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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript

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By Pittsburgh The Tribune-Review
Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011

Yackmaster: Hey Dejan, Todd Graham's taken a lot of criticism for "promoting his system" over winning games. If this is so, does that really raise his stock in the eyes of other schools• Shouldn't a coach looking to move up advertise an ability to game-plan to win with what he has and adjust the system to do so?

Dejan Kovacevic: First, a quick hello to one and all. Hope everyone got at least a little rest after staying up for all the ridiculous baseball last night. Amazing night.

The criticism I've seen levied against Graham -- and a criticism I've made myself for several weeks now -- is that he was criticizing his players for not implementing the system while taking none of the blame himself. That sounds a whole lot like "Not My Fault" Walt Harris and, in another realm, former Pirates manager Jim Tracy. Nobody likes that much in our part of the world.

I like the idea of sticking by his system, recruiting by his system. But that takes time, and not everyone deserves to be thrown under the bus along that path.

Justin: Do you think the Rays' playoff push will hurt 'small market' teams in the new CBA?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, unquestionably. The New York/Boston utter domination of the baseball media will be sure to cite the Rays for at least as long as they cite the 2003 Marlins as being examples of baseball parity.

That said, this labor agreement wasn't going to change much in that sense, anyway. Teams like the Pirates, Royals and especially the Marlins raised enough doubts around baseball -- fair or not -- that they weren't properly spending their revenue-sharing checks that the bridge already is burned in that regard.

rustyb: Dejan, Would you give Aaron Smith more time to round into form or is he starting to slow down?

Dejan Kovacevic: With an elite talent -- and Smith absolutely qualifies -- I'm always inclined to give benefit of the doubt. Smith has been an enormous part of the Steelers' defense for a long time, bigger than most seem to realize. He could take out two offensive players on every play, thus freeing up linebackers.

He has not played well in these three games. In Indianapolis, I saw the Colts willfully running to -- and through -- his side, something you'd never see before. As a result, I'll be surprised if we don't see more of Ziggy Hood and/or Cam Heyward very soon, if not in Houston.

But yeah, Smith looks old right now. Really does.

Bsteel: DK: What are the chances that we'll see two running backs in the backfield this weekend• This year• It seems that the Steelers have been warm to the idea, but haven't used it much, if at all.

Dejan Kovacevic: Why bother• They don't use the one they have.

kibab1979: DK, while the O-line is certainly to blame for some of the running troubles, it also seems to me that Mendenhall is doing a lot more dancing and lateral running than just attacking the line. Is that by design, or something to be concerned about?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, he is tiptoeing, as I described in my Monday column off the game in Indianapolis. It's not just the line. If Rashard goes more north, less east-west, he's going to pick up an extra yard or two.

But that's what we're talking about here, an extra yard or two. It's human nature to get discouraged when things don't go well, and I wonder if Mendenhall isn't just taking the tack that, hey, I can either get 2-3 yards in there or maybe break something bigger out there.

It does start with the line.

John: Who should be the Pirates top priority in free agency within the parameters of their payroll and projected 2012 roster?

Dejan Kovacevic: The Pirates' top priority should be -- and is -- bringing back Derrek Lee. We'll see if Lee wants to stay. That's no clearer now than it was before Neal Huntington met with Lee and his agent while the team was in Phoenix this month. It sounds like it will be a tough sell, not so much from the Pittsburgh or Pirates standpoints, but the ballpark and the being closer to home. He's a West Coast guy.

Keeping Lee really shouldn't be about the money. The Pirates know they really don't have other options to play the position nearly as well.

kibab1979: Do you think the Pirates give Greg Ritchie another chance, or is there a chance of seeing a new hitting coach in 2012?

Dejan Kovacevic: Gregg Ritchie should need to have an extraordinary season-ending interview to lay out how he -- and de facto hitting coach Clint Hurdle -- did a good job in 2011 when not a single hitter overachieved.

David L.: Personally, I think the Pen's Western Canada road trip to start the season is a great thing (no at-home distractions, easy team-bonding early, Super Malkin) Any reason they shouldn't go 3-0 to start the season and in turn, catapult them to a strong start without Sid?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sure, there are all kinds of reasons, not least of which is that travel is tough. I've made the Vancouver-Edmonton-Calgary swing myself as a reporter, and there's not much to compare to it. It's not the amount of time in the air. That happens all the time. It's the never getting unpacked, never getting much sleep, the rapid time chances, the customs, the whole deal.

