Ray Fittipaldo: Welcome to my weekly Steelers chat. Please post your questions and we'll get started early.
Clint: Do the Steelers plan on drafting a punter, finding one as a FA, or just go status quo?
Ray Fittipaldo: They used a fourth-round draft choice on Daniel Sepulveda a few years ago and they never really got much out of him because of injuries. I suppose they could draft one again, but most of the time teams can find punter in the free agent pool. Mat McBriar did a decent job when he was brought in midseason, but he wasn't great by any means. I would think they would bring in another veteran to challenge him or a young guy from college that they like.
Tom: Any word on the offensive line coach?
Ray Fittipaldo: Gerry Dulac reported Friday that Mike Munchak interviewed for the job. He is the second known candidate to interview. Tomlin also interviewed Shaun Sarrett, who was the assistant line coach last season. The Senior Bowl is this week and that's like a job convention for unemployed coaches, so Tomlin might interview another candidate down there. But I would think Munchak would be his choice if he wants the job. Munchak interviewed with the Browns, so he might be waiting on their situation before making a decision.
Phill: Are the Steelers looking to draft a backup running back or content to look elsewhere
Ray Fittipaldo: I think it depends on a couple of guys who were on the team this season and how their contract situations play out. Jonathan Dwyer played well in short-yardage situations this season after he was re-signed to the 53-man roster a few weeks after getting cut at the end of training camp. He is a free agent, however, and would have to come to terms with the team to return. The other player who is a possibility to return next season is LaRod Stephens-Howling, who was very good in the preseason before he blew out his knee in the opener against Tennessee. Stepehns-Howling was very adept at running the inside zone in camp and if the Steelers recommit to that concept he would be an option, if his rehab is progressing at a normal rate. So, in short, I'd like to wait to see what happens in free agency before answering your question.
George: When he gets healthy, will Shamarko Thomas be ready to start?
Ray Fittipaldo: Thomas was only inactive for a few games this season with an ankle injury, so it's not like he's coming off a major injury. And yes, he is a candidate to earn a starting job. They used a fourth-round pick on him and they believed at the time that he would have gone higher if not for his short stature. They like him as a prospect and this will be a big spring and summer for him because the team is unlikely to bring back 34-year old Ryan Clark. An opportunity might be there and it will up to Thomas to be able to snatch it.
Jim: Why didn't Butler interview with the Titans?
Ray Fittipaldo: That has not come out yet and I'm not sure it ever will. It had been reported that he was a top candidate along with Ray Horton. Both worked with Whisnehunt when Whisenhunt was with the Steelers.
Rick: Does ziggy get resigned. Or allocate that money to a more traditional NT. An move McClendon to end
Ray Fittipaldo: Hood could come back for a number of reasons, the most important now being that he is unlikely to attract much interest after another so-so season. Unless a team believes they can get more out of him than the Steelers did in five years the Steelers might be his best option. If not Hood, the Steelers could look to Al Woods, another free agent who played out the final season of his contract last year. Woods is a trained defensive end but filled in at nose guard late in the year when Steve McLendon was hurt. For what it's worth, I asked Hood if moving to nose tackle had ever been broached with him by the Steelers and he said no. This was a couple of days after the season ended. So if he is brought back it appears the Steelers don't have any plans to make him a nose as some had suggested.
Clint: Do you think the Steelers could enter 2014 with Gilbert, DeCastro, Foster, Pouncey, and Beachem as their starters, or is an upgrade needed somewhere?
Ray Fittipaldo: That line, minus Pouncey of course, played pretty well in the second half of the season. Of those you mentioned I think Gilbert could use the most improvement. He allowed the most sacks of any lineman on the team and had a roller coaster type of season. He was good one week and bad the next and followed that pattern for much of the season. He has to develop consistency. So perhaps Mike Adams, who played well as a right tackle as a rookie, provides some competition this spring and summer for Gilbert, who will be entering the final year of his rookie contract. I've seen plenty of mock drafts that have the Steelers taking Lewan of Michigan in the first round. While it's not out of the question that the Steelers would draft a lineman in May I have a hard time believing they would use their first pick on one considering the needs they have at other positions not to mention the fact that they have already invested first- and second-round picks in linemen in recent years.
Haley's Comet: Has Ike Taylor played his last down as a Pittsburgh Steeler?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's quite possible if he does not agree to a pay cut. He is set to make a lot of money next season and it's highly unlikely the Steelers would want him back for that steep price.
Haley's Comet: The Browns are obviously waiting for someone on one of the four staffs involved in yesterday's games. Who do you think will be the next sucker tasked with giving CPR to the mistake by the lake?
Ray Fittipaldo: It seems like they are waiting for one of the coordinators from the Seahawks and Broncos, although Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase has said he is content in Denver. The head coach is important but more important is the quarterback, and the Browns are in position to get a good one because they have a top 5 pick in the draft.
