Poll Question: Who would be the ideal backup for Le'Veon Bell? Answer #1: Maurice Jones Drew (15%) Answer #2: LeGarrette Blount (60%) Answer #3: Draft one (25%)
Big City: I wouldn't burn the cap space to extend Pouncey. Center is one of the easiest positions to find serviceable guys, and he has had too many injury issues, not to mention some questionable judgment. Thoughts?
Ray Fittipaldo: Center actually is one of the most important positions on the offensive line. One can make an argument that after left tackle it's the most important position. The center is responsible for making the line calls that let the other four guys know how to block a play. Also, the center in the zone blocking scheme is very important, and it's ideal to have an athletic one like Pouncey. So, if the Steelers are convinced Pouncey is a good fit for the offense it does make sense for them to extend Pouncey before the start of the season. Are they convinced? I don't know for sure, but everything I have heard about Munchak and the types of players he likes to have, Pouncey appears to be a good fit.
David: Do the Steelers view Cam Thomas as a starting DE, or a depth guy (similar to Al Woods last year)?
Ray Fittipaldo: I thought it was pretty interesting yesterday when Kevin Colbert told Gerry Dulac that Thomas was signed as a defensive end and not a nose tackle. He did not rule out Thomas playing nose, but he did note that he was signed to play DE, at least to start. Thomas is 6-4, 330 pounds, which is much heavier than the players they have used there in the past. Brett Keisel was 6-5, 285 and fairly athletic for his size. Ziggy Hood is 6-3, 300. Thomas is 6-4, 330. He looks more like a nose than an end in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme. I know Colbert noted that Thomas is 6-4, but the Steelers have had taller noses before. Kimo von olehoffen was 6-4 and held down that job until the Steelers drafted Casey Hampton. von oelhoffen then moved to end. We'll see how it plays out. At this point, he appears to be a depth guy, but on this current roster that makes him a starter. Obviously, much work has to be done there between now and September.
Jake L.: Any opinion on who the steelers may look at in the draft for linebacker depth or who you think they should look at?
Ray Fittipaldo: Inside or outside? After CJ Mosely, this is not a very deep draft for inside backers, at least not in the first couple of rounds. You might be able to get some value in the later rounds, but Mosley would be the best guy in the first round. He played at Alabama. If you're talking outside, this is another area of concern for the Steelers, who need depth after starters Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. There are some really good OLBs that will go in the first round, but I don't know if the Steelers would take an OLB with their first pick two years in a row. It's a deeper draft for OLBs, too, which means they might be able to get a good developmental guy in the second, third or round.
Mark: Hi Ray.....any chance they sign either MJD or Blunt....or any other FA in the near future...thanks!
Ray Fittipaldo: LeGarrette Blount will visit the Steelers on Friday. He had a pretty good year for the Patriots last year after four years in Tampa. Steelers fans will remember him for running over about five guys in that blowout in Foxboro last October. (That's the picture on his Twitter account, by the way). He'd be a solid signing because he could pick up some goal line work and spell Le'Veon Bell every once in a while. He'd fit in the role that Jonathan Dwyer played last year. He's not a guy who catches a ton of passes out of the backfield....Maurice Jones Drew reportedly wants $3.5 million. He's not going to get that from the Steelers. Maybe his price will come down, but I don't know if he'd settle for less money. Mike Tomlin said yesterday he'd like to have a veteran RB "in the room", but it's not a necessity. I'm all for drafting a backup if they can't get one in free agency. We've seen planety of guys drafted late come into the league and play well as rookies. No reason a guy like that can't learn behind Bell.
Bill: Why carry four tight ends?
Ray Fittipaldo: Todd Haley likes tight ends. He likes having Matt Spaeth as that in-line blocking tight end and he obviously likes Heath Miller as his starter. The Steelers just signed Michael Palmer to a contract. He did not play much on offense, but he did play on a lot of special teams. They also carried David Paulson, who actually fell behind Palmer on the depth chart late last season. I don't think Paulson is penciled into a roster spot by any means.
Tony: Any other free agent wide receivers in the mix?
