Ray Fittipaldo's Steelers chat transcript: 12.30.13

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Ray Fittipaldo: Welcome to my weekly Steelers chat. Please post your questions and we'll get it going.
Sam: Good Afternoon Ray, Jason Worilds has been hampered by injuries in the past. He was off to a slow start this year until he exploded on the left side. Then, he missed the last game due to injury. What monetary value can the Steelers put on him? Based on the games he's play at OLB, I say sign him! Based on his history, it seems a high risk.
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't know what value the Steelers will place on Worilds, but in my opinion I think it's worth the risk to pay him 4 or 5 million a season over the course of a contract. He was highly productive at left outside linebacker when given the opportunity. And that dollar amount is about half of what they are currently paying LaMarr Woodley at the same position. They would not be breaking the bank to pay Worilds that type of money. The other side of the coin is whether Worilds would settle for that type of money without testing free agency. He has waited four years to be a free agent. He was not exactly happy with the way he was handled early in his career, so maybe he'd like to see what he is worth on the open market.
Julian: What positions do you expect the Steelers to target in the 2014 draft. Also, what type of player and how good of a player do you expect them to get at pick #15?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think a big WR is an option as well as a pass-catching TE. That's about all you need on offense. Drafting at No. 15, one of the elite left tackles will not be available. On defense, there are plenty of needs. They can draft a nose tackle if there is one worth taking in the middle of the first round. They could take a cornerback, an inside linebacker, maybe even a safety.
Nick: Where do the Steelers pick in round 2? Since they pick second of all 8-8 teams in the first, will they pick second to last of that group in the second round?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'd have to check on the draft order for you. If I can do that before the end of the chat I will
Andy Read: Doesn't the league warn teams that they shouldn't rest healthy players in meaningless games? Any chance the Chiefs lose a draft pick for it?
Ray Fittipaldo: No. Plenty of teams have done what Andy Reid did yesterday. The Steelers did it in 2004. They rested a bunch of their starters, including Jerome Bettis and Ben Roethlisberger in a game at Buffalo when their playoff seeding could not be enhanced. The Bills needed the game to get into the playoffs. The Steelers, with plenty of reserves on the field, won the game. The Chiefs almost pulled it off, should have pulled if off.
C.J.: Do you know anything on Sean Spence?
Ray Fittipaldo: I just know what he told me a few weeks ago after the Steelers decided not to activate him to the 53-man roster. At the time, he said he felt really good about his future and was looking forward to the offseason. He got a chance to practice with the team for about three weeks before the Steelers had to designate him back to the IR. He said he made some progress from his gruesome knee injury. The Steelers haven't said much about where he is. I guess we'll get a better feel for how they view Spence during the offseason. Do they draft an ILB, or sign one in free agency? If not, maybe that's a sign they believe Spence can come back and play well.
Sam: Hello Ray, the Steelers went 6-2 the last half of the season. It seems the coaches, especially Mike Tomlin, deservces a lot of credit for the team's efforts. But then again, they started 2-6 and lost to a JV team like the Raiders...anyway, how soon will we hear about any assistant coaching changes, if any?
Ray Fittipaldo: Tomlin said today at his season-ending news conference that there is no timetable for making those decisions. He said he'll evaluate those types of of things over the next few days or weeks. So it could happen at any time. Or he could decide not to make any changes.
mike: Say what you want about the Steelers making their own bed but they got screwed out of the playoffs yesterday by the refs. How come not even a review on the fumble in overtime. If it was a blown whistle did he even make the 1st down?
Ray Fittipaldo: Referee Bill Leavy said Eric Weddle made the first down but that his forward progress was stopped after picking up the first down Forward progress is not reviewable.
Julian: Do you think they could trade up for an elite LT? Or possibly trading down to collect more picks?
Ray Fittipaldo: Anything is a possibility. They traded up to get Troy Polamalu 10 years ago. I just don't know if left tackle is as much a priority now as it was maybe in September. Kelvin Beachum stepped in and did pretty well. I understand much of his success and the overall success of the offensive line in the second half of the season had to do with the no-huddle, but Beachum was much better than Mike Adams. They might feel like Beachum is serviceable as a left tackle and could look at improving their offense in another area such as getting a big receiver or tight end.
Ron from Iowa: I was shocked to see a few passes go to Moye when I did not see Wheaton on the inactive list. Did Wheaton get any snaps? Tough to see him as a replacement for Sanders. Was the broken finger this issue or coaches decision?
