Ray Fittipaldo's Steelers chat transcript: 1.6.14


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Poll Question: If available when Steelers draft at No. 15, who should they take?
Answer #1: Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (32%)
Answer #2: Nose tackle Louis Nix (18%)
Answer #3: Receiver Mike Evans (50%)
Ray Fittipaldo: Welcome to my weekly Steelers chat. Post your questions and we'll get it going.
Jake: Hi ray, are there any names coming up for the offensive line coach?
Ray Fittipaldo: There have been a few names that have been thrown out there, but I don't think Tomlin has interviewed anyone for the position yet. He just dismissed Jack Bicknell on Friday afternoon. As for the names that have been thrown around...Tunch Ilkin is one. Tunch is a former Steelers linemen and has turned down numerous offers to coach in the NFL in the past. One of those offers was from the Steelers years ago when Bill Cowher was head coach. He never got into coaching because it wasn't family-friendly. Perhaps he'll change his mind if approached because his kids are now grown. Another name is Mike Munchak, a Hall of Famer who coached in the Titans organization for the past 30 years. He was the head coach for the past three and beat the Steelers this year. Other names will be sure to surface. This is an important hire for Tomlin because the Steelers have so much invested in the line and it did not play up to expectations again this season.
Jake: If Ha ha clinton dix, louis nix, and kelvin benjamin are all available when the steelers pick in round one who do they take?
Ray Fittipaldo: Benjamin is a big WR, which is a need for the Steelers. Clinton Dix is a CB and Nix is a NG. I posed a similar question for the poll this chat, but I had Mike Evans instead of Benjamin. Knowing the Steelers and how much they value stopping the run I think Nix might be in play. The Steelers invested a first-round pick in Casey Hampton and he was a mainstay for years and a key to their defense. And nose tackle is one of the few positions on the Steelers defense where you can step in right away and play. It's not like linebacker or safety or end where you have to know everything about the defense. You just have to go out there, eat up double teams and stop the run. But they also need to get young at cornerback. Ike Taylor might not come back. And if they want to fully commit to their strengths and build on them they'd take a big WR and add to what became a very good offense in the second half of the season. It's a tough question. I'd go for a big WR because I think the offense might be on the verge of being something special, but I say that knowing full well that this team has always been built around defense and stopping the run.
renegade: Ray, Love the chats. Keep up the great work. The defense While the offense needs a big time big WR, clearly the D is in sad deteriorated shape at al positions but certainly up middle as cannot stop run. If Watkins or Evans not available at 15 in rd 1, do we take a big DL like Nix or Tuitt and then go for CB on rd 2?
Ray Fittipaldo: I was looking at some mock drafts this morning and there seem to be a number of quality corners available after Dennard goes. There are one or two more that are considered first-round picks and then a string of seven or eight guys who are considered second- and third-round picks. Things can change, of course, between now and the draft. Some of these guys may fall or climb on draft boards after the all-star games and the combine, but it seems for now that corner is deeper than nose tackle. For that reason and that reason only I would take the nose guard first and then go for the corner in the second round if, of course, you don't draft that big WR for Big Ben.
Guest: Do you think the Steelers would really let Troy & Ryan go in the same year??
Ray Fittipaldo: No I do not. Clark is older and Troy had a much better season so I think the speculation has been that Clark will not be re-signed. There has also been speculation that the Steelers will ask Polamalu to take a pay cut. He can refuse and the Steelers would have a decision to make, but I cannot envision them going into next season with Shamarko Thomas and Robert Golden as their starting safeties. I know they could draft one high, but even if they do it's such a complicated defense that it might be asking a little bit too much for that player to step in and start right away.
Sam: Good Afternoon Ray, I agree with Ed that the 2014 Steeler defense may not be much better than the 2013 version. Therefore, do you think after a few cuts, restructuring, and extensions, the team may sign an above average free agent or two who can contribute right away?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's not out of the question. It will depend on how many players are cut or restructured and how much money is leftover after that. The Steelers build through the draft, but they have landed some free agents over the years who turned out to be terrific players for them. Ryan Clark and James Farrior come to mind immediately. They just don't do it often. That might change this year, but we'll have to wait to see what happens in the next few weeks before free agency begins in March.
Sam: Hello Ray, will you be doing an evalutions on NFL draft prospects and just keeping up with offseason transactions? May is a long way away...