Ray Fittipaldo: Not at this time, but they will draft one high. It's a big area of need after the departures of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery.
Seth: Chances Hark Knocks comes to Pittsburgh? Over/Under 75%? I go with over with possible teams that may be forced into it. I would love it.
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, you are correct the NFL can tell the Steelers they have to do it if no other teams steps forward. The Steelers make sense because of their popularity, but there are a lot of publicity-hungry owners out there who might volunteer their team and let the Steelers off the hook. If no one steps up, though, I think the Steelers are in danger of getting that call.
Hammer: Still do not understand why they did not take the third round pick for Sanders last year.
Ray Fittipaldo: Ben Roethlisberger campaigned for the Steelers to retain Sanders. It's a little bit of a different situation this year for a couple of reasons. They got to see Sanders perform as a No. w WR for a season and apparently were not all that impressed because they never made him an offer. Plus, this year's draft is so much deeper at WR that it will be easier to replace him.
Big O: Chances Brad Wing makes the team as their punter?
Ray Fittipaldo: We'll have a better idea when OTAs, mini camp and training camp come around. He's a guy they like and wanted to bring him in to provide competition for McBriar, who was just OK after coming in at midseason.
Big O: Do you get the feeling they think Spence will be able to play this season?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think they're counting on him, but in the small glimpse they got last fall when he was allowed to practice they liked what they saw. Spence said he felt good, too. But that was a small snapshot. He'll have to show he can play again. That's another situation where we'll know much more by August.
Chief: Best guess as to how many supplemental picks Steelers will be awarded, and where they might be?
Ray Fittipaldo: I have seen several tweets from NFL reporters that they are supposed to be announced later today. So make sure you follow @gerrydulac, who is down in Orlando covering the NFL meetings for the PG. It's a complicated formula they use to determine the picks, but it's been reported that the Steelers traded their third-round pick last April because they knew (or thought) they'd get a third-rounder as compensation for losing Mike Wallace. They could also be awarded pick for the loss of Keenan Lewis and others in free agency.
Jon: Is Alex Carrington still a FA option for the Steelers to sign? If not do you see dline becoming of more importance in the first few rounds of the upcoming draft?
Ray Fittipaldo: With the news that Thomas is targeted for DE, I am not sure. Carrington left town without signing and has visited with other teams. He seemed like a better fit than Thomas. They need depth at the position, so I would not be surprised if he remains on their radar. Remember, it's very difficult to come in as a rookie and contribute in this defense, especially at defensive end. Just look at Cam Heyward. It took him 2 1/2 years to develop. So while they might very well be in the market for a DE in the draft they'll need guys to play this year.
Miller: Can you explain the discrepancy between the Steelers' view of Pouncey and the view of many other clubs in the NFL and places like Pro Football Focus? To me, he's been an underachiever.
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't know what other teams think of Pouncey, but I know Pro Football Focus believes he is overrated. Pro Football Focus does what's called performance-based scouting. It looks at tape of every player int he league and grades them based on their ability to carry out their assignments on game day. There might be some problems in the grading process as far as knowing exactly what linemen are supposed to do on certain plays, but many teams and many linemen in the league subscribe to PFF for their content. If memory serves correct, Pouncey was something like the No. 11 or No. 12 center according to PFF in 2012, the last season he played. That's certainly not terrible, but because he has been a Pro Bowler they say he is overrated.
Scott: Love it that NFL is telling teams they cannot charge for any playoff games until the team as clinched a home playoff game. As season ticket holder that is welcomed news.
Ray Fittipaldo: I never understood why teams wanted to do that in the first place.
Minnesota Steeler: I was surprised to hear about The interest in Blount. I like him but does he fit into a zone blocking scheme?
Ray Fittipaldo: He's a downhill runner who might fit well on goal line situations. Maybe they're thinking they need a hammer at the goal line after what happened to Bell in Baltimore. This type of signing might be a way to limit the number of hard hits on Bell. And they can draft a scat back type in the draft if they like one in the mid to later rounds.
Steeler_Head: Hey Ray... would it be a fair opinion to say that DE may be a priority over receiver since our front does not have a starter opposite Hayward and if so, what do you think about the tall wr from Clemson in the later rounds?
