Jerry Micco: OK folks, ready when you are.
James_Pittsburgh: Is Phil Hughes the next pitcher on the Pirates list? He had a 3.80 ERA on the road last year. For his career he has averaged 7.6 K/9 innings. With the help of Ray Searage, I think he could turn into a good number 2/3 starter behind Cole and Liriano.
Jerry Micco: I'm sure they have a list, but I'm betting the top of that list is AJ Burnett. They lost Josh Johnson to San Diego, but it seemed like Johnson had expressed a desire to pitch on the West Coast. Phil Hughes is an intriguing prospect and a power pitcher, which Neal Huntington likes.
Draft Guru: I had the Steelers taking Tyler Eifert in the 1st round and Tyrone Mathieu in the 2nd round. RB in the 3rd round. This team would be in better shape
Jerry Micco: Not if they couldn't keep Ben afloat. I liked Eifert, too, but I think they still like Heath Miller as their starter for at least one more year. I think the other TEs they have on the team are fill-in pieces. None of them impress me. And I'm in the camp that Le'Veon Bell will be a nice back for them. He can catch the ball and he's a patient runner. The OL has to get better, but that's a work in progress.
James_Pittsburgh: The Steelers may make the playoffs at 8-8. However I can't get to exited over the team making the playoffs at 8-8. I guess Steeler fans are really spoiled.
Jerry Micco: The playoffs are the playoffs, and anything can happen. The problem is if you keep going 8-8, 7-9, you are always picking in the second half of the first round. The Steelers have many needs, and they all cannot be filled in the draft. They need to develop guys, maybe be more active in the FA market and draft better than they have in the aggregate the past 3 years.
The Chief: Jerry, hope you had a good week. Your thoughts on the ending of the Patriots/Panther game.
Jerry Micco: I thought it was at least defensive holding, which would have given New England another shot. No way that's not a penalty of some sort.
The Chief: Any reason the Pirates are not considering moving Pedro to 1B and then try looking for a power hitting third baseman?
Jerry Micco: I think Pedro prefers third and while he's going to make his share of errors, he also made his share of really good plays there last season. He has a rocket arm, too. That doesn't mean a few years from now he doesn't go to 1B. But for now, they are going to leave him alone.
The Chief: Cam Heyward is having a breakout season your thoughts on what has changed.
Jerry Micco: I think it takes time for guys to learn this defense. And Heyward was a 4-3 DE at Ohio State, so he had to adjust a bit. Also, LeBeau adjusted a bit in camp saying he wanted the DEs to be more aggressive on the pass rush, and Heyward has taken that part to heart.
Guest: Granted, winning the MVP won't help, but it's clear and apparent to everyone that Marte should be the CF for this team, and that with McCutchen in left, the Pirates are a better team. Do you know how Andrew feels about this? Is he insistent on playing CF?
Jerry Micco: Bill Brink or Jenn Menendez, who cover the team for us, could give you a better answer than I on the final part of your question. But the unique structure of PNC Park almost always demands two centerfielders to play left and center. So in that sense, the Pirates did exactly what they should with Marte and McCutchen. As to whether Marte is better, I think it's close. Marte clearly has a bigger arm, so maybe that's why he's in left.
Phil: Take that Tomlin short-sighted haters! This team wasn't ready in September and has problems out of the time zone, but I think it's shaping up as good year for one of the best head coaches in the league, especially after it's evident that he has kept the team focused.
Jerry Micco: I didn't know you were his agent. That said, I think Tomlin is unfairly bashed for every ill this team has. But he owns a piece of this, and no question there are times the team has not looked ready to play and his in-game clock management still needs a lot of work. But he also has never had a losing season. We'll see after this year, but 4-6 after starting 0-4 says something about the team and the staff. This week's game is a test. We'll see how they do.
James_Pittsburgh: Jerry, honestly, I think a 27 year old pitcher in his prime is a better investment than A.J. Burnett. It is possible that one or both could pitch poorly in 2014. However it seems that Phil Hughes is similar to A.J. Both struggled with the long ball in New York. Hughes allowed 1.6 home runs/9 innings in 2013. Burnett allowed 1.4 home runs/9 innings in New York.
Jerry Micco: I guess to them Burnett is a known product and had very good strikeout numbers. His record wasn't great, but he didn't get a lot of run support early. As I said, I don't think the Bucs get real active until the Burnett situation is resolved one way or another.
Scott in Dallas: Thanks for meeting with us. What 2-3 things does the coaching staff/front office need to figure out over the rest of the season to best address what direction to go with the offseason?