Ray Fittipaldo: We will have Steelers packages in the paper throughout the next few weeks and months leading up to the draft. Last year we did a position breakdown every Sunday throughout the offseason. We'll do something similar this year and yes, in time, we'll have plenty on the combine and the draft.
Steel: Do you consider that after the O-line improvement in the last games the drafting of a left tackle is a nesecity or not?
Ray Fittipaldo: It's less important now than it was in September when the Steelers did not know what they had in Kelvin Beachum. Now that Beachum showed them he can be competent, or perhaps more than competent I don't think there is a need to draft one in the first couple of rounds. The other aspect of this decision is whether the Steelers will fully commit to the no-huddle offense next season. When they ran the no-huddle in the second half of the season it drastically cut down on the number os sacks allowed. This happened for a number of reasons. For one, defensive coordinators were not able to substitute players the way they normally did because they had to keep regular personnel on the field. No. 2, they were not able to dial up blitzes for similar reasons. Most coordinators like to blitz with specific personnel on the field, i.e. with enough DBs to cover in case the blitzes don't get home and they want their best pass rushers on the field. I believe the Steelers should fully commit to the no-huddle because it was so successful and hid their weaknesses along the line. But if the coaches and front office don't believe in it then maybe a left tackle would be an option in the first few rounds.
Keith: Any clue what kind of money R Clark is asking for? Might be someone to hold on to for another year while if economically feasible?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't know what Clark would be looking for in free agency. He is 34 and made $3.5 million last season. He might be willing to take a pay cut to come back, but I don't know if he'd want to play for the veteran's minimum either. A lot of people have him pegged for a career in TV next season, but he said he was going to play next season when I talked to him the day after the Cleveland game.
Ken: Do you think Tomlin has relationships in the NFL that he didn't have 5 years ago that would allow him to have more candidates for the OL coach position? He's an 8 year coach now, not a youngster anymore.
Ray Fittipaldo: Tomlin is one of the longest-tenured coaches in the league, so he should have many more contacts in the league now. That doesn't always mean you land the assistant coach you want to hire. Jack Bicknell was not his first choice last year, but several others O-line coaches turned him down and Bicknell was the choice. I think Tomlin will make sure he gets the best fit possible this time because it's such an important time for guys like Gilbert and Adams and even Pouncey. When you invest in the line the way the Steelers have invested you expect better statistics in the running game and in pass protection.
The Chief: Ray, were you surprised by the Bicknell firing and who if anyone might be next?
Ray Fittipaldo: I was not surprised. I wrote about why that was the case Friday afternoon in the blog. I'll give a brief recap. A lot of this has to do with the development of players like Gilbert and Adams. They were second-round picks and they are not developing in the manner that you would like for second-round picks. Adams was replaced early in the year and only saw spot duty after the fourth game. Gilbert remained a starter all season, but he allowed a team-high 11 sacks. One problem is they are not well-schooled on fundamentals. There was some improvement as the season went on, but if you watched them closely they were making many of the same mistakes they were making in the first half of the season. They never really got away from their bad habits. It will be up to the next coach to get them out of their bad habits and get them better from a fundamental standpoint.
Keith: What do you think is the single most important player we need? I say NT: when the Steelers are good, the NT always dominates.
Ray Fittipaldo: This is true, but playing devil's advocate, do you use the No. 15 overall pick on a player that might be on the field for 10 or 15 plays in a game against the Patriots or the Broncos? The NFL is ever-changing and it's very much a passing league now. Stopping the run remains important (see my blog post from earlier today), but the best offenses are the ones with franchise QBs who can make plays in the passing game. It's an interesting question to ponder because the Steelers have a formula that has worked for years with their defense. If they don't draft Nix at No. 15 you might have your answer as to how the Steelers are adapting to the league's trends.
Phil: Bad news for the Steelers and the rest of the AFC--there's no question in my mind that barring a major injury, Luck will now become a hall of fame caliber player.
Ray Fittipaldo: At least the Steelers don't play in the AFC South and have to face him twice a year. The Steelers are actually lucky in that regard. They play the Browns, Bengals and Ravens twice a year in the AFC North. The Browns change QBs the way I change socks. The Bengals have Andy Dalton (at least for the time being) and the Ravens have Joe Flacco. Flacco is the only QB among the three that scares me and he's been up and down over the course of his career against the Steelers.