Ray Fittipaldo: It's certainly a need but not a priority over WR. A first-round WR comes in and contributes right away. A first-round DE does not. At least history says they do not with the Steelers, who have been criticized for taking Heyward and Hood with first-round picks because DEs in their scheme are not big playmakers. They are used to eat up blockers so the LBs can make plays, for the most part. So yes they have to draft one and develop him, but I don't see it happening in the first round.
Johnny: Colbert said most teams are trying to trade down due to depth in the draft.
Ray Fittipaldo: Colbert said it makes sense to trade down because the draft is so deep, but he said he's probably not the only GM thinking that way, either, so I don't know if it will happen.
Tship: Pretty much a given that they take Gilbert or Denard if one is available at 15?
Ray Fittipaldo: Dennard or Gilbert or a WR.
Tom: What do think of comments by Mark Cuban that NFL could self destruct in next ten years?
Ray Fittipaldo: It struck me as a jealous owner in another sport trying to create controversy. I can't get enough of the NFL, so the more games on different days the better for me. I don't think I'm alone in that regard.
Brandon: Which in your opinion really is the higher priority - CB or Receiver.....thanks!
Ray Fittipaldo: It's pretty close to being equal. A big, tall WR could make the offense potent. A high end CB can make a difference for defense that has failed to create turnovers.
Guest: I thought I read somewhere more recently that the Steelers were bringing in a CB for a look. Haven't heard anything since, do you know if they have or plan to bring in any CB's?
Ray Fittipaldo: They plan to and should draft one or two. But as far as free agents go, no, none have been given a look since Ike Taylor redid his deal.
Wallstreet1911: When do the Steelers give up on Adams (#76)? Is he just another 2nd round reach?
Ray Fittipaldo: Adams is entering his third year. It's a big year for him. He had an injury his first year that ended his season. He was stabbed and missed some time in the offseason program last year and then had to be benched for ineffective play after being handed the starting left tackle job. He could push Marcus Gilbert at right tackle this summer. If not, the Steelers will likely have to make a decision about his future with the team. Gilbert is in the final year of his contract, so they're hoping one of those guys is a long-term answer. Both were second-round picks and it'd be bad for the franchise if neither developed into a strong player.
Bruce: At some point Steelers may be forced to participate in Hard Knocks, per nfl agreement with hbo.
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, that is true, and it could be this year if no other teams steps up.
Scott: What is your gut feeling on the steelers signing Blount ?
Ray Fittipaldo: Depends on how much money he wants I suppose. The Steelers would like to sign a veteran, but I don't think they're desperate to have one.
DSF: I usually feel confident that the FO makes the right decisions and retains the right players. Not this year and last. So thin everywhere, including DL, LB. Do you think the FO has positively addressed their run defense issues in any way or has it gotten worse?
Ray Fittipaldo: At this point, the Steelers have said good bye to Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel and signed Cam Thomas, who has been a part-time starter in his previous four years in the league. One could argue Hood is addition by subtraction, but Keisel was solid last year. I think more works needs to be done restocking that unit and I think that will happen before training camp.
Paul from Nashville via Altoona, PA: What are the chances that the Stillers bring back a well known linebacker "James Harrison" anyone. If they do bring him back what role will he serve for them
Ray Fittipaldo: There is mutual interest there, but it does not make sense for the Steelers until later this spring or summer. Why commit to a player before you know what will be available to you in the draft? If they find someone in the draft they might not feel there is a need to bring Harrison back.
Big City: Big Ben campaigned? So he gets to have a say in personnel matters? Bottom line, for a team with so many needs, that was just terrible asset management.
Ray Fittipaldo: They viewed it more as wanting to have weapons for an offense that at that point did not have many. It didn't work out for them, but Sanders was a serviceable player last season. He had some key drops and did not make a ton of big plays, but he was OK as a No. 2 WR. The Steelers feel like they can get similar production out of Markus Wheaton, whom they drafted in the third round last year.
