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Steelers Q & A archives

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By Scott Brown
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
 

Tribune-Review Steelers writer Scott Brown answers questions about the Pittsburgh Steelers. The following are archived questions and answers.

Check out Scott's View from the Press Box blog entry for his latest take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Q: I know you've mentioned that you liked the drafting of Rashard Mendenhall because it will ease the load of Willie Parker. I am in total agreement. Do you think now that they've made this pick, that they saw the options Jacksonville has with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew and it looked appealing in the options it would give the offense• I know we have glaring issues with the O-Line, but won't Ben work on getting rid of the ball instead of tucking/protecting it and taking a sack?

Thanks for your comments!

-- Gareth Noronha of Toronto

A: They don't call the NFL a copycat league for nothing so I would assume that the Steelers will look long and hard at the way Jacksonville uses Taylor and Jones-Drew. Heck, all they have to do is watch tape from the two games the teams played year to see the added dimension two quality backs can give to an offense. I will say this: we have no idea how much of a role Mendenhall will be able to assume in the offense next season. He has a ton of potential but so did countless running back that were taken in the first round of the draft through the years and never panned out for whatever reason. I'm not suggesting in any way that Mendenhall will be a disappointment, but he is going to have to show the Steelers coaches that he can make the jump from college to the NFL before he is given a significant role in the offense.

As for the offensive line, I think it will be much better this season because of the addition of center Justin Hartwig and the fact that the Steelers should have a healthier Marvel Smith. The left tackle looks great and he said he feels great now that he no longer is dealing with a nerve problem in his back that caused his lower leg and foot to numb at times last season.

I'd guess the Steelers will try to get Roethlisberger to throw the ball away more next season but they have to be careful. Part of what makes him great is he is always trying to make a play. That is who he is, and I'm guessing the Steelers are willing to live with some of the sacks he takes for the trade-off.

Q: I'm a bit disappointed with the release of Dorien Bryant. What kind of "failed physical" could force the Steelers to release him without waiting him for his recover?I think if they took a risk with Dennis Dixon why not take the same risk with Bryant???

Thanks for your thoughts...

-- Eric Jimenez of Mexico City, Mexico.

A: That's a darn good question, and at first blush I'd say the difference between Dixon and Bryant is that the Steelers invested a draft pick in one of them while the other signed as an undrafted free agent. That said, I do think Bryant would have had a chance to make the team as return specialist and slot receiver. When the Steelers released the list of rookie free agents they had signed his name was the one that jumped out at me because he had a heck of a career at Purdue. In fact, I had just assumed he had been drafted but if he failed the physical the Steelers gave him maybe we know why he went undrafted. I wouldn't call it a significant loss but you do raise an interesting point about how there seems to be different standards the Steelers apply to players that don't pass their physical.

Q: My question is: how many more questions do you think you will receive asking if the Steelers have done enough regarding the O and D lines?

-- Ted Pappas of Austin, Texas

A: Touche, my man, touche. As you have observed, there is considerable angst among members of the Steelers Nation over what the team DID NOT do to address what are perceived to be glaring needs. Here are a couple of reasons why folks shouldn't be wringing their hands over the state of each line. One, it is only May so the team still has some time to acquire players that may help them, particularly along the defensive line. Anthony "Booger" McFarland may still be an option for the Steelers and the team may have more flexibility after June 2 when teams can cut players and not have the salaries they were due to make count against the cap. As for the offensive line, the Steelers have three players on their roster that have starting experience at tackle. And what has to be encouraging for the Steelers has to be the health of left tackle Marvel Smith. Smith had surgery last season to relieve pressure that a piece of a herniated disc had put on a nerve in his back, and he said he noticed a change, for the better, as soon as he woke up from the procedure. He was in really high spirits when I talked to him after the Steelers first mini-camp practice Friday. The ninth-year veteran, in fact, sounded like a guy who has a new lease on his football life.

Q: First of all, when fans question the RB draft-situation, c'mon. Do they really think the guys that are in uniforms now can really compete, besides FWP• Mendenhall will be a great addition, and look for Davis, along with others, to go bye bye.