Haley's Comet: Play virtual GM -- If Mike Evans and Louis Nix are both sitting there for the Steelers at #15, which one do you take and why?
Ray Fittipaldo: Based on the way this team has drafted under Kevin Colbert, I would say Nix because the defense is predicated on stopping the run and they did not do that last season. They fell from near the top of the league in rush defense to near the bottom. I know a guy like Nix would not play much in games against teams such as the Broncos or the Patriots, but the Steelers don;t play either next year. They do play the Ravens, Bengals and Browns twice, however, and those teams like to run the ball. So for that reason I say take nix and hope a guy like Benjamin, another big WR from Florida State, falls to the Steelers in the second round.
Thomas: Hi Ray, Shamarko will play FS or Steelers will have to draft one ?
Ray Fittipaldo: Thomas was listed as the backup to Polamalu at strong safety all season while Robert Golden was listed as the backup at free safety. However, neither played much after Will Allen came back on board. I think Thomas projects as more of a strong safety but that's not to say he can't play free safety in this system. Clark made a name for himself by being a hard-hitter in that spot for years before the rules changes. Maybe Thomas can play that role.
Old Galoot: What was the takeaway on Mike Adams this year? Bust? Nothing more than a substitute? Work in progress?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think we learned he is not a left tackle. Other than that, I say it's too early to tell. He will be entering his third year. And as I mentioned earlier, he played pretty well as a rookie at right tackle. He is someone who would benefit from a guy like Munchak or another good teacher. He has the tools to become a solid pro but for whatever reason those tools have not translated to the field.
Rick: Do the Steelers view Vince Williams a potential starter or is backup his ceiling?
Ray Fittipaldo: He was solid for a rookie. I'm not sure the team saw enough from him to think that he'll be a long-term starter, but at the very least they know they have a dependable backup. Those are important, too.
Alfonso from Mexico: Hi Ray, personally hate Patriots. But it seems they are always at the top, AFC title game. How can they accomplish that? And why do you think the Steelers can't do that, even though they have six Lombardis. Thanks my man.
Ray Fittipaldo: The Patriots adjust very well to offseason departures and in-season injuries. It helps that they have Tom Brady at quarterback but it goes beyond that. Their coaching staff does a great job of identifying colleges prospects who can make a transition to another position in the pros. That being said, the Steelers have won twice as many Super Bowls as the Patriots in the past decade. It's nice to get to conference title games and win them, but for franchises like the Steelers and Patriots it's about winning Super Bowls and the Patriots haven't done that since 2004.
CP: Does a junior-strengthened draft make it easier or more difficult (since it is seen to be a deep draft also) for the Steelers to trade down in round 1, to get a pick in round three besides the likely compensation choice in that round?
Ray Fittipaldo: This is said to be a very deep draft, so it might be a good year to trade down, but the Steelers have so many needs on defense that it's also a good year to be drafting high. To answer your question, I guess it would all depend on the trading partner and their needs.
Ray Fittipaldo: Run stoppers on defense and a big WR for the offense. I already addressed Nix as a possibility at nose tackle. Mike Evans is a big WR from Texas A&M and Kelvin Benjamin is a big WR from Florida State. I don't think Eric Ebron, the TE from North Carolina, will be there at No. 15, but he might be an option if he is because Heath Miller is entering the final year of his contract.
Wild Bill: The Steelers used Free Agency very wisely to build their championship caliber teams in both the 90's and 00's. Can the Steelers afford to sit out FA yet another year while they lose their own solid draft picks to other teams via FA?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think at this point they're focused more on keeping their own free agents, such as Jason Worilds than signing other team's free agents. Usually, the Steelers aren't int he market for the higher-priced free agents, but they have been known to land some secondary guys such as Ryan Clark and James Farrior.
Wild Bill: Contrary to popular belief the Steelers have drafted pretty well lately. The problem is they are trying to solely rely on the draft to build their team. Is that even possible when you lose your young drafted players in free agency (ex. Wallace, Lewis and likely Worilds)?
Ray Fittipaldo: One thing that has not been talked about enough since the new collective bargaining agreement was reached last year was how draft picks (most taken after round 1) are now free agents sooner. So a guy like Worilds is unrestricted after four years. I wrote about this late in the season because the Steelers bring their defensive players along so slowly. It's fair to wonder if the franchise is developing a new approach to this because once you discover a guy is good it's time to pay him.
Haleys Comet: Is there a way we can bend the space-time continuum so that Joey Porter and Richard Sherman could square off next week in the greatest Media Day jibber-jabber of all time?
Ray Fittipaldo: That would be awesome. If anything, the Seahawks have improved their smack talking from 2005. Richard Sherman trumps Jeramy Stevens big-time.