MAL83: Any chance Burress gets a vet mimimum look or is the sholder injuryfrom last year it for him. Looked like he and ben were gaining back that chemistry when he went down.
Ray Fittipaldo: Burress was not a lock to make the team when he was injured. He was having a so-so camp. He's old. I don't see that happening.
Paul: Did you ever seriously think Steelers would lose a draft pick over Tomlin miscue in Balt, or was that just media hype and conjecture?
Ray Fittipaldo: The NFL came out and said shortly after the incident that it depended on whether the play affected the playoffs. So when the Steelers and Ravens both missed the playoffs I assumed it was a dead issue. Other national reporters thought otherwise and kept saying it was possible that a draft pick would be docked. I'm not sure why they were convinced. They have their sources. We have ours.
BA: If they don't see a corner they like and Ebron is sitting there at 15 be very hard to pass up wouldn't it?
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, he's a Vernon Davis type of tight end. Big and fast and a matchup problem for opposing defenses. if Evans, Gilbert and Dennard are gone I would have no problem drafting Ebron at No. 15. Ben needs a big pass catcher. Everyone assumes that will be a big WR, but who's to say it can't be Ebron. Offensive coordinators are paid to put skill players in positions where they succeed. So whether it's Mike Evans or Eric Ebron, to me, doesn't matter. It's about getting a big and skilled target for Ben, especially for red zone purposes. Then, if they did that they could go out and still draft a WR in the second or third or fourth round. It's a deep draft for WRs.
Miller: Seems to me that Colbert is on a bit of a cold streak, especially if Jones doesn't pan out at OLB. Landry Jones, sacrificing a third-rounder in an ultra-deep draft. After not taking that third-rounder for Sanders last year, knowing the chances of signing him would be slim. All following 2012 draft that might only produce David DeCastro (if Spence doesn't return) and Beachum who remember was close to being cut in favor of Trai Essex of all people. Absolutely cannot leave this draft without at least three quality starters.
Ray Fittipaldo: They've had a few drafts in recent history that have not panned out. They need this to be a strong one.
Paul: If the steelers miss out on the playoffs again, is Tomlin in danger? If not, after how many playoffless years would the steelers question him?
Ray Fittipaldo: The seat would get warmer, but I don't know if he'd be on the hot seat. If the Steelers did miss again this season then 2015 would be huge for him.
Guest: If Dennard, Gilbert, & Evans are all gon when the Steelers pick, do you think the Steelers would reach for a cb (Fuller, Roby, Verret) or wr (Beckam, Benjamin)?
Ray Fittipaldo: I would take Ebron if he's there in that scenario, but if not, I think a WR is more likely in that spot.
matt: any chance to bring Keisel back
Ray Fittipaldo: Small chance but not until after the draft. He said he's not playing for the veteran minimum, so one side would have to come around on negotiations.
Guest: Where would Markus Wheaton rank in this years wr class?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a good question. A lot of quality WRs are getting pushed down in this draft because so many are coming out. But if I say he'd be a fourth-round pick this year that doesn't mean he was a bad pick in the third round last year. It's just saying this is a really deep draft for WRs.
td: Is it finally time for people to stop complaining that the team is too old? Next year the O and D will only have a couple players over 30. Should we start complaining that we are too young and have no experience?
Ray Fittipaldo: There certainly has been a concerted effort to get younger. That was bound to happen when the roster was so heavy with veterans for the past several years. It has created some problems with depth, but I think those will be addressed before camp.
Big City: I never said center isn't important, I said it's one of the easiest spots to find serviceable guys. Look at Velasco and Wallace. For a team in such a cap crunch, the Steelers don't need to pay a premium for one of the best centers (if Pouncey even is that.)
Ray Fittipaldo: I wouldn't say it's easy. I think the Steelers were rather fortunate to have Velasco fall into their lap at that time.
Miller: I feel the Steelers are in a dangerous spot right now. There's a fine line (sorry, Cowherism) between building your team and just adding players to fill gaps. Spending valuable cap room on players you are not 100 percent sold on can quicken a downward spiral and I feel the Steelers are walking that tightrope now.