Ray Fittipaldo: Wheaton was in there for a handful of snaps. I don't have the exact count handy. He had a rough rookie season. It was interrupted in the middle because of an injury and then he had another injury late. Plus, he was one of those guys who could not attend OTAs or much of mini-camp because of the way his college semesters fell, so his first exposure to the playbook was training camp. This will be a big offseason for Wheaton. He has to develop a rapport with Roethlisberger. Watching them practice this season I don't sense there is a high trust level between the two right now. I think they'll try to rectify that during the offseason.
C.J.: There was talk of moving McLendon to DE before the season. He struggled at NT and besides Heyward, there's only really Hood at DE. The steelers most likely will draft a NT in one of the first rounds, do you they McLendon could succeed if they moved him to DE?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a possibility. He has played there in the past. That will be one thing to watch over the offseason. Their run defense slipped and a nose tackle (a really good one) could help rectify that problem.
Guest: Who are the Steelers starting safeties next season? And who do you think should be?
Ray Fittipaldo: If I had to guess now I'd say Troy Polamalu and Shamarko Thomas, but I acknowledged many things play into those decisions. What happens, for instance, if Polamalu does not want to take a pay cut if they ask him to take one?
Nate: Ray, When you lose to the Titans, Raiders, and Vikings, you don't deserve to make the playoffs. However, when you have to beat a 2nd string team in overtime, you don't deserve it any more.
Ray Fittipaldo: If the Steelers had made the playoffs as an 8-8 wild card entrant they would have been the seventh team to do so since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. Of the previous six teams to make it as a wild card with an 8-8 record only two won playoffs games and neither one made it past the divisional round. So yes, it would have been a great story if the Steelers came back from the dead to make the playoffs but making a deep playoff run would have been an even bigger story.
David: With the reports about Ike Taylor moving to the fs spot next year, do you think we will go after a physical corner or somebody else in the upcoming draft?
Ray Fittipaldo: Taylor apparently spoke about this after the game yesterday, but Tomlin said that has never been formally discussed. He said he has discussed it with Taylor because he believes Taylor has the skill set to make the move, but Tomlin made it sound like it has never been a deep discussion within the organization. Maybe it will be this offseason.
Guest: Wheaton 7 snaps Moye 11
Guest: Lots of speculation that Butler will grow impatient if EBeau sticks around another season. What do you know about Butlers willingness to continue working under LeBeau?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't know anything about his willingness to continue coaching under LeBeau, but I do know Tomlin said today there is nothing formal in place that says Keith Butler is the defensive coordinator in waiting. Read into that what you like. I think there is something informal in place, but if Butler gets an offer to coach on another team as a coordinator he is certainly free to accept that offer at any time.
Guest: Do you believe the Steelers will complete a contract extension for Big Ben this offseason?
Ray Fittipaldo: It would make sense to do so given his cap hit.
JamesinNYC: I would like Keisel back if they can for a one year .. Hampton sort of deal. Do you think if they made him an offer for one year he would take it?
Ray Fittipaldo: Keisel has roots here. He said he will raise his family here after he is done playing. I think he would be willing to do that more than other players who may or may not view this as a long-term home. It likely would also depend on how much he can make elsewhere next season. These guys don't typically turn down wads of money if someone is willing to pay it.
Chunkles: The NFL is ALL about money, how about fairness? Ray, why not have a wildcard "Wildcard" play-off game between the Chargers and the Steelers on Thursday to see who meets the Bengals in the "Wildcard game, this weekend since the NFL openly admitted the refs made a mistake that could have sent the Steelers to the play-off?
Ray Fittipaldo: And play a game on three days' rest? You sound like someone who used to work at the Post-Gazette who continually argued that football can be played more than once a week. I always laughed at him. Plus, given player safety, this would never happen.
Sulaiman: Which receiver if sanders goes would the steelers love to have?
Ray Fittipaldo: In the draft? Mike Evans, but he's likely gone by the time they pick at No. 15.
C.J.: What do the futures of Vince Williams and Shamarko Thomas look like?
Ray Fittipaldo: Vince Williams proved that he is serviceable. He got some quality playing time for a rookie, which doesn't always happen for young players in this defense. I don't know if they view him as a long-term answer, but he did well enough for a rookie. They know less about Thomas because he didn't see nearly as much playing time. But I know they don't draft players as high as they drafted Thomas without having some big plans for him.
Guest: Regardless of W/l's Ben had a productive (and healthy) year, does this validate Haley's offense and signal that he should be back next season? Plus, if you bring in a new OC next year, there will be a whole new system to learn...
Ray Fittipaldo: It would seem to indicate that, but Tomlin said today there have not been any decisions made regarding his coaches. Ben has said he does not want any changes because he thinks it would set things back. We'll see if Tomlin and the organization listens to their franchise quarterback.
Nick: Upcoming FA that we should be most worried about losing - Worilds, Heyward, C. Allen?