JamesinNYC: My choice is Evans because he is the best talent but Dennard is closing in on him I think. For me Nix with the knee is scary and Ha Ha is a character question. Do you think Dennard has passed Evans on the boards?
Ray Fittipaldo: Nix will be checked, rechecked and triple-checked at the combine, so teams will know about his knee by the time the draft comes around. I looked at a couple of mock drafts this morning and Dennard went before Evans in both, but it's still early. We have three-plus months until the draft. I don't deny Evans has talent, but I watched him in the bowl game against Duke and he seemed to be a bit of a hothead.
Guest: EWeven if Woirlds leaves in free agency the Steelers will not keep Woodley unless ther is a significant pay cut. What do you think?
Ray Fittipaldo: I wouldn't be too sure of that. If Worilds signs elsewhere in free agency and Woodley is cut, Jarvis Jones and Chris Carter or Stevenson Sylvester would be your starters entering training camp. How many NFL sacks do those guys have combined? Maybe three?
Tom: In many games, even the first few, the Steelers' defense was only a play or two away from being dominant. For example, in Oakland throw our the one QB 93 yrd run. and they held them well under 100 yrd rushing. 35 TOTAl yards in the 2nd half. No other NFL team can claim that. Granted they can't give up the big plays, but is social media creating an unrealistic negative view view of their performance? Seems to me just just like ongoing story of how Ben hates Haley.
Ray Fittipaldo: It wasn't just the Pryor run, though. It was giving up the long run to Adrian Peterson in the Minnesota game, the long pass play to Greg Jennings in the same game. It was the debacle at New England. There were so many big plays against them that it's hard to ignore. And when things like that happen over and over again there are problems. The coaches made some tweaks in the second half of the season such as keeping the safeties deep and limiting the playbook, but a lot of the problems are personnel-related, too.
Bill L: Hi Ray. Personally I thought the Bengals were a media creation the whole season. Even after they lost Atkins they were being hyped as a dangerous team. Do you see them bouncing back from yesterday? I don't. Dalton looked like he wanted to be doing anything else during and after the game.
Ray Fittipaldo: Yeah, that's an interesting situation in Cincinnati. I don't think the Bengals were a media creation. They had one of the best defenses in the league. Atkins going down really hurt them, but even after that they continued to play well. They have a lot of talent on that side of the ball. The problem is quarterback. One would have to think that with everything else in place, including a franchise WR in AJ Green and a top-notch prospect in Gio Bernard at RB, that drafting a QB in the first round might be an option for the Bengals if the right one is available. Colin Kaepernick was a second-round pick, one spot behind Dalton. That has to make Bengals fans sick. But the bigger point is good quarterbacks can be found and not only in the first 10 picks. The window for winning a championship won't be open forever in Cincinnati and it's pretty clear that Dalton is the not the guy who is capable of taking them there.
Tom: Did the media paint to much of a negative picture of the Steelers this year? They still weren't a losing team, a half-step and a few easy kicks from being at least a 10 win team, and competed to the wire in almost every game other than in NE.
Ray Fittipaldo: But they were 12-4 in 2011 and lost to Denver in a wild card game. They were 8-8 last season and this season. They've been the definition of mediocrity the past two years and one can make an argument that they were close to that in 2011 but just managed to win the close games instead of losing them. There's something to be said for that, but there's also something to this team trending toward the middle of the league after their last Super Bowl appearance in 2010.
Paul: Ray, we're getting closer and closer to the Canton announcement. How do you see the Bettis candidacy? I'm thinking Shields, Charles Haley, Strahan and Marvin Harrison take four of the five non-vet spots.
Ray Fittipaldo: There seems to be a lot of anti-Bettis sentiment around the NFL for some reason. Ed Bouchette did a nice piece on that earlier in the season. And there always seems to be a lot of anti-Steelers sentiment because of the Hall of Famers from the Super 70s teams. To me, the voters have to get over that. That was another era. For them to hold that against Bettis seems petty.
Tom: Biggest myth in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have built their teams through the draft more than the other NFL teams?
Ray Fittipaldo: Certainly more than teams such as the Redskins, who fall in love with other team's players and then sign them as free agents to find out they overvalued them. I am sure other teams approach team building the same way the Steelers do, but I can think of more owners other than Danny Boy in Washington who have trouble in that realm.
Guest: Tough decisions this off-season. Who do you let go (Free Agents) and what do you focus on in the draft. As for the draft - give Ben his big receiver in the 1st round (Evans, Benjamin) then load up the defense with draft picks.