Jerry Micco: Who can play and who can't. I'm not being flip, but you have to judge what you have and then go from there. If you think Mike Adams is a LT regardless of his troubles, then you don't need a LT in round 1. If you think Sean Spence will play again and Vince Williams is going to be fine, you probably don't need Larry Foote. If you get rid of both safeties, do you have replacements? If not, how do you get them. It's evaluating what they have right now that's most important.
James_Pittsburgh: Jerry, unless the Pirates make a trade, their does not seem to be much hope for them upgrading first base. James Loney hit .300 in 2013, but only hit .254 .302 .344 .646 in 2012. It seems that we will likely see a Gaby Sanchez/ Andrew Lambo platoon or a Gaby Sanchez/ Garrett Jones platoon if Jones agrees to re-sign for $3 million.
Jerry Micco: I think you are right. It's a really bad FA market for first basemen. Now, if they wanted to swing a trade, maybe they could do that. But I could see both scenarios listed by you as being the case in 2014.
Mike: What do you make of certain local media members calling out Rapoport? Sure seems likeits a case of some local media being upset a national beat them on their own turf.
Jerry Micco: Well, did he "beat" them? If I tell you that the Steelers may cut Troy Polamalu at the end of the season, but they don't, then I could say, well, I say the MAY do it. I don't know that people are upset as much as they have to work the story on this end. I don't know if Ian's report is correct or not, but I do know in our work we aren't hearing that and everyone we've talked to says the report is bunk. So unless we can get a source to tell us that indeed Ben wants out, we'll go with what he, his agent and the Steelers said. Why would you believe Rapoport's story above any local reporter? Just curious.
James_Tel Aviv: I'm against signing AJ. I say replace him in the rotation with Justin Wilson.
Jerry Micco: I think Justin Wilson will be dangled at the winter meetings. A lot of teams would like him as a possible set-up man or closer, though indeed he could be stretched out to start, too.
Phil: Please comment on Jamie Dixon OOC schedule. To many excuses being made here. I watch games every night and see high majors playing true road games. Its getting embarrassing.
Jerry Micco: Pitt's OOC schedule was explained, in part from Dixon, in a recent Paul Zeise story. And Pitt does have bigger tests on the way in the next couple of weeks. But if you note, many of these OOC preseason games are between elites. Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, etc., may play each other once, but all of them have the occasional weak opponent, too. I think Pitt needs to buff up it's OOC schedule, but that's going to take some time on their part.
David: Can you comment on Chrysts first two seasons as a head coach? 6-7 and 6-6 to me is not good enough.
Jerry Micco: I think with what that program went through with all the coaching changes, playing .500 football is OK to get a base set. You have to give Chryst some time and I thought Pitt was a 6-6 type team this season. Fans should be more concerned about the program if he has 3 consecutive seasons like the first two. By next year, he'll have a lot of his players on board and it'll be easier to judge, I think.
Chunkles: Never liked the guy BUT, I tend to agree with Deon Sanders,after the Steelers beat the Lions, doesnt matter, he said after this year, everyone on the Steelers over the age of 32 should be shown the door.
Jerry Micco: Maybe that's why he's not in a front office of an NFL team. As I recall, he played into his mid- late-30s. Was he cut every year by every team he played for after he was 32? You can't just cut everyone and then try to replace them. Very hard to do.
James_Pittsburgh: Will it be a disaster if the Pirates go into the season with a rotation of Liriano, Cole, Charlie Morton, Wandy Rodriguez, and Jeff Locke and no backup plan? They have to sign Hughes or A.J. Burnett.
Jerry Micco: I don't think it will be a disaster, but it leaves them very little depth. It would be easier if they signed one more starter like the 2 you mention.
Mark: Who is the best college basketball player right now between pitt, duquesne and rmu?
Jerry Micco: I really haven't seen enough of those teams to know.
Bill L: Have you seen Terry Bradsaw around recently? I know he's a major media star and is all over the place, but I still get the sense he has misgivings about us. I wouldn't mind seeing Brad here once in awhile.
Jerry Micco: I'm not aware that there are misgivings on his part, but I cannot tell you for certain. He has come back when asked, so I guess he's reconciled most of his issues with the city and the team.
Scott in Dallas: Troy has always said he would know when it was time for him to walk away from the game but he is saying he wants to play next year. Do you think he still has the skills/speed to be an effective player (his style of play, not just a body out there)? Will Coach Lebeau decide to retire when the last of his great players through the SB runs leaves?
