Poll Question: Will the Seattle Seahawks hold Denver to 20 points or fewer? Yes (17%) No (83%)
Mark: Any word either way on Larry Foote returning next season?
Ray Fittipaldo: Foote is under contract for next season and he has said that he would like to come back for a 13th season. If you talk to Dick LeBeau and some of the veterans on that defense they will tell you how much they missed Foote's presence on the defense last season. (Foote injured his elbow in the season opener and was placed on injured reserve). Of course, Foote will have to prove he is still capable of playing at a high level to make the team. He will be 34 in June. Nothing is assured when you get to be that age.
Guest: The offense performed well the 2nd half of the season, yet, 3 offensive assistant coaches have been fired or left the team. What is going on behind the scenes?
Ray Fittipaldo: Well, Mike Tomlin did not believe Jack Bicknell was doing a good enough job developing the young linemen and implementing the inside zone blocking scheme, so he was dismissed after the season. Kirby Wilson was allowed to interview for other jobs even though he had a year remaining on his contract. He interviewed with the Ravens to be their offensive coordinator. He did not get it, but he did opt to go to the Vikings as their RBs coach, the same job he held with the Steelers. When a coach switches teams for the same job it usually means one or both sides were not happy with the current arrangement. With Wilson, it's easy to understand why he would want to move on. He was in line to be the coordinator in Pittsburgh before he was badly burned in a house fire. Tomlin had to hire Todd Haley because of Wilson's health situation. Perhaps at midseason Wilson thought he might be in line to get the job again because Haley was not on solid footing. But after the offense turned the corner in the second half, Wilson probably felt like his time could not come in Pittsburgh to be a coordinator soon. And from the Steelers perspective, if a coach is not completely happy it's smart to let him pursue other opportunities. The new RBs coach will have a chance to get on the same page with Haley and new line coach Mike Munchak.
Mason: Is there any chance of the steelers going after a big name safety like byrd or ward in free agency?
Ray Fittipaldo: It's possible the Steelers will venture into free agency but it hasn't been their style to ever make a big splash. They have signed some second-tier guys in the past and had success with them. My guess is they'll enter free agency with the idea of signing some own and if they don't work out they'll move to Plan B. But as of right now, I think the team is set on trying to get players like Jason Worilds under contract for next season.
Guest: any word on who the steelers showed particular interest in during the senior bowl??
Ray Fittipaldo: We did not have a reporter at the Senior Bowl. Gerry Dulac and I will be the NFL combine next month and we'll get a better idea then on who some of the top prospects are at each position the Steelers need. As for the Senior Bowl, from everything I have read Pitt's Aaron Donald had a great week and played very well in the game. The consensus is that he only improved his stock. He's likely not a Steelers target, but I thought I'd mention because of Pitt.
Weston: Hey. Are the steelers looking to get a WR or Saftey
Ray Fittipaldo: Probably both and I would not be surprised if those two positions were addressed in the first three rounds. Ryan Clark is not likely to return and Troy Polamalu and Will Allen are getting up there, too. They did draft Shamarko Thomas last year, but they need to get another safety at some point whether it be in the draft or free agency. At receiver, Emmanuel Sanders is a free agent and not likely to return. Jerricho Cotchery is a free agent, too. I think Cotchery is a better candidate to return of the two but it's no sure thing. And Markus Wheaton, the suspected starter if Sanders leaves, is an unproven commodity. The Steelers need to replenish both positions.
Denver: What are some of the reasons Aaron Donald is not considered a candidate either to become an OLB in a 3-4 or an end...seems he is plenty quick and strong enough to get around or through OL? Isn't he and James Harrison the same height?
Ray Fittipaldo: Everything I have seen with my eyes and read about Donald leads me to believe he is the ideal three technique in a 4-3 defensive scheme. Sure, a 3-4 can take a chance on him and switch him to a 3-4 OLB, but why try to experiment like that? He is a proven player as a three technique. He is absolutely great at what he does. Plus, it's likely a moot point because some 4-3 team out there is likely to draft him in the first round or early second round.
Weegie Thompson: Why the lateral move for Kirby Wilson?
Ray Fittipaldo: I explained this in a previous question. Please look a few questions up.
Matt: Any word on Sean Spence's recovery? Will he participate in training camp? If he makes a full recovery could be solution at MLB next to Timmons
Ray Fittipaldo: Spence got a chance to come off the PUP list for three weeks late in the season and practiced with the team before the team had to make a decision to keep him on the active roster or place him on injured reserve. He was placed on injured reserve but not before gaining confidence that he is on the right path with his rehab. I expect him to take part in offseason OTAs and minicamp and we'll see where he is then. He had a very serious knee injury but the Steelers are giving him every opportunity to prove he can play again.