Look over the Penguins' history on such swings, and I think you'll see they haven't done great even when they had good teams.

Plus, Vancouver was just in the Stanley Cup final, as the tattered remains of their city will attest.

PittStudent: DK, how strong do you believe that crosby would be back in time for the first game vs philly, barring a setback?

Dejan Kovacevic: Everything that I'm hearing is that Crosby will accompany the team to Western Canada but not play. He needs to continue scrimmaging, and that's not really available to him at the level he requires by hanging around here.

From there, it's anyone's guess.

Steve: Dejan, top three moves the Bucs should make in the offseason• And who are your starting 5?

Dejan Kovacevic: 1. Sign Lee. 2. Take Paul Maholm's option. 3. Be aggressive in signing a catcher. Anyone who thinks this team can get by on some Mike McKenry/Jason Jaramillo platoon is out of their minds.

Rw: Hi Dejan the pens need to trade tangradi there is no way he will make this team now or in the future he simply does not have the skill level you need for the NHL. True or False, thanks.

Eric Tangradi already was sent down, so I'm not sure what you're trying to predict.

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm on record as not liking Tangradi's game. I don't see it as a fit for the Penguins' style because of his skating, and I don't exactly see him turning into Bobby Ryan to compensate for that. He's not some great net-front guy.

Matt: Once Cotchery is healthy, do you think Hines will be on the field less• I hate to say it, but this looks like it could be it for him.

Dejan Kovacevic: No, I don't see Jerricho Cotchery supplanting Ward. Nor do I see, immediately, Emmanuel Sanders doing it. Antonio Brown isn't the same type of receiver, so he really wouldn't be in that equation.

I'm getting the sense that Steelers fans are isolating on the old guys to blame for this blah start. As my Wednesday column illustrated, young guys such as LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons aren't exactly in peak form right now, either.

Mike: Why can't Tino Throw the deep ball well• Is he throwing off of his back foot• I just cant see it. He Obviously has a decent arm.

Dejan Kovacevic: It would appear he just isn't a very good quarterback, Mike. I don't mean to sound mean. I know he's a college kid, and he's an upstanding young man with a great fire to him. He threw a really nice ball for a touchdown in the Notre Dame game, a bit off balance, but those are few and far between. And he can't run much at all, which negates anything else the Panthers try to negate the heat on Ray Graham.

South Florida has a quality defense, especially up front, and the Panthers are hurting on the line. It's ambitious to think Pitt will win.

Teamlan: It's hard not to feel a little gloomy about the Pirates next year, what with the season Pedro had and the lack of impact position players in the upper minors. The bright side could be the pitching. Do you think it's at all possible people like Karstens and Correia will pitch like they did before hitting their career highs for innings -- or was the drop-off simply regressing back to the mean?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm a Karstens believer, and I was that before it was cool. (It IS cool, right?) Correia, one would think, would revert more toward his overall history, which is somewhat Josh Fogg-ish. The pitching can still be decent, though, no question. Charlie Morton and James McDonald have another gear. And the bullpen could be very solid if the Pirates don't get all squeamish about arbitration for Jose Veras, Chris Resop, Evan Meek and Jason Grilli.

But that gloom you feel, I'm guessing, doesn't have nearly as much to do with pitching as with offense. You're right about the lack of impact position players in the system. You're also right that Alvarez was an immense disappointment.

That's your gloom right there.

Mike: Do you think we will see improvements in the run game Sunday against Houston?

Dejan Kovacevic: Not based on what I heard from the Steelers' players over on the South Side yesterday. Doesn't sound like it's a priority at all.

And that's fine. If they think they can generate a whole bunch of 81-yard bombs to Mike Wallace, go ahead and do it.

Michael: What are your expectations of the pens... another cup run?

Dejan Kovacevic: If they're fully healthy, absolutely. Where are they weak• Scoring wingers, maybe. But the scoring that would come from the middle should dwarf that. And the power play can't possibly be as awful as it was last year, right• Someone had to have worked on a better plan, one that involves actual movement, right?

It's a tremendously deep and talented roster, one built on goaltending, defense and PK but still having world-class weapons to score.

That has to be a contender.

Rick: Do you agree Alvarez should chill for the winter and work on refocusing in the spring?

Dejan Kovacevic: I made that position very clear in a column just two weeks ago , Rick: He has no excuse not to go to winter ball.