Jerry Micco: What has changed about Polamalu's game are his coverage skills. They aren't what they were a couple of years ago. He still plays the run well and since the Steelers have run a lot of nickle and dime packages, he's almost like an inside linebacker. But if his coverage skills are so poor, you really can't have him back there. It becomes a luxury. Ask Ed Reed about that. It's what caused him to get cut by Houston, though the Jets seem to be happy to have him.
Scott in Dallas: In reporting on the local teams is there an unwritten line in the sand that you don't cross or risk losing access to the teams?
Jerry Micco: I think if you consistently make errors and are unfair in your reporting, and don't equate unfair with not being critical, the team likely won't be happy with you. But access to the locker room is open. Of course, you have to be credentialed by the team to get that. We have 2 columnists who have been critical of every team we've covered at times over the years. Never once have they been told they can't cover a game or a practice. Most teams understand that's part of the drill. Sometimes they don't like how something is written, and they let us know, but I've never been threatened with having someone's credential pulled.
Mike: Correct if I am wrong, but do people get hired at the national networks because they stink at their job?
Jerry Micco: No. Usually they were very good newspaper reporters and then they are hired by TV networks. Not all of them, but most of them come from a newspaper background. And you don't have to stink to get the occasional story wrong. Sometimes that happens.
James_Brackenridge: If Ben tells Dulac/Bouchette i want out of Pgh but don't report it, wink wink, like the old days of reporters being buddies with the players in baseball. Why shouldn't we as fans believe that still goes on?
Jerry Micco: Because we don't sit on stories. Period. Now, fans can believe who they want to believe. But we have a certain way at the PG that we report stories. I'm not sure what networks do, but we have to have either 2 sources or one impeccable source to get a story into the paper on on the Web site. If fans think reporters are hiding stuff, then they probably shouldn't read they copy. They wouldn't believe it if it was the the truth anyway.
Jack Splat: Steelers win in Cleveland by 7 or less. It's going to be winter there Sunday.
Jerry Micco: Then they'd better be able to run the ball and so far, that has been an issue for this team. It's going to be very tight. Winning on the road is difficult in the NFL.
Ken: Has Cam Newton matured enough for the Panthers to be the next in a long recent line of dark horse Lombardi winners? They remind me of the Coughlin Giants with an excellent middle linebacker.
Jerry Micco: Newton continues to grow as a QB, and that's going to make the Panthers better. I'm not sure if they are a Super Bowl contender just yet, but they are maybe in that top 5 in the very tough NFC.
LugNuts: Can you explain why the PG is a sponsor at some of the local sporting venues? Doesn't this impair your objectivity?
Jerry Micco: Those agreements are done by our Marketing Department and at the higher executive level. They have nothing to do with us in the Editorial Department. We report news and analyze/opine as we see fit.
The Chief: Your thoughts on the Bronco/Chiefs game. Do you see one of those teams showing up in New York in February?
Jerry Micco: I think Denver has a very good chance. In the AFC, the depth is not there, so one great team like the Broncos can make that run. I think the Chiefs schedule down the stretch will slow their train down a bit.
James_Barcelona: Ohio State gave up 35 points to Illinois. Would Ohio State have any chance against Alabama?
Jerry Micco: A chance? Yes. Would they win? I don't think so. Bama's defense is way too good, which is why they are so tough to beat. Put that defense with Baylor's offense and it would be a juggernaut.
Jack Splat: Any word on how Pouncey's rehab is progressing?
Jerry Micco: I've not heard much about it. Apparently he's around the team, but doesn't travel with them.
Phil: Last night I watched Memphis play at OK State, Vandy at Butler, before that Michigan at Iowa State, OSU at Marquette, Michigan also goes to Duke. These are not neutral court games. These are true road games. Dixon needs to play a true road game. I'd like someone to call him out about it.
Jerry Micco: I think you just did. And we've written mountains in the past on their weak OOC schedule, even to the point of how it costs them seeding in the NCAAs. It's not like no one has said their OOC schedule ranks with Michigan State's. Maybe you just missed those stories.
Guest: Jonathan Martin is highly unlikely to be back with the Dolphins. Steelers are desperate for a tackle. If you were GM would you offer Miami a late round pick for him or try to get him on the cheap once he is cut?
Jerry Micco: No, because he was benched for being a slow-footed left tackle who kept getting beat. The Steelers already have Mike Adams. If Adams is a project, you really don't need another one to work on during the offseason.
Phil: NFL coaching carousel season is coming up? Any speculation? How about a Snyder-Shanahan divorce? I heard Gruden will be back in. Is Houston in play? That's a good job--the owner is actually sane, right?