Two questions: until special teams shore up, why don't the Steelers take the best players on defense and use them to stop the bleeding• I know playing special teams is no picnic, and sprinting 50 to 60 yards then coming back on defense can be rough. But enough is enough, to quote another reader, we all hold our breath when the Steelers kickoff or receive.

What are the possibilities of getting a kicker to put the darn ball in the end zone on a consistent basis• Don't get me wrong, I love Reed -- he is very good at field goals, and especially loved seeing him tear apart a Bengal fan in Cincy after the idiot Bengal fan started to get on his case -- but just get the ball in the end zone so they can't return it. Just some obvious thoughts that I'm sure others think as well.

-- Chris Spencer of Cincinnati

Hi Chris,

I agree with you regarding the running back situation. I made the point before the draft that if the Steelers had a legitimate complement to Willie Parker last season he would not have logged over 300 carries. It will be interesting to see which running back is the odd man out given the addition of Rashard Mendenhall. It could well be Carey Davis since Najeh Davenport is capable of playing fullback and since that position, at least in the traditional sense, appears to be getting phased out of the offense. Heck may be gone before the start of the 2008 regular season.

I think it would be a mistake to use a lot of defensive starters on special teams and not just because of the fatigue factor. I don't think any team should have to resort to that drastic of a measure. They should be able to find young players who are trying to impress the coaches and veterans who have made a career by excelling on special teams, and construct solid coverage units with those players. Maybe the Steelers need to do a better job of identfying players that fit the special-teams profile. They can spend as much time practicing special teams all they want but if they don't have the right players for those units their struggles will continue.

I'm not sure the Steelers have the luxury of carrying two kickers, and it is hard to imagine the undrafted rookie from Appalachian State beating out Jeff Reed. It is worth noting that during his college career nearly 20 percent of Julian Rauch's kickoffs went for touchbacks.

Q: Have the Steelers done enough to fix the offensive line and defensive line between the draft and other signings?

-- Denny Finnegan, Shippensburg

A: Denny,

In a word, no, but as director of football operations Kevin Colbert said, at least in regard to the draft, the Steelers couldn't address all of their needs. I think they did the right thing in the first round when they didn't get swept up amidst the panic over offensive tackles and also didn't reach for one or a defensive end even though both were more pressing needs. Some within the Steelers braintrust had Rashard Mendenhall as the highest-rated running back in the draft. When he somehow fell to the Steelers, they didn't think twice about taking him, and they did the right thing.

The same can probably said for Limas Sweed, a first-round talent who slid to the Steelers in the second round because of a nagging wrist injury that pretty much sabotaged his senior season at Texas. The Steelers were comfortable enough with the reports they got from their medical personnel to draft Sweed and he, like Mendenhall, could prove to be a steal.

What has to be most worrisome to the Steelers is they didn't address their need for depth along the defensive line in the draft or through free agency unless you count the re-signings of Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason. The Steelers were able to get an offensive lineman in the draft that has the potential to start at left tackle NFL. And Tony Hills is coming into an ideal situation since the Steelers, with three tackles on their roster that have starting experience, can bring him along slowly. I think with that selection and the free-agent signing of center Justin Hartwig the Steelers did just enough to address the offensive line for this season and the coming years.

The defensive line, and particularly at end, is another matter. The Steelers have to hope that Aaron Smith not only makes a full recovery from the torn bicep that ended his season last December but that he stays healthy this season as well. They were a different defense without Smith, and if they have to rely on Kirschke or Eason again they could be in trouble. Also, I'm not sure what, if anything, they'll get out of Ryan McBean this year. They drafted McBean as a project in the fourth round last year but his development could be stunted by the stress fracture he has in his right foot. McBean is still wearing a cast, and that's not a good thing for the Steelers with mini-camp starting this weekend and OTA practices following later in May as well as June.

Q: Hi Scott,

I am very happy with the Steelers' picks in the draft and am excited about the upcoming season. I have some reservations though. How do you think the team will address special teams this year. Despite all the focus on the failures of the offensive line in protecting Ben, special teams, in my opinion, were the weakest link last season. I haven't seen any official stats but we had to have ranked at or near the bottom of the league in that category. I'm sure every Steeler fan held their breath every time we kicked off or punted. Do you have any idea what the team's plans are for improving our kick coverage and returns• If special teams don't improve, our schedule will be even tougher than it looks. Any thoughts?