Ray Fittipaldo: I agree with giving Ben that big weapon he's been without for so many years now. As I mentioned earlier this offense might be close to being really good and a big WR could put them over the top. I would try to sign Worilds. He'd be my No. 1 priority. The defensive line is another priority with Hood and Keisel or Al Woods. All three are free agents and I think at least one of them has to be re-signed unless they commit to Steve McLendon being an end and I can't see them doing that unless they draft a nose tackle in the first round. Even then, McLendon has never been a starting end in the league and no one knows how well he'd play.
Coachjpat: What Free Agents do you resign? I believe Worilds is top priority, and resign Velasco, Jerricho, Ziggy.
Ray Fittipaldo: I forgot to mention Cotchery. I'd try to re-sign him for another year or two. He was so important in the red zone. Ben trusts him. He's a good team guy. He made a little over $1 million this season. If he'd come back for a small raise (say $1.1 or 1.2 million), I'd do it tomorrow if I'm Kevin Colbert.
Keith: I think the guy who could have the biggest impact/improvement next year is Wheaton---even though he didn't have a big year, something tells me he has what it takes. What are your thoughts on him going into year two?
Ray Fittipaldo: He was not with the Steelers for OTAs and I think that hurt his development. He did not have a full grasp of the playbook and you could tell. Remember the interception against Buffalo when he wasn't looking for the ball? I think Ben might have lost some trust in him after that because if you look at the snaps he didn't play much after that. He also had to fight through some injuries. He broke a finger that kept him out for a month in the middle of the season and then did it again late in the year. He has to stay healthy next season and he has to develop a better rapport with Ben.
JamesinNYC: The Steelers are indeed lucky they are in their division. Do you think that the rest of the teams built themselves into similar if not mirror images of the Steelers due to their success? Think it helps the Steelers more than hurts. Certainly the identity of AFC N is pretty homogeneous.
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a good point, James. And as you note, the Steelers have enjoyed success against AFC North foes over the years, including a 4-2 record this year. I'm anxious to see what happens in Cincinnati. Is there a knee-jerk reaction that sets that franchise back? Do they panic and fire coaches? Marvin Lewis and most of his assistants have been there for more than a decade. Do they pursue another QB? That could set them back, too, if they make a bad decision. That game yesterday might have a big impact on how the AFC North shapes up next season.
The Chief: OK Ray, prediction time; who you got in this coming weekends games?
Ray Fittipaldo: I was 2 for 4 this weekend. I correctly picked the 49ers and Colts games and missed on the other two. I like the 49ers to beat the Panthers on the road. I like the Seahawks to beat the Saints. In the AFC, I like the Broncos to beat the Chargers, although I think the Chargers will make it close. And I like the Patriots over the Colts.
Guest 11111: Would it be smart to trade Lamar woodly for a hog draft pick say maybe to the rams to snag someone like clowney
Ray Fittipaldo: Why would a team trade for LaMarr Woodley might they might be able to get him on the cheap if the Steelrs cut him?
Chunkles: Ray, I know, get into the play-off and anything is possible BUT, had the Steelers got in, beat Cincy, there is NO WAY they go to Denver and beat Manning. They couldnt even beat Tebow!
Ray Fittipaldo: You didn't watch the 2005 playoff game in Indianapolis, did you? Or any other number of playoff games that Manning lost throughout his career. In case you don't know his playoff record is less than stellar. And he has a ton of pressure on him after falling short last year at home against the Ravens. If the Chargers can keep that game close I like their chances because the pressure will mount as the game goes on if it's not a blowout.
Guest: Do you think they draft a cb in the draft?
Ray Fittipaldo: Almost certainly, yes. And probably one in the top two or three rounds.
Thumbody: What is their number one priority this offseason?
Ray Fittipaldo: I can't limit to one. Nose tackle, corner, even safety.
Phil: Collinsworth took the Steelers to task on Keenan Lewis Saturday night. I have to think Dan and Art feel the same way. I think this affect the Worilds sitaution.
Ray Fittipaldo: Your point might be valid on that. They might approach the the offseason differently because of that. But it takes two to tango. Worilds has to want to sign with the Steelers before testing free agency. We'll see if he is anxious to do that. I'm not sure why he would not test free agency at this point.