Jerry Micco: Houston is very in-play. I don't see Gruden leaving the booth. I think he likes making good money with out the health risks.
Jack Splat: Regarding cutting all Steelers over 32 - that's not the question. The issue is salary cap. Many guys will need to go next year for cap room. Ben can command, and frankly is worth, the market rate for a QB at his level which is $20-$25 million/year. Crazy but that is the market.
Jerry Micco: That will be an issue, no question. But not all their big hitters are over 32. Woodley and A. Brown come to mind. Ben has 2 years left on his deal. They Steelers may say we'll keep him at that rate and see how things are 2 years from now. I doubt they'll do that, but it's a possibility. And they can always hope Ben gives them the hometown discount. He did say he'd rather retire than be traded. Of course, people say stuff all the time.
Tom: Why was Fittipaldo moved off the Pitt beat writer assignment?
Jerry Micco: Ray covered Pitt basketball for us. When we added a bit of depth in Sports, we knew the Steelers needed a third writer. Our online presence is big with the Steelers, too, and Ray has done a great job for us both in print and online. And make no mistake, the Steelers far and away outrank any other sports team we cover. Still a big-time football town.
carisi_99: Bell has been pretty good on drop off passes, but he doesn't seem to get open when they have had him run routes against LB, is that something they expected him to be able to do? I don't every remember them having RB run down field routes before.
Jerry Micco: He was an excellent pass catcher in college, and this was one of the reasons the Steelers wanted him. Much tougher to learn to run proper routes in the NFL than run the ball. As I said, Bell will be a nice back for them. I don't know that he'll rush for 1000 yards every year, but his combined yardage will be very good, I think.
Fredo: Smiz made some real good points comparing Leveon Bell to Mendenhall's rookie stats. Bell is averaging what, maybe 3.2 yards a carry. The explosion in the hole just isn't there. I'm not sure what the Steelers saw in him. You can find a RB anywhere, look at the backup in Tampa Bay did last week. Another whiff for Colbert/Tomlin
Jerry Micco: So say you, but Steelers coaches have said they love Bell's explosion into the hole and they seem him run every day. I think you need to give a guy a year or so to mature and get better. Or, give him a much better OL to run behind. I'm not ready to call Bell a bust yet. If he can give them 100+ total yards per game, that's a nice contribution. And he made a very nice catch on that 4th-down play. A much tougher catch than it looked.
Chunkles: Jerry, great point about Deon! We all saw how great it would be to have a MEGATRON on our team. Problem is, they dont come about that often. Do you think the Steelers would be wise to scout basketball teams to see guys built like that they could convert into a wide reciever? Its been done with tight ends.
Jerry Micco: Tony Gonzales and Antonio Gates come to mind. Both were pretty good basketball players at Cal and Kent State, respectively.
James_Pittsburgh: Jerry, do you see the Steelers finishing 8-8, which is what I think you predicted to start the season?
Jerry Micco: I'm thinking more maybe 7-9. They have winnable games at home vs. Cincinnati, Cleveland and Miami. And you might think Cleveland on the road is a win, but as I said, that's going to be tough for them to win. I don't see 8-8, I see 7-9 but would not be shocked with 6-10.
The Chief: Is the Matt McGloin story a feel good movie waiting to happen?
Jerry Micco: Maybe not a movie, but it's a really good story for him. Glad to see him having some success after his up, down, then up career at Penn State.
Ken: Jerry, who wins the NFC east? I can only imagine--actually I have a good idea--what those friendly people across the state and in South Jersey are saying.
Jerry Micco: I think the Eagles have as good a chance as anyone to win it. I guess Dallas, though, may be a touch better. But those two will battle to the wire.
Bill L: You were in the Bay area. I watched the Football Life on the Forward pass last night and some of it featured Bill Walsh without saying that the rule changes aided him at exactly the right time. What do you think--don't get me wrong I think he's a hall of famer, but was he one of the great innovators in NFL history?
Jerry Micco: He was in the sense that he took what he learned from the great Sid Gilman and then combined it with some of his ideas, then added the rules changes that had come about, to create what we call the West Coast offense. One of the smartest, innovative men during his time.
Jerry Micco: OK folks I need to get back to some other stuff. Tremendous chat. Thanks for takign the time today. Sorry I couldn't get to everything you guys dished up, but I got to as many as I could. I'll be back at noon next Wednesday for more. I'll also have the Steelers-Browns chat starting at 12:45 on Sunday. Until next time, have a great week everybody! Follow me on Twitter: @PG_JerryMicco