-- Ed Hollinger of Minneapolis

A: Hi Ed,

What was so perplexing about the Steelers' well-documented struggles on special teams last season is the team devoted so much time to that phase of the game during practices, especially during training camp. Given that, I'd say the Steelers have to identify players than can comprise the core of special teams before training camp so those players have plenty of time to practice together and get a feel for one another.

The Steelers' sixth-round picks, Mike Humpal and Ryan Mundy, look like they can contribute on special teams, assuming, of course, that they make the team. The same is also true of free-agent signee Keyaron Fox. What is incumbent upon the Steelers is finding players like Sean Morey and Chidi Iwuoma, guys that have both a knack and a passion for playing special teams.

Q: I must say, I am very happy with what the Steelers did with this draft. Especially intriguing to me is the acquisition of Dennis Dixon. I know it's been said that he will be groomed for a backup quarterback but come on. Is Dixon not the true heir apparent to Randle-El• Will be groomed as an all-purpose throwing wide receiver?

-- Michael Broderick of Athens, Ohio

A: Michael,

My stock answer for how the Steelers did in the draft is we'll know in a couple of years. It is amusing to me how "experts" ranks teams' drafts before any of the players selected in them ever play a down. That said, I like for the most part what the Steelers did, especially with their first two picks. If Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed turn out to be as good as the Steelers had them rated the offense has a chance to be explosive this year.

As for the Dixon pick, I'm starting to warm up to it. Charlie Batch is 33 and the Steelers are going to need a quality backup for Ben Roethlisberger sooner rather than later and they think they may have found that in Dixon.

He's not a Randle-El type in that he won't return punts and won't play wide receiver much if at all. He is athletic enough that the Steelers could implement some packages for him on say third and short where he would have a pass-run option.

Best put, the Steelers want to groom Dixon as a quarterback with the idea that they can also find ways to take advantage of his passing skills and athleticism in select situations.

Of course, all of these plans are contingent on Dixon making a full recovery from the torn ACL that ended his senior season at Oregon -- and his being able to make the transition to the NFL.

Q: Scott,

Why would the Steelers consider using their first pick on a running back, anything high than day two would be a waste. FWP is back, there is still Davenport (criminal charges dismissed), and newly signed Moore, plus Gary Russell.

Why draft any back in the first three rounds when the lines need so much work, not to mention depth in the secondary or linebacker• Townsend and Farrior are getting older, it just seems like running back should come right after QB and TE on the needs list, if they get the line in order the holes will open for the "tough yards."

-- Mike McCorkle of York

A: Mike,

The Steelers have plenty of backs behind Willie Parker, as you pointed out, but are any of them legitimate options to take some of the burden off Parker in the running game or to start if the two-time Pro Bowler goes down with an injury? Moore appears to be a third-down back and kick returner and Russell is still too unproven at this point to know how big if a role he can play in the offense. Meanwhile, if Davenport could truly complement Parker then Parker wouldn't have had more than 300 carries last season.

I'm not saying the Steelers have to take a running back early in the draft but it is at least something they should consider, especially if they have an opportunity to get a back that they really like. I do agree with you that the Steelers absolutely have to address both lines in the draft and add depth at the positions you mentioned.

Of course doing all of that won't be easy since the Steelers have only six draft picks unless they trade their first-round selection for extra picks.

Q: Scott,

It has to be asked, “Any chance the Steelers would make a move for Chad Johnson if the Bengals decide to let him leave?”

I know there's more pressing needs than a receiver right now, but could you imagine Ben having the targets of Ward, Holmes, Johnson, Washington and Miller• I also do not believe Johnson is the villain they make him out to be. He could tone it down a notch but his antics are (for the most part) meant in jest. I wouldn't put him in the same class as Owens and Moss.

-- Doug Kershey of Parma Heights, Ohio

A: Doug,

I'd have to say you have a better chance of suiting up for the Steelers next season than Johnson for a number of reasons. First, the Bengals have given every indication that they are not going to give in to Johnson and his demand that they trade him. Obviously that could change but even if it does there is no way they would trade him to another team in the division.

