Poll Question: Which position will the Steelers draft first? Answer #1: Cornerback (41%) Answer #2: Safety (6%) Answer #3: Nose tackle (28%) Answer #4: Receiver (25%)
Win: When are they likely to start cutting veterans?
Ray Fittipaldo: It can happen anytime now. A few teams started releasing guys last week. But there is not a timetable. And as many of you know, some may not come until after June 1.
JamesinNYC: When do the comp picks come out? Assuming they get at least 3 do you favor keeping them or trading up to improve position?
Ray Fittipaldo: It's hard to say with the draft getting pushed back until May. Those picks might not be known for a little while longer. They cannot trade those compensatory picks. They can only trade their own draft picks. They have options. They can package some of their picks to move up in a certain round. But depth is an issue for this roster so the front office might want to use those picks to strengthen their reserves.
jerry p in cali: Hey Ray.first off I have a two part question. The first one being do you think plaxico burress is done career wise...#2 do you think the Steelers would ever entertain Santonio Holmes coming back.??
Ray Fittipaldo: Some team out there might want to bring Burress in for a look if they have a need for a tall receiver, but I don't think the Steelers will bring him back. He is going to be 37 in August and he's not the same player he was a few years ago. Plus, he's coming off an injury. He wasn't even a lock to make the Steelers roster before getting hurt in Latrobe. As for Holmes, the Steelers parted ways with him once because of some off-field issues that included a citation for marijuana in 2008. He was traded in 2010. I never say never, especially with the Steelers who always seem to welcome guys back, but I have a hard time seeing Holmes back here. They are set with Antonio Brown as their No. 1 and they are hopeful that Markus Wheaton, last year's third-round pick, can develop into a No. 2.
jerry p in cali: What do you personally think the steelers are going to do with Clark, Troy, Taylor?
Ray Fittipaldo: Clark is an unrestricted free agent and I don't think he'll be re-signed because of his age (he is 34) and deteriorating play. Polamalu is a $10.8 million dollar cap hit if he is on the roster next season. That's a high number, but I don't know if the Steelers will ask him to take a pay cut. No. 1, he played pretty darn well last season. No. 2, if he refuses and is released, then you're likely playing with two new safeties and that's not a recipe for success in this defense. As for Taylor, I think he'll be asked to take a pay cut or released outright. He is going to turn 34 in May and is an $11.9 million dollar cap hit.
Billy Bob: A few mocks have us taking Louis Nix, the NT from Notre Dame. I believe Nix will be a good NT, and maybe we need to move McLendon to DE since Woods may sign elsewhere and Brett K is old, but in today's pass happy NFL, do you believe Steelers will use their first round pick on a NT with some many other needs at CB and WR?
Ray Fittipaldo: This is a god question, Billy Bob, and I think it will be posed to general manager Kevin Colbert next week at the NFL combine. Whether he answers it truthfully, I don't know. GMs and scouts love to send mixed signals this time of the year because they don't want to let other teams know what their draft plans are. What I can tell you is the history for the Steelers drafting the position. The last time they drafted a nose tackle in the first round was 2001, when Casey Hampton was selected with the No. 1 overall pick. He was an immediate contributor. But I also know the NFL has changed a lot since 2001. Despite what transpired in the playoffs more teams are using pass-first offenses. And these types of offenses limit the number of plays that a nose tackle can play because they are subbed in the sub packages. I don't know if they will take Nix because they have other needs, but you cannot fault them if they do because of the way their run defense faltered last season.
jerry p in cali: do you think Markus Wheaton has what it takes to have a breakout season or career similar to Hines Ward? or if you could compare to a former steeler receiver who would that be? Or is he a bust..Dont hold back..lol
Ray Fittipaldo: Wheaton's rookie year was sabotaged by two things: he was not able to participate much in the offseason program because Oregon State did not finish with its semester until June. And then the bigger issue was his injuries. He was starting to play a little bit by the end of September, but he got hurt against Minnesota and missed a bunch of games in the middle of the season with a broken finger. He came back but barely played. When he did he made some mistakes that did not endear him to Ben Roethlisberger. I'm think of the interception in the Buffalo game for one. But he does have ability. This will be a big offseason for him because I think he'll have a chance to earn that No. 2 spot if Sanders signs elsewhere.
JamesinNYC: Do you think Nix or Dennard is the better prospect?