Wild Bill: Ed had a nice review of free agents in his blog...anyone outside of the organization you would like to see the Steelers go after? I really think Riley Cooper should be targeted (same value as Sanders but a much bigger, more reliable target)
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think Cooper is likely because of what happened summer with him. I'd rather have Mike Decker from the Broncos, but I never spend too much time thinking about such things because Decker and other high-end free agents are long shots to join the Steelers. As I mentioned earlier it's more like they sign their own free agents or a second-tier free agent from another team.
Paul: When do the Steelers start making offers to guys they want to keep?
Ray Fittipaldo: Free agency does not start until March 11. That's six weeks away so there is plenty of time for negotiating.
keith: Excited about the addition of coach Munchak...what a steal if he can gel with the rest of the coaches/players. Do you know of how his arrival might change run blocking schemes? Munchak was very successful with Chris Johnson and Eddie George Ray Fittipaldo: Munchak is familiar with the inside zone blocking scheme Tomlin would like to implement with the Steelers. It's a concept that allows the back to read the blocks of the line and make one and one cut only before getting up the field. The play is designed to always get positive yardage and it's been a staple of other NFL teams for a while now. The Steelers tried to implement the scheme last spring and summer, but they abandoned it after Maurkice Pouncey was injured even though his replacement, Fernando Velasco, ran the scheme when he was with the Titans and played under Munchak.
Jesse: Kirby Wilson helped out a lot on offense this season do you think his departure could have a bad effect on them next year?
Ray Fittipaldo: Wilson was well-liked by the players and is a well-respected coach in all facets. He will be missed but the Steelers would not have allowed him to interview with other teams if they thought he was irreplaceable.
Weegie Thompson: Who is first to restructure: Ben? Troy? Heath?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think any of the three are sure things to be honest. If I had to guess I'd say Ben because it would make sense, but Art Rooney II made it clear after the season that the Steelers didn;t have to do it.
Hammer: What is most important job for Mike Munchak upon taking over the line?
Ray Fittipaldo: The development of Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert. Both are former second-round picks and the Steelers are looking to get more out if them. Adams had to be benched for ineffective play after the fourth game of last season and Gilbert has lacked consistency. The Steelers have invested two first- and two second-round picks in their line the past four years, and they don't want to start over again by having to draft over them.
Jesse: Do you think anyone like Cortez Allen, Maurkice Pouncey, or Cmaeron Heyward could get an extension this offseason?
Ray Fittipaldo: Heyward is under contract for next season and the team has an option for 2016 so it's unlikely they would try to do anything with him now. Pounce is a possibility because he is entering the final year of his rookie contract. This will be an interesting development as training camp approaches and we'll get an idea of what Munchak thinks of him as a player. He made three consecutive Pro Bowls to start his career, but there are some in the football world who think he's overrated. I'm curious to see what his second contract looks like in terms of $.
John: Every year the Steelers are in salary cap hell, so to speak. When will they get out of this mess?
Ray Fittipaldo: Ed Bouchette has reported the salary cap is not as big a mess as some would have you believe.
Bob: Any word from Steeler people about the punter Brad Wing? Kid was difference maker at LSU and could be a steal as a signee.
Ray Fittipaldo: Won't get to see him until OTAs, but playing devil's advocate, why was he available if he was so good at LSU? He might turn out to be their guy. Punters and kickers often just have to find the right opportunity and for Wing it could be with the Steelers. I just don't think he would be playing on a future contract if he was this punter extraordinaire.
Alan: Best guess - do the Steelers sign Worilds or keep Woodley? (I assume they won't keep both)
Ray Fittipaldo: Sign Worilds.
Wild Bill: How many games has Worilds missed due to injury since he came to camp? His wrist set him back and it seems he had a lot of other injuires when he was needed to perform. Is he worth a Woodley like contract when he isn't very dependable either?
Ray Fittipaldo: Worilds did not play much as a rookie, only 43 snaps. He was active for all but two games and I'm not sure either was due to injury. He missed four games the following season when he had the wrist injury that held him back. He played in all 16 games last season. So he missed six games in three seasons and two of them (I don't think) were because of injury. Compare that to Woodley, who has missed significantly more time because of injuries, and I think it's safe to say Worilds is the safer bet from a health history standpoint.
Nick Kelly: Is there any word how Mike Munchak feels about specific lineman? And with opposing receivers such as Josh Gordon, A.J. Green, AND Torrey Smith, do the Steelers feel Cortez Allen can be a number one, lock down corner, or do they need to look to the Draft or free agency for that guy?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't know the answer to your first question and we likely won't get a bead on that until training camp. As for Allen, he has a nice skill set, but he had an up-and-down season last year. He had the knee injury in the camp, then an early-season ankle injury, then was replaced in the starting lineup and then earned back his job. At this point, I don't see him as a No. 1 guy. I think if the Steelers want that guy they'll need to use their first-round pick on a guy like Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State.