Also, I can't believe the Steelers would have any interest in Johnson as great a player as he is. The price for him, even if the Bengals relent, would be too steep, and trading for Johnson just wouldn't make sense for a team that abides by the philosophy that the best way to build a team is through the draft. Finally, I just can't see Johnson's act exactly playing to rave reviews in Pittsburgh.

Q: Scott,

I have read many 2008 mock drafts and OL is the overwhelming prediction for the first-round selection of the Steelers. This seemed to make sense to me until recently when I reviewed the Steelers roster and thought about their traditional draft approach/player development approach. The five OL starters and first reserves in 2008 will most likely come from Hartwig, Simmons, Kemoeatu, Mahan, Colon, Smith, Starks, Essex, Capizzi, Stapleton, Parquet, and Lentz. There is little doubt the Steelers offensive line needs to help reduce the number of Ben's sacks and to adapt to the loss of a great guard in Alan Faneca. I'm thinking that most of that improvement in 2008 will come from the current roster.

At the same time, there are needs at RB, DL/OLB, WR and DB. What do you think of the Steelers selecting Stewart (RB), Talib (CB), Phillips (S) or Hardy (WR) if one of top OTs and Albert (G/OT) are not available when Steelers select in first round• Who would you select under this scenario?

Thanks for helping to keep Steelers Nation informed.

-- Andy Szakos of Kitty Hawk, N.C.

A: Hi Andy,

I couldn't agree more with what I think you are getting at, that the Steelers shouldn't reach for a player just to fill a perceived need along the offensive line. That is especially true since Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said he has never seen an offensive tackle class as deep as this one. If the Steelers don't take a tackle with their first pick a good one figures to be available in the second or even third round.

Keep in mind too that if -- or perhaps I should say when -- the Steelers take an offensive tackle, they will do so more with an eye toward 2009 since there is a chance neither Marvel Smith nor Max Starks will be back after this season.

I think any of the players you listed would be distinct possibilities for the Steelers if they make it past the first 22 picks (and if the Steelers don't trade down). If I had to pick out of that group I would take Jonathan Stewart. A number of teams have shown how valuable it is to have two quality running backs and Willie Parker recently said that he'd welcome the Steelers getting another back to complement him. Stewart, because of his size, would be ideal in that role.

Q: Hey Scott,

What do you think of Cameron Colvin• I think he could be an interesting option for the Steelers to fill the receiving gap as an undrafted free agent. He's 6-2 and showed glimpses of brilliance before he broke his ankle last season.

Regards,

-- Conor O'Keiff of Chicago

Hi Conor,

I consider myself an avid college football fan and I have to admit (sheepishly) that I had not heard of Colvin until you brought his name to my attention. ESPN.com did a big story on him, and I have attached the link to it.

After reading it (and without giving too much away), I have to say that after all of the adversity this young man has been through I will be rooting for him to make an NFL team -- whether it is here in Pittsburgh or somewhere else.

Thank you bringing him to my attention.

Click here to read the story

Q: Scott:

With the lack of play-makers behind Hampton, Smith and Keisel, I consider the Steelers defensive line as the weakest unit on the team. I like your suggestion of Quentin Groves in the first round, and I was wondering what you think about the possibility of taking Philip Merling. Does he project well as a 3-4 end• I think we could get a big receiver (Adarius Bowman or Marcus Monk, among others) later in the draft. Earl Bennett, who isn't really tall but very strong, was extremely productive as the focus of every defense that played Vandy. I have no problem with addressing the offensive line in the first round, but is there a chance Albert will be available at our position• I'd really rather not take the draft's fifth-best OT prospect in Cherilus. If we don't grab Groves in the first round, I do think there are a couple of intriguing prospects that would be available later in the draft. Do you know if the Steelers are looking at Shawn Crable, Bruce Davis or Marcus Howard?

--Sean McGreal of Los Angeles

A: Sean,

Regarding Merling I'd be a little leery of him if I were the Steelers considering how much practice time last year's first-round pick, Lawrence Timmons, missed because of what turned out to be a sports hernia. Then again, Merling is presumably on the mend, and if the Steelers are comfortable that he will make a quick and speedy recovery it would be hard to argue with them addressing their defensive line with their first-round pick. As I've said several times, I never realized how good Aaron Smith was until he got hurt, and adding another player that can play defensive end would not only add depth at the position but also insurance in case Smith or Brett Keisel goes down.