Ray Fittipaldo: They've been less active in free agency than most other teams and only signed one starter -- Mike Mitchell. Thomas and Moore appear to be depth guys. It's the way of the NFL. It's a necessity that teams have to fill in the gaps with other teams free agents if they can't sign their own. Sure, they'd like to have signed Al Woods, but he didn't give them a shot, so they had to go outside the organization. It happens in every NFL city.
Joe Steeler Fan: Ray. Special Teams hasn't been "special" in Pittsburgh for years now. What's it going to take to make it a priority and see it improve?
Ray Fittipaldo: Danny Smith made some small improvements last season, but their average play on special teams is reflective of their roster. Special teams unit are made up of mostly backups and the Steelers have had big issues with depth. I think it's obvious those players have played to their ability on special teams. The Steelers need better depth players on their roster. Whne they achieve that their special teams will improve.
Jack Splat: Hi, Ray, I saw a draft projection that shows the top 2 CBs might be gone in the first round by the time the Steelers pick. However, the WR, Evans, is at 15. Do the Steelers take Evans at 15 in that situation?
Ray Fittipaldo: Without blinking. They'd run up to the podium to hand Goodell the card.
Bill: Assuming there are no other signings before the draft, how high would you consider drafting a DE or DT?
Ray Fittipaldo: Middle rounds.
James: Hi Ray! Since Moore can also play outside would it be a possibility that he becomes the starter opposite brown with Wheaton on the slot? Or is it basically assured that Moore will cover Cotchery's spot?
Ray Fittipaldo: I see him more as a slot WR at this point in his career. I think they'd like to give their third-round draft pick a shot to be the starter and hope he capitalizes on that opportunity.
newbie: Do you subscribe to Game Rewind? If so, what do you think of it?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think last year it was $75 for the season. It's good for the hard-core fan that likes to watch the coaches tape. But the only thing I don't like is they don't post until midweek. If you're making people pay $75 it should be available Monday morning. That's just my two cents.
Joe Steeler Fan: Moving Ike Taylor to Free Safety. A good move, or bad?
Ray Fittipaldo: They signed Mike Mitchell to be their FS.
Alan: Do you feel Nix could still be an option at #15 given the state of the D line?
Ray Fittipaldo: I've written about this extensively and I don't see it happening because of the way the NFL has trended with passing. I suppose it remains a possibility but there's not much value there because noses are playing fewer and fewer snaps every year as coordinators use more sub packages.
JC: What is our biggest need for a good Redzone offense?
Ray Fittipaldo: A big, tall WR or TE that can make plays. And no Heath Miller is not that type of playmaker at this stage of his career.
JamesinNYC: As far as Spence goes, their doctors must be monitoring him right? Basically they should know if he can fun a 4.6 or a 6.4 40 at least.
Ray Fittipaldo: Spence practiced for a few weeks with the team in the fall. I don't know if they timed him in the 40 or anything like that, but they got to see him move around. They'd like to see more of him and they'll get that chance this spring and summer.
KD: Good afternoon Ray - I have been perplexed by what the Steelers have done this off-season at the RB position. They let Dwyer go to Zona for pennies and have apparently shown no interest in Stephens-Howlings who looked very good last year before his injury. Then they bring in MJD and his contract demands for a visit? What am I missing? Howlings certainly can't be pricing himself out of their plans and Dwyer certainly didn't.
Ray Fittipaldo: The wild card I don't know about at this point is the health of Stephens Howling. Maybe he's not 100 percent recovered from the knee injury. As we saw with Miller last season it takes some time for players to come back fully from knee injuries. Maybe they're not willing to wait on a guy like LSH.
Scott: Do you think Bell is a genuine number one running back… He seems to lack speed to me to be a true number one running back. Thank you
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, I do. He does not have breakaway speed, but he runs hard and he's a good fit for the zone blocking scheme. Plus, he's very good as a receiver out of the backfield. I really think he's going to have a breakout type of year if Munchak can work his magic with that offensive line.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for all the questions this week. Sorry I was not able to get to all of them. We'll do it again next week at the same time. And remember follow Gerry Dulac for all the news out of Orlando and the NFL meetings this week.