Clint: How would you grade Jarvis Jones 2013 season? LB's rarely in LeBeau's system excel early, but more was expected of him I do believe.
Ray Fittipaldo: Jones was given an opportunity to start and he didn't produce much so they were forced to bench him and play Jason Worilds. People look at that now and think it was a huge mistake, but people tend to forget Worilds did not produce much as a ROLB. He didn't become a presence until Woodley left the lineup and he moved over to LOLB. So yes, it was a disappointing rookie year for Jones because he was given an opportunity and did not take advantage. However, you point is well taken that the vast majority of outside linebackers in this system take time to develop.
paul: After yesterday's games, there is no doubt steelers have to get some physical defensive players and take WR later on in the draft. I want to see their Defense become intimidating again like SF or Sea.
Ray Fittipaldo: As I watched that game yesterday I kept thinking to myself that this is what the Steelers used to be and they're not anywhere close to that now. I am sure I was not alone in those thoughts. I do think you'll see a heavy dose of draft picks used on defenders because so many of those guys on defense are in their 30s
Nick: It seems like NT are always graded out too high for their draft position. For example, Star Lotulelei and Shariff Flloyd were projected top 5 picks at one point and both were on the board at 15. While there is certainly time for Nix's stock to rise, why are we trying to talk ourselves into over-valuing a position that is constantly undervalued? At this point its hard to agree that Nix will be BPA regadless of how the draft unfolds.
Ray Fittipaldo: I have looked at a lot of mock drafts and there was not one where Nix was not taken in the first round. So my point is if you believe he is a franchise nose tackle in the mold of a Casey Hampton you take him at No. 15 because the chances you land someone else like him declines as the draft wears on. There are only so many franchise nose tackles available every year. If you're convinced you can get one I don't think it's reaching, especially when you watched the way the defense performed last season.
Lucas: What is the situation of Sean Spence and Terry Hawthorne ? To me Sean is better than Vince and Terry is a lot better than Gay and Ike
Ray Fittipaldo: Terry Hawthorne didn't even make the team out of training camp and I don't think even landed on a practice squad. And William Gay graded out as one of the best cornerbacks in the league this year. As far as Spence goes, much will depend on his health. The Steelers gave him the opportunity to rehab and allowed him to practice with the team for a stretch this season. They got a decent look at him then, but training camp will be his make or break time.
NaplesDave: Hi Ray, Steelers have plenty of bodies on the OL for the new coach. What linebackers do you like in the draft? Any Pitt players under the radar?
Ray Fittipaldo: I love Aaron Donald, but I don't see how he fits into a 3-4. I view him as someone who almost has to play in a 4-3. For that reason, a number of teams drafting cannot take him. When Devin Street is healthy he is a good player, but he is slight and I wonder about his long-term ability to stay healthy in the NFL. That's about it from Pitt. I'm not a big fan of Tom Savage even though he has a big arm.
Wild Bill: Why do guys like David Johnson Poulson make the team year after year when they contribute nothing? Johnson has been on IR 3 years in a row and Poulson showed he can't catch or block. Why not bring in two random TE's and pay them less? You will save money and they can't be worse?
Ray Fittipaldo: Paulson was a seventh-round pick and isn't making a lot of money and Johnson isn't making much more in the grand scheme of things. They like Johnson because of his ability to block and catch. Paulson is more of a pass-catcher and he might be in trouble next season because Michael Palmer moved past him on the depth chart halfway through the season. Andrew: Is henry melton or stevie brown worth signing to become a starter
Ray Fittipaldo: If the Steelers are going to take chances on other team's free agents they had better be up to date on their injury situations. That's a slippery slope. Those guys might be options, but as I said before, I think they're focused on signing their own free agents more so than others right now.
Wild Bill: How nice would it be if the Steelers used Free Agency to sign a guy like Riley Cooper? He is affordable, is 6'3" 222, and a decent #2. Sure would free up the #1 pick to be best available def player, right?
Ray Fittipaldo: Riley Cooper had a very good year, but he might be a tough sell in the locker room.
Wild Bill: Should the Steelers really risk giving Worilds a bigtime contract? Hasn't he been just as injury prone in not more so than Woodley?
Ray Fittipaldo: Worilds had a wrist injury that needed time to heal early in his career. That held him back at the time but it hasn't been an issue since. Woodley has had recurring problems with his hamstrings. I think there is a difference. Plus, if I was Kevin Colbert I'd be more concerned with why Worilds was so productive at LOLB than ROLB.
Old Galoot: Do you think Aaron Smith will have a shot at the HOF?
Ray Fittipaldo: Aaron Smith was a great Steeler, but I don't think there will be much of a movement nationally to get him enshrined. He played a position in a defense that is selfless and for that reason he doesn't have HOF stats. He should go down as one of the team's top 3-4 defensive ends, though.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for all the great questions this week. We'll do it again next week.