate him for being gay, since he no longer “helps us win football games?” I mean, that's the message I hear when players say that. Oh, you're gay? least you're not too gay to play football.

Dejan Kovacevic: Not ducking this, I swear. Just really didn't understand it.

My own thought on Sam is that one would hope his sexual preference isn't an issue, while also accepting that only an idiot would assume that it won't be. He hardly seems shy about it, to say the least, so I suspect the latter will remain very much in play.

Dave: Is complaining solely about payroll a lazy way to analyze a team or another way of saying “I don't want to pay attention to baseball/Pirates, let me give this as analysis”?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes. And the more I hear, the more I believe it.

Jimmy D: I understand Dri Archer has the potential to be an exciting player. But, how does Colbert and Tomlin justify using a 3rd round pick on a player that may only see 10 snaps per game? Isn't that the reason they gave for not drafting a NT early? Shouldn't they be looking for potential starters in the 3rd round?

Dejan Kovacevic: You left out returning kicks, but your broader point stands. Archer isn't likely to see a ton of time with the regular offense, at least you wouldn't think. But then, there's also something to be said for his ability to make the offense as a whole less predictable and affect opponents' game-planning and schemes.

Let's give the kid a chance. There seems to be a lot of Chris Rainey 2.0 sentiment out there, and that obviously isn't fair. Rainey had his own issues.

cuzzinfish: Since the Pirates lost the doubleheader to Baltimore on May 1, they're 13-9 against teams with a collective .538 winning % (including 3 first place teams & 2 second place teams). More of a hot stretch or turning the corner?

Dejan Kovacevic: How's Frankie?

The Capital of Greenland: Is Landry Jones really in the Steelers long term plans, or is he holding the 3rd string spot until they draft the real future QB?

Dejan Kovacevic: A year later, still can't figure that one out. I mean, he wasn't even the best third-string QB the Steelers had in Latrobe last season.

Fred: Who steps up for the receiving corps this year?

Dejan Kovacevic: Hard to put more on AB's shoulders from a performance standpoint, but he spoke in rather bold terms today about wanting to become a leader — no, the leader — of the receiving corps. ‘I want that,' he said. ‘I want that on me.'

Chris: What Steelers position battle(s) interest you the most?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll go with one on each side of the ball: Nose tackle will come down to Cam Thomas, Steve McLendon or no one at all if Dick LeBeau opts for going with a lot of 2-5 fronts and the like. This will be huge. And on offense, it's got to be that other wide receiver. You'd like to hope the best for Wheaton, but who knows? Darrius Heyward-Bey?

buzzbuzz: Have we seen the last of the Steelers' bumblebee uniforms? Historically awful.

Dejan Kovacevic: If you're going to have throwback uniforms of any kind, at least have them be authentic. Those are. And they're emblematic of a franchise that predates World War II. They're the real deal.

I'll take that over faux-backs any day.

Dave: Are you worried about the ‘grit' and ‘character' quotes from RB and ML? Was there any mention of speed/skill/size/upside? Grit and character to me sounds like a whole lot of Glass and Adams...

Dejan Kovacevic: Really? You don't think grit and character when watching Jeff Carter or Max Pacioretty in the playoffs right now?

Takes all shapes and forms. Don't pigeonhole it.

Maddamma: It feels like we are overdue for an “off the beaten path” column. Got anything planned in the near future or will you be too busy with OTAs, Bucs, and Pens?

Dejan Kovacevic: That's a fair point. Can't really say I've got anything brewing in that regard. This week marks the first time we've seen the Steelers, really, since the end of last season. The Pirates will be back home next week, and the Penguins could have a new GM any day.

But it's always something that's on my mind, sure.

Curling, you mean. I know you meant curling.

yoder: do you think the secondary is going to be a nightmare this year? the corner position wasnt addressed at all

Dejan Kovacevic: It could be. Not having half the secondary here today ... ah, I'll bite my tongue on that. They're optional. It's all optional.

James: Is there a specific team that the Penguins ownership wants to model themselves after?

Dejan Kovacevic: No. And I'm glad you brought that up, since a lot of readers seemed to take literally when Lemieux told me he thought the current Canadiens are a team that shows grit, character and speed. For crying out loud, it's not like he can't see that there are other, better teams out there. I believe he was simply making the point that we kind of addressed above, that grit and character doesn't necessarily mean hitters and fighters. What it means, if you want maybe a better example, is how the Kings seem to have two bodies at the net on every ... single ... goal. Amazing.

Football Penguin: Cubs hire Manny Ramirez player/coach and mentor their AAA team. Maybe Lance Armstrong can be their strength & conditioning coach?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sure sound like better fits for the Yankees to me.

DMFH: I totally think the Pens should bring back the 1991-1992 unis. Agree/disagree?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'll take the 1984 big bananas, please. It'll be the 30th anniversary of Lemieux's rookie season in Pittsburgh. Perfect.

KickTheBall: Does fan interest in the Steelers (as measured, for example, in eyeballs on these pages) rise and fall with the success of the team or is it always HIGH?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's always higher than higher than high. There are the Steelers way up here, and there's everyone else. If anything, when they aren't going well, our readership becomes that much more intense because they're seeking answers from an independent voice.

No, seriously, if I told you the percentage of hits that come to our site for nothing other than Steelers, it would blow your mind.

I've said it before: Pittsburgh is the Steelers, and the Steelers are Pittsburgh.

Mike: True or False: What happens this offseason for the Pens will be the most important period of time for the next 5 years

Dejan Kovacevic: That's really well put, Mike. Yeah, and I'll narrow it down further to just the coming month or so. New GM, new coach, draft, Letang's trade clause, free agents ... man.

Dejan Kovacevic: One more on Steelers today before I head out ...

Dom: I presume there are position battles to become the #2 WR, one between Gay and Ike, and possibly one between Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams. Could there be any others?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sounds like you're assuming Stephon Tuitt will start at LDE. I think he will, even as a second-round rookie, but I can't rule out Thomas and/or McLendon being that guy. The only firm grip on a D-line spot is that of Cam Heyward.

Dejan Kovacevic: Thanks to all for participating, as always! Good stuff today, especially on the football front. Fun to be back here today, in all honesty.

My TribLIVE Radio show is tomorrow at 2 p.m., and I'll open by taking your calls. If you didn't get through today, I'll make sure to take care of you tomorrow. Promise! My columns this week will run Thursday and Friday.

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