As for Branden Albert, it's looking highly unlikely that he will still be available when the Steelers make their first-round pick. And director of football operations Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers are highly unlikely to trade up in the first round since they only have six picks in the draft.

The Steelers did have Crable in for a visit, and the 26 12 tackles for losses he had last season at Michigan show he has a nose for the ball -- kind of like his former college teammate, LaMarr Woodley.

Q: Scott,

My question is simple. Do you think the Steelers are searching for a replacement power-back• Someone that can pave a way through the middle if need be and wear out a defense. Someone with more head-down/head-on power inside the 5-yard line. Before you say anything, I love Parker. His speed and home run ability are awesome. Hopefully he will return and have a successful year, but do you agree he needs to share time with a bruiser• We don't have anyone that defenses are scared to tackle. No Bus, no Diesel, not even a Winnebago.

-- Greg Whitley of Pungoteague, Va.

A: Greg,

I agree with you -- sort of. The Steelers need to find a complement to Parker regardless of that player's size. Ideally, they'll get the kind of back you suggest. I would have no problem with them drafting a smaller back as long as that player can team with Parker and give the Steelers the kind of running back tandem that is en vogue in the NFL.

Also, don't discount Gary Russell emerging as the power back the Steelers haven't had since Jerome Bettis retired. The Steelers are enamored with the second-year pro's ability to push the pile so to speak, but they are also cognizant of the fact that he played very little football the last two years and is still an unknown at this point.

Q: Hello Scott!

I actually believe the Steelers should trade down in this draft. Trade their No.1 for a No. 2 and a No. 3 this year and a No. 1 next year and throw in a player that's not in the plans long term. Then pick up 2 OL and 2 CBs and a RB order is unimportant quality is deep this year. Note: Anthony Smith is a gamer don't give up on him!

--David Dalton of Montclair, N.J.

A: Hi David,

I agree that trading down is something the Steelers should consider since they only have six picks and since, as you noted, this draft appears to be deep. Your asking price may be a bit steep but the draft can be a funny thing, and if a team is desperate enough to trade up to take a player they really like the Steelers might be able to swing a very favorable deal.

One thing to consider is two times in the last three years teams have traded into the latter part of the first round (Washington in 2005 and Cleveland last year) to take a quarterback and that could happen this year.

The Falcons are a likely trading partner for any team that is looking to make a deal to pick up extra picks as they have seven selections in the first 104 picks of the draft. Atlanta, however, is in such a rebuilding mode that it may be reluctant to part with any of its picks.

Q: Scott: Great work on the Q&A. It is appreciated as we all search for tidbits that might give us insight to that important #1 draft pick. Based on your comments (and others) the Steelers have quite a few needs that are high on their list (OL,CB, DL, WR). With that in mind, do you see it coming down to the "highest rated prospect" still available• I assume the Steelers view (their #1 priority and how they rank specific players) is a well-kept secret. So, if the following players are available who do you see them taking: Albert, Cherilus, Stewart, Hardy, Talib, Groves or Avril• Guess this would be a nice problem to have.

Thanks again!

--John Stewart of St Charles, Ill.

A: John,

First of all thank you for your comments, and I do think the Steelers will take the best available player with their first-round pick provided that player isn't a quarterback or a tight end.

I think the Steelers would be absolutely thrilled if the players you listed are available when it is their turn to pick. If that happens I think it would be a no-brainer to take Branden Albert. He could play guard next season for the Steelers -- and it sounds like he has the skills to be an excellent pulling guard -- and he could eventually move outside if the team needs him to play tackle.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, I think Albert will be gone by the time they pick in the first round. He appears to be one of the fastest-rising players in the draft, and he could well be a top-10 pick.

I think Jonathan Stewart would be an intriguing possibility for the Steelers if he falls to them. He'd be an ideal complement to Willie Parker, and the only question I'd have about him is how much he can help the team next season since the toe surgery he had in March will keep him sidelined until the start of training camp.