Mark: Great stuff always, Ray! Please finish this sentence: Behind a good offensive line, Le'Veon Bell ...
Ray Fittipaldo: rushes for 1,500 yards.
Thomas: Hey Ray , I want know what happen with CB Terry Hawthorne e WR Justin Brown drafted this year .. Where are they ? Aren't they good enough to fill the depth ?
Ray Fittipaldo: Brown spent the season on the practice squad. He was beaten out for a roster spot by Derek Moye, an undrafted free agent in his second year in the league. As for Hawthorne, he had some injury issues and I don't think he was ever completely healthy. I don't think he even latched on to someone's practice squad after being cut. Maybe with an offseason to get healthy he can try to make it in the league next season.
Xaiver: The steelers could have a shot at taking a big wide receiver in the first round do that take it ? Or draft a shutdown Corner to be the heir to Ike Taylor . Also do you see Wheaton and moye taking a bigger part of their offense if a receiver is not drafted
Ray Fittipaldo: Certainly Wheaton would have a bigger role if a WR is not drafted. I think the consensus is Emmanuel Sanders will not re-sign so Wheaton would step into his starting position. I don't know what the future holds for Moye. He was obviously good enough to make the 53-man roster, but they didn't feel the need to activate him for many games.
Lucas: Will Ike Taylor's close relationship with the rooneys prevent him from being a salary cap cut?
Ray Fittipaldo: In the end, it's a business. And, by the way, the Steelers usually do a pretty good job of mending fences when it comes to that stuff. Look at Franco Harris, who had some hard feelings toward the team after he was cut. But he's spent his post-football career in Pittsburgh and has a good relationship with the team. Over time, those wounds heal.
JamesinNYC: I would keep two FA off of the D if possible. Worilds and "The Beard". The rest I hope they sign as FA and in a the following years we get a comp pick. They need to cut as much cost as possible and even guys like Ziggy are going to be expensive.
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm not sure how expensive Hood would be. You actually might be able to get him for around the same price as Keisel, and it might be a better idea to sign Hood in that case because he is much younger.
Mark: Thanks for answering. One more: how do you feel about re-seeding? I'm opposed -- the difference between a top seed and a wildcard is so hige now that teams have to play hard to win their division. Before baseball added the second wildcard, he Yankees and Red Sox played rookies in September series because it didn't really matter who won the division and who ended up as wildcard.
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't care about re-seeding the playoffs as much as others do. There has to be some reward for winning a division. Would the Steelers have beaten then Broncos in 2011 at Heinz Field. Who knows? But the Steelers didn't win their division so that's their fault. I do kind of like adding another playoff team to the field in each conference. Dan Patrick reported this morning that's it's going to happen. If that was the case the Steelers owuld have been in this year. The bad news, they'd have had to play New England. That might not have ended well.
Atlanta Dan: With regard to Keenen Lewis, Collinsworth appeared to me to be saying Lewis had his heart set on returning to New Orleans. My impression was the Steelers decided to go with Cortez Allen over Lewis and were not going to keep both younger CBs. Any truth to the contention the Steelers had little shot to retain Lewis once the Saints expressed interest?
Ray Fittipaldo: I know Lewis is from New Orleans, but I do not recall the specifics of that negotiation. Sorry.
Andrew: Is there any chance that lamarr woodley and jason worilds come back next year. I know woodley is always hurt but the only depth behind them are jarvis jones and chris carter
Ray Fittipaldo: No and strictly because of financial considerations.
Lucas-Brazil: Will the Steelers draft one good FS on the Draft 2014 to fill Ryan Clark's spot or you think that Ike will move to FS position ?
Ray Fittipaldo: Taylor has had informal discussions with Tomlin about moving to safety. Tomlin confirmed this late in the year, but it has never been formally discussed within the organization. Moving to safety can add years to a player's career, but I am not sure if Taylor can pull it off. For one, he can't catch.
Phil: Reseeding is dead, I heard. Expanding the playoffs is not. Ouch--I hate that idea. This isn't the NBA.
Ray Fittipaldo: It's all about ratings and making more money. Two more playoff games means more money for the owners and the players down the road.
Andrew: Will they draft for need or the best available player regardless of position
Ray Fittipaldo: In reality, it's a combination. And with as many needs as they have they'll get a good player and fill a need at the same with the No. 15 overall pick.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for all the great questions this week. We'll do it again next week. Have a good week.

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