Jesse: Why didn't the Steelers allow Big Ben to use the no huddle earlier in his career? He seems to love it alot and is very effective with it.
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a good question. I know Ben has wanted to run the no-huddle more often in years past but the coaching staff never really bought into the concept fully until last season. I think some of it had to do with the way the team was built. In Ben's early years, he had a good running game and a No. 1 defense. When it became clear in the middle of the season that the defense was not going to live up to its end of the bargain I think the coaches knew offense might have to do more for the Steelers to win games. But the way Ben operated in the no-huddle I'd give him a shot to run it full-time next season no matter how much improved the defense is, if it's improved at all.
NaplesDave: Hi Ray, Good hire in Munchak. One draft has the Steelers taking Alabama LB Mosely? thoughts?
Ray Fittipaldo: LB is a need but I'd rather see a WR or a CB in that spot.
Dr Doom: What grade to you give the Mike Munchak Hiring, also I am mocking a corner to them in the 1st round. Ike will be 34 and Allen was up and down?
Ray Fittipaldo: A+ for hiring Munchak. I think it's a good sign that Tomlin wants to surround himself with other high-quality coaches. Some might be intimidated to have former head coaches on staff. And yes, I like the Steelers taking a corner in one of the first few rounds of the draft. This is a pretty good draft depth-wise for CBs.
Russ: Any idea if Steelers have a feel for compensatory picks they will get in the draft and where they might be?
Ray Fittipaldo: That won't be determined for a few more weeks.
Jesse: Will Antonio Brown ever be viewed as a Top 5 WR? I feel that just because he's 5"10 people refuse to acknowledge him.
Ray Fittipaldo: Brown proved last season he can be a No. 1 WR. Sure, he might be totally different from other No. 1 WRs on other teams, but there are plenty of coaches out there who would kill to have Brown's production in their lineup. With that being said, I do think the Steelers could take a WR with their first round pick. This team needs a big WR or TE in the passing game. They proved to be a really good offense in the second half of the season. But they could be even more dangerous with a big WR or pass-catching TE at Ben's disposal.
Zack: Thought on drafting Nix in rd 1? Some people are suggesting this, but I don't see how you use the #15 pick on a 2 down player. Thoughts?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think it's a possibility because the Steelers' defense is predicated on stopping the run and they failed in that regard last season, which is why the defense failed on the whole. But I also see your point about playing time. Against teams like the Patriots and Broncos, those players are not as valuable. The game has changed a lot in the time since the Steelers last used a first-round pick on a nose tackle. That was 2001 when they chose Casey Hampton. We'll see how much the Steelers think the league has changed.
Wild Bill: Can the Steelers really afford to lose free agents but yet sit out Free Agency AGAIN? Can't build through the draft if you lose more than you keep, right?
Ray Fittipaldo: They might be content to sign a handful of their own free agents and build through the draft the way they always have.
Jesse: What does Terrence Garvin's future look like? He seems like he has some potential.
Ray Fittipaldo: Garvin was a very good special teams player as a rookie. He made the team as an undrafted free agent out of WVU, where he was a safety. He's a linebacker with the Steelers, so he must continue to add weight and strength.
DC: Hi Ray, if the Steelers don't manage to draft a WR early on, do you think they might try to sign Eric Decker as a FA?
Ray Fittipaldo: Decker is probably a first-tier free agent, so I think he'll be out of their price range.
Pistol: do any of the futures/reserved guys have a shot in camp this year?? i know they're longshots just wondering?
Ray Fittipaldo: Too early to tell. I haven't seen any of them practice or play yet and won't until OTAs and minicamp.
Semich51: Ray, with the Extra Point possibly going away, what about Field Goals within the 20 yard line. The last 5 years Pro kickers are 70 for 70? The Spiked Pass, and and kneeling down when the other team cannot stop the clock should also go away.
Ray Fittipaldo: I kind of like the idea of doing away with extra points, but you'll never get rid of field goals. The Steelers might have been shut out in the first half of last season without the field goal!
Wild Bill: Were the Steelers just not expecting so many Juniors to come out this year causing this to be such a deep draft this year when they traded Cleveland their Third round pick? With last year being a known as a weak draft sure does make that trade seem even more regretable now unless Sharmako vastly improves, right?
Ray Fittipaldo: The reason they were willing to let that pick go was because they knew they had compensatory picks coming because guys such as Wallace left via free agency.
Pistol: Why do you think there has been so much turnover with the coaching staff??