Q: Is there any particular reason the Steelers didn't bring in Dan Connor for a visit• I mean he is a solid prospect, a top player that will probably be among several available when they pick at 23. At Penn State's pro day did they even look in his direction• I'm not saying he should be their pick but doesn't his body of work at least make him worthy of a visit?

-- Greg Lee of Frederick, Md.

A: I wouldn't read too much into the Steelers not having Connor in for an unofficial visit. Both director of football operations Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin attended Penn State's pro day and I'm sure each talked extensively with Connor as they did with cornerback Justin King, another former Nittany Lions that is expected to get drafted in the first two rounds.

Q: What do you think about Justin King form Penn State• Could the Steelers pick him the 3rd or 4th round?

-- Senior Airman John Volpicelli of Luke AFB, Ariz.

A: I would guess that King won't be around if the Steelers wait until the fourth round or even the third to pick him. He really helped himself by running a 4.31 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.

I know the Steelers were impressed with King's interview with them, and they think he has considerable upside since he only played three seasons at Penn State and played mostly on offense his freshman year.

Q: Hello Scott,

A lot of Steeler fans have been calling out for drafting a RB, to complement FWP, especially in short-yardage situations. I know a RB would be a sexy pick, but we have too many "decent" linemen already to wait for later rounds. If we have a "pile pusher" up front, YOU can carry the ball 2-3 yards. If we're not going OL, go DL or DB where there's more of a need for 1st/2nd round talent as made obvious by that disgusting defensive collapse at the end of last season. With RB in mind, though, what's the deal with Gary Russell• Do you know anything about his development•

--CJ Stafford of Charlotte, N.C.

A: Hi CJ,

I'm guessing 99 percent of Steeler fans know this but for anyone that doesn't "FWP" refers to Willie Parker with the 'F' standing for "Fast." Also, I think you are giving me WAY too much credit when you say that even I could gain a couple of yards behind an offensive line that pushes the pile. Your point about how much better a running back is when he plays behind a good offensive line is well taken though I can promise we will never, ever test your theory that I can gain a couple of yards behind a good offensive line.

The Steelers do need to address the defensive line in the draft, and I wouldn't be against them taking almost any position in the first round. I've written this before but about the only thing I don't want to see the Steelers do with their first pick is reach for a player because that player fills a need. Ideally, they will get a player they really like and one that fills a need. Virginia guard/tackle Branden Albert would appear to fit that bill but I'd be surprised if he is still available when the Steelers make their first-round pick.

As for Russell, I'd say the Steelers are cautiously optimistic about him. They were so impressed with how well Russell played in last year's preseason games that they didn't try to sneak him onto their practice squad because they feared another team might sign him. He could give the Steelers the power runner they haven't had since Jerome Bettis retired.

That said, this guy hasn't played much football in the last couple of years ago, and I'm sure the Steelers have questions about how much they can depend on Russell since he flunked out of Minnesota and showed up at 2007 NFL Scouting Combine so out of shape that he cost himself a chance at getting drafted. Best put, I think the Steelers are still taking a wait-and-see approach with Russell.

Q: Scott,

My question with the Steelers has to do with a few of the guys lesser down on their depth chart. I didn't realize until today that they signed Jeremy Bloom to their roster, and since they also have Willie Reid, it seems as if one or both of these guys might be able to serve as a decent returner on the pro level, similar to Joshua Cribbs of the Browns. What do the Steelers think about having either of these two returning punts and kicks this year• Also, thought the Dallas Baker addition at the end of last years draft was great. How much progress has he been making as a player• It seems as if he has all of the physical tools that they would be looking at in a first- or second-round receiver this year (size, speed). Do the coaches like how he is practicing, and is there a chance he will be added to the roster this season• I think that a receiving corps or Ward, Holmes, Washington, and Baker would give you a little of everything you would want in receivers.

Thanks,

-- Dan Kish of Huntsville, Ala.

A: Hi Dan,

To answer the first part of your question, I've been completely miffed by Willie Reid and what he has done – or rather what he hasn't done during his first two seasons. I was at the 2006 Orange Bowl when he torched Penn State for several long punt returns and thought he would be a dynamite return man in the NFL. Now, I'm not even sure the Steelers have en

 

 
 


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