Guest: Why didn't the Steelers try to go with Redman when Mendenhall clearly wasn't hitting the few holes that were open in the Indy game• Obviously you want to keep Mendy on the field, but if a guy is having a bad game, why not give a backup a shot to see if he could do a bit better. Even Mewelde looked better the few chances he had at the end of the game.

Dejan Kovacevic: They did try Isaac Redman. He had more than one series in the second half. He rushed for six yards. I keep hearing people talk about Redman and Mewelde Moore as if they were the cavalry. Moore came out of the backfield for some passes, which he does best, but he rushed for just nine yards.

Mendenhall is one of the top 10 backs in the NFL, maybe better. If the Steelers aren't getting him going, they're doing something wrong.

John: Where does Alex Presley fit in with the Pirates for 2012?

Dejan Kovacevic: Everyday left fielder in an all-speed outfield. Makes it all the more imperative to get some power/production from first base.

bcgrey: Do you see Jamie Dixon staying at Pitt long term once Pitt moves to the ACC 2014?

Dejan Kovacevic: Jamie sure sounds OK with the move, and I'm guessing that, by the year you describe, not many people in any walk of life will have a problem with Pitt's move. He's done a good chunk of his recent recruiting in Maryland, and he sounds eager for the challenge of competing for players even in the Carolinas.

jc: Do you think the Penguins should try to obtain a winger that CAN score 20-30 goals

Dejan Kovacevic: You mean a winger like Tyler Kennedy, who was kept here as a free agent• Or James Neal, who had 20-plus in Dallas even if he fired blanks here• Or Steve Sullivan, who's been a consistent 20-goal man all his life?

This winger thing is more narrative than reality at this point. The Penguins are a loaded team, compared to most of their Eastern Conference brethren. No need to agonize.

znc1: What's more likely, the Pirates pick up Maholm's option or tender a contract to Ohlendorf• Ohlendorf was decent-to-good in 2009 and 2010, but atrocious and unhealthy this year

Dejan Kovacevic: I can't see them tendering Ohlendorf, especially not after me made just one good start down an otherwise horrible stretch.

But I like the Maholm option, and here's why: That $9.75 million looks ugly on its surface, but it's roughly what they would have paid Jorge de la Rosa as a free agent last year. Only they would have needed to commit to three years, and de la Rosa going down with a major injury for the Rockies underscores the perils of that.

Maholm would be on one year, he'd be highly motivated going into true free agency, he's happy to be here, and he's coming off a very nice season.

Milo Hamilton: A critical off season for Neal Huntington, in my view, obviously not ownerships. Where do you see them taking major league payroll next year?

Dejan Kovacevic: It will have to top $50 million, for sure.

bcgrey: Do you think that the ACC will be a better basketball conf than the BE once Pitt & Cuse leave?

Dejan Kovacevic: Yes, instantly. And if someone can find a chair for UConn, so much the better. Really, if you measure solely by regular season, debates can be had either way. Look at the NCAA Tournament instead.

chuck: Does it seem the least bit strange with all the issues on the O-line that the Steelers or for that matter no one has signed Starks or Flozell?

Dejan Kovacevic: It's just the Steelers way. We all complain about it. I do it myself. But we forget all those complaints when they make it to the Super Bowl three of six years.

They had every chance to sign Max and Flozell in the earliest part of Latrobe. They thought they had something better. I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt to that end now, although I definitely would have preferred seeing insurance for Jonathan Scott at left tackle all along.

Couple more today ...

Jusstin: Who do you see the Pens going with on D for the 5-6-7 spots?

Dejan Kovacevic: Matt Niskanen, Ben Lovejoy, Deryk Engelland, in that order. No suspense for me there, so long as Brooks Orpik is healthy. (Though that's looking like a stretch at this late stage of camp.)

znc1: Is trading Hanrahan for a young starting 1B (a la Gonzalez for LaRoche) something the Pirates should consider?

Dejan Kovacevic: I hate to say this because of Joel Hanrahan's 40 saves and outstanding character, but yeah, if only because there are teams out there -- plenty of them -- who over-value closers. If there's a young, impact-worthy everyday bat to be had for even the best closer on the planet, you should take it 100 times out of 100.

That's it for the week. I'm heading over to Pitt-South Florida tonight to write my Friday column, then I'll be with the Penguins the next day, then it's off to Houston for Steelers-Texans on the weekend. The blog , as with the cockroach in nuclear winter, just marches on.

Thanks to all who participated!



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