Ray Fittipaldo: I was very impressed every time I saw Dennard play on TV. I did not see him live. I have read some things in the past week that tell me that are some doubts about him. I cannot remember where I read it, but one of the draftniks said he has to prove himself at the combine because he did not face a lot of great receivers in the Big Ten. I was disappointed I did not get to see Nix play against Pitt. I was at that game and was looking forward to watching him. Because he was injured I did not get to see him play a lot. From what I read he is someone who can fit into the Steelers scheme.
Jack Splat: Love Dick Lebaue but he needs to do something with the defense so 2nd year guys and roolies can play in it and contribute. With toady's contracts the Steelers don't have the luxury of having a guy sit and watch for 2 years.
Ray Fittipaldo: Jack Splat, I wrote about this late in the season. I broke it down by snap count how much the draft picks play as rookies. I can tell you that Dick LeBeau is not concerned much with the playing time of his rookies. He has been running his system for years and knows how hard it is to learn. For most guys it takes a year or two to master. Jarvis Jones broke the mold a bit this season. He played more because of injuries than production, but my point is they entrusted him with a starting job in training camp. He did not hold it, but they did make that decision. Maybe they are coming around with that and will let guys learn by trial and error.
Tom: Shouldn't the fact that the Steelers beat teams with aguably the two best receivers this year be a sign not to wast a first round pick on a WR? C. Johnson and Josh Gordon both had monster games but did little to affect the outcome for the team.
Ray Fittipaldo: I will argue that dumb decision to go for a fake field goal cost the Lions that game more than anything. Calvin Johnson for his team off to a great start. Sometimes, it's up to the coaches and defense to do their part, and I think the Lions were let down in that respect that day. I maintain receivers are important in putting together elite offenses. The Steelers haven't been afraid to draft receivers in the first round. They did it with Santonio Holmes and he won a Super Bowl for them. This year they have so many needs that receiver is not necessarily at the top of the lost but a tall one is still something they covet.
Ray Fittipaldo: To correct something in the nose tackle a few questions ago. Casey Hampton was the No. 19 overall pick.
Guest: When will Munchak be able to start working with the O-line? And how much time will he really have to institute a zone blocking scheme?
Ray Fittipaldo: The offseason schedule has not been made public yet, but he'll get to coach them starting with OTAs in May. They have three or four weeks of OTAs and then a week of minicamp before they break for a month in late June and July. So Munchak will have about four or five weeks to lay the foundation before training camp begins in late July. I wrote a story last week that included some thoughts from some of Munchak's former players in Tennessee who said how difficult it can be to learn for some. They all preached patience for the Steelers who are about to learn it. They also said that once it is mastered it can be a great weapon for an offense. I don't think the Steelers would have hired someone like Munchak unless they thought he was capable of doing the job. HIs track record suggests he'll be able to get the linemen up to speed pretty quick.
jerry p in cali: Just in case I dont get a chance to say thank you, your chats and reports are the best Ray.
JamesinNYC: I think best available player/with need is still the way to draft. I saw a mathmatical breakdown once upon a time that was pretty cool, even if you have a franchise guy you should still pick that position. That said you have need to weight it towards what you need if the Steelers have two similar players one at OG and one at CB they have to take CB. Where they sit the really have to take best available from CB, NT, or WR right?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's the nice thing about this draft, James. Sitting at No. 15, the Steelers should be able to land a top-notch player and fill a position of need at the same time. I'm not sure that you are able to do that when you are picking 31st and 32nd like the Steelers were for a few years when they won Super Bowls. To me, the most interesting thing about this draft for the Steelers is they have a chance to be really good on offense if they add that tall receiver, but they have so many needs on defense that it's going to be hard for them not to take a defender in the first round.
Ray Fittipaldo: There are tons of sites for information on the NFL. My favorite is post-gazette.com. But if you're looking for information on other teams Pro Football Focus is one that frequent often. They have detailed breakdowns for every position on every team. Their offseason coverage has been very good, too.
Bill L: Hi Ray. I've recently returned to NFL junkie stauts after a five year hiatus. What's a good regular print source for team by team off season summaries and news like the Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly used to do?
Ray Fittipaldo: Published the last answer before publishing the question. Sorry about that.
JamesinNYC: Second what Jerry said your chats are great.
Ray Fittipaldo: OK, thanks for all the questions this week. We'll do it again next week at the same time.