Ray Fittipaldo: Change isn't all bad from time to time for a coaching staff. New blood, new ideas. And as I said earlier, if Wilson did not want to remain with the Steelers the best thing for the Steelers to do was allow him to investigate other opportunities.
JerseySteel: I know trades for players rarely happen, but how about Maukrice Pouncey for Hakeem Nicks? I see it as win-win for both teams.
Ray Fittipaldo: Ummm, no.
Paul: I dont understand a lot of people wanting a WR in the 1st round. We had difficulty stopping peolpe on D all year. Like the GB game they couldn't score enough points. We need Defense all the way. we can get a free agent or Wheaton will step up to replace Sanders. I would start with NT, because you can't get a decent one out of the first round. Your thoughts. Thanks
Ray Fittipaldo: But what if Nix is gone before 15? I have said Nix is a strong possibility. But I can make a case for a WR in that spot, too. Sanders isn't likely to return and Wheaton showed very little that makes me believe he'll be able to step in and pick up where Sanders left off. Maybe he will and he just needs an opportunity, but his rookie season was pretty blah.
Jesse: Why is the Offensive Line so injury prone? To lose a guy like Pouncey but find a great replacement in Velasco but then lose him to is just astonishing to me.
Ray Fittipaldo: Gerry Dulac addressed this is a story last season. And no one could really come up with a good explanation for the injuries. It could be one of those odd things that the team is going through. Maybe Munchak will have some new ideas that will help, but it's football and injuries, unfortunately, happen all the time.
SteelerPreachLngBchCA: Given Our Penchant For NOT Playing Front 7 Def. Guys, Wouldn't U Rather Go W/ Weapons For #7, CB Or Safety In Rds 1-3?
Ray Fittipaldo: This is one school of thought and it's not a bad one especially with Ben coming down the home stretch of his career. And when I say home stretch I mean he likely has four or five good years left when the team has an opportunity to compete for championships. Of course, the other side of the coin is they won't be close to a championship if the defense continues to leak the way it did last season.
Guest: Any chance Munchak being a former head coach as well as Haley clashes with Tomlin, too many chef's spoil the soup.
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think that's a big concern to be honest with you. Munchak and Haley were head coaches for three years. It's not a long period of time. And with Munchak he was an offensive line for the 14 previous seasons. He's merely transitioning back into a role he was in previously.
Russ: Who you got in the SB? I say Peyton destroys the Seahawks.
Ray Fittipaldo: I like the Broncos, but I don't think they'll be "destroying" the Seahawks. That's a very good defense Seattle has.
Jesse: Any chance Al Woods is resigned to be a starter at DE? He seems like a guy who is a starter in waiting.
Ray Fittipaldo: Woods has played well in spots, but it's a stretch to say he's a starter in waiting.
Ray Fittipaldo: Four biggest needs in my estimation in no particular order: WR, NT, CB, S.
Paul: NT has a better chance to start and contribute right away than CB.
Ray Fittipaldo: I think you are right.
keith: What are your thoughts on Donnie Shell and the HOF? I am inclined to think he should make the cut. 50 ints for a strong safety is excellent. By comparison, John lynch has under 30 ints and he is being considered for the HOF. To put the int total in context, shell has 2 less career ints than deion sanders. Also, Shell could hit-"the torpedo"...Earl Campbell said Shell rang his bell more than once. Moreover he didn't really start for the steelers for several early years while established mike wagner was there so he coulda had more ints. Many of his best seasons were after the steel curtain was in its prime.
Ray Fittipaldo: Shell was in the same boat as LC Greenwood for all those years. A very good to great player who had the misfortune of playing for the Steelers in that time period. And by that I mean too many of their teammates are in the Hall of Fame so there has been a movement so to speak to keep the number of Steelers down.
Mile Hi Stiller: And who wins the Big Game in New York and Why?
Ray Fittipaldo: Broncos because, well, Peyton Manning.
JerseySteel: If the Steelers go heavy in the draft for defense like everyone suggests, most of these players will be rotting on the bench for 2-3 years learning Lebeau's complicated scheme, thus wasting Ben's prime years. Will they be more flexible with rookies getting on the field quicker?
Ray Fittipaldo: I did a story on this late in the season and the idea I got from LeBeau was that he was not inclined to make any major changes regarding the way his young players are brought along.
Ray Fittipaldo: We should have a pretty good idea by the middle of next month, or late next month, about what Jason Worilds will do. I think that's the first big domino to fall.
Renegade: Will the injustice of the Bus not in HOF continue until 2015?
Ray Fittipaldo: We'll find out Saturday. Ed Bouchette is a voter and will present his case.
Ray Fittipaldo: That's it for this week. Thanks for participating. We'll do it again next week at the same time.