Ray Fittipaldo: They can control Heyward for two more years if they exercise a team option, which they'll likely do. They control Allen for one more year. They don't control Worilds at all, so the answer to your question is Worilds.
Ross: I liked the way the Steelers offense shaped up, during the season. If I was drafting, I would not draft a lineman early. I would shore up the middle of the defense. We were lucky we didn't get run at more then we did.
Ray Fittipaldo: That could happen, but I'm not sure if there is an ILB worthy of consideration in the middle of the first round.
C.J.: I'm still dumbfounded on drafting Landry Jones (who isn't even the backup QB), he seems to be nowhere in their present or their future, looking back, do you have any idea?
Ray Fittipaldo: Lots of people continue to be dumbfounded by that. We'll see if he makes any strides during the offseason.
Guest: How is Pouncey healing?
Ray Fittipaldo: All indications are he is on the right course with his rehab.
Guest: What veteran player retained is the biggest surprise we can expect?
Ray Fittipaldo: I wouldn't be shocked if Keisel or Hood comes back. Not both. It's likely a one or the other situation.
Mikey: Ray, Heyward had his way a number of times on Thomas yesterday. Bigger sign: Heyward starting to become dominant or Thomas unmotivated by playing for a bad Browns team year over year?
Ray Fittipaldo: Heyward has been pretty good against everyone since entering the starting lineup. The fact that he did that to Thomas only bolsters the notion that he will be an impact player for years to come.
Chunkles: I know, its a brutal sport to even play every seven days but I betcha any of the Steelers would tape up and play for a chance to be in the play-offs. My other question to you, with the "Above the Line" play of Fernando and Cody at center, isnt it obvious that Pouncey is a bit overrated?
Ray Fittipaldo: They certainly had some good fortune with their backup centers this year. I don't know if it changes their long-term view of Pouncey, though.
C.J.: Are the Steelers going to keep Velasco? If so, who makes the move to guard? That's a very strong interior line if we do.
Ray Fittipaldo: If they kept Velasco I think it would be as a top reserve at center and guard. I think they like what they have at guard with DeCastro and Foster. Both played pretty well this season.
Mikey: you need to stop taking questions from Chunkles. Insane scenario about them playing Thursday.
JamesinNYC: I have to admit when the Steelers were looking done, I was hoping they would lose the rest for a better pick. But I have to give them credit for finishing strong, they look pretty decent in particular on offense. I do hope they let some guys go, but how much do you think the finish will adjust their strategy on potential free agents?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think the strong finish will alter their plans all that much to be honest. Some of the same problems that plagued them when they were 2-6 still persist. The reason they were able to go 6-2 down the stretch was an improved offense. I think it's logical to suggest there will be more changes to the defense because that unit struggled for most of the year.
Guest: What is Larry Foote's status next year?
Ray Fittipaldo: He is under contract for next year. That doesn't mean they will automatically bring him back, but he's not a free agent.
Coach Fi: Who are the top 2 Nose Tackles out there that would fit
Ray Fittipaldo: Nix from Notre Dame has been mentioned as a first-rounder. He had some injury issues this year, but he would fit that mold.
Guest: Evaluate Troy's play this season. I realize he made the pro bowl but, that is not always indicative of quality play. He played out of position for most of the season so how will he be evaluated?
Ray Fittipaldo: They used him in a different way because of some of their other issues in the middle. I thought he held up for being so undersized in the run game. His pass defense has been criticized, but he made some big plays in the passing game, too. He returned an interception for a touchdown against the Dolphins. He certainly played well enough that he's not someone they're looking to replace, but it comes down to what they want to pay him.
C.J.: Do you think Foster played better than Velasco? It looked as if Velasco was one of the bright spots on the line, even playing better than Pouncey.
Ray Fittipaldo: Foster was graded among the top 20 or so guards in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.
Coach Fi: Who do you project to be the starting Def backfield next season?
Ray Fittipaldo: Too early to tell because of so many things, but Allen at CB, Polamalu and Thomas at SS and FS and Taylor at CB (at a reduced rate) is my guess. Gay at CB if they cannot get down to a god number with Taylor.
KO Rick: Hi Ray, Happy Holidays ! I know Ziggy has played Nose in a pinch, but do you think with a few more pounds he could Excel There ?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a possibility, but I don't know if he would ever develop into the run-stopper Casey Hampton was.
JamesinNYC: Tall WR, NT, S, and CB take the best available. That would be my strategy for the draft. At least the Browns don't get a top of the 3rd round pick :-).
JamesinNYC: Happy New Year!!
Ray Fittipaldo: Same to you James and everyone else. On that note, I'll end the chat. Check my Twitter account for future chats.

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