Poll Question: Now that you've seen the schedule in full, what record will the Steelers post in 2014? Answer #1: 8-8 (4%) Answer #2: 9-7 (12%) Answer #3: 10-6 (42%) Answer #4: 11-5 (42%) Answer #5: 7-9 (0%) Answer #6: 6-10 (0%)
Ryan: How many more years do you think Big Ben has? When should we be looking at the next QB?
Ray Fittipaldo: Roethlisberger is entering his 11th season in the NFL, but QBs can play well into their late 30s. Look at what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have done well after their prime years. I think Roethlisberger has at least three good years left in him and maybe more if the Steelers protect him well and surround him with quality weapons.
Alan: Kyle Fuller seems to be moving up draft Analysts boards. Do you see him as a possibility at 15.
Ray Fittipaldo: Fuller is a very solid player. I know before the combine NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock had him as one of the better cornerbacks available. I think Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard are the top two cornerbacks, but Fuller would be in the discussion for the next spot along with Jason Verrett of TCU. Verrett visited with the Steelers a few weeks back if you like to pay attention to that stuff. But to answer your question, I'm not sure if he'd be in play at No. 15. I haven't checked today, but every mock draft I've seen in the past few months he's been a late first-round pick, not a mid- first-round pick.
Guest: Is Sean Spence going to participate in OTA's?
Ray Fittipaldo: Yes, that is the play. The OTAs begin may 27. Spence, who has not been able to play the past two seasons with a knee injury, was able to practice with the team for a week or two last fall. I talked with Spence near the end of the season and he was looking forward to taking part in full this spring and summer.
steelscott: How far away are the steelers from being an elite team?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm not sure what you mean by elite. But if you're talking about being a Super Bowl favorite I think they are far from that right now. But I do think they can make the playoffs and you never know what can happen once you get there when you have a QB like Roethlisberger.
FB - uptown: The Steelers should try and trade down and draft Kyle Fuller over Dennard. More speed and upside I think. They should also look into trading Pouncey to Detroit for Suh. What say you? Thanks.
Ray Fittipaldo: It's so hard to say because you don't know how desperate other GMs might be to move up. If the right offer is there I could see the Steelers trading down and accumulating more picks. But they'll get a really good player at No. 15 so I don't think there is pressure to do one or the other.
Tony O: OLB more of a need than WR? In the Draft.
Ray Fittipaldo: No. I think WR and CB are the two biggest needs for this team. Right now, Markus Wheaton is the likely starter opposite Antonio Brown and Lance Moore is in the slot. Wheaton did not play much as a rookie and Moore is new to the team after playing for the Saints last season. The offense was really good last year, but Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are no longer on the team, so you have to replenish through the draft. This is such a strong year for receivers in the draft. The Steelers can get a really good player who might be able to contribute right away even if he does not come until the second or third round.
Touchdown Joey: You can look at guys like Brady and Manning, or you can look at guys like Donovan McNabb, who was out of the league at 35. Ben more resembles the latter, primarily relying on his athleticism.
Ray Fittipaldo: The Steelers had some concerns about the way Roethlisberger was playing so they brought in Todd Haley to usher him into the next phase of his career. I know he still moves around and has the ability to extend plays, but how often did he do that last season? He was getting rid of the ball quicker, especially in the second half of the season. And while I don't want to discredit McNabb, who was a solid QB, it's a disservice to compare Roethlisberger to him. Ben has two two Super Bowls and is a much more accomplished pocket passer than McNabb ever was.
Gus: Schedule makers really helped out the Steelers. No trips West further than Tennesee? How much does that help?
Ray Fittipaldo: There really aren't any schedule makers, Gus. The schedule is predetermined based on last year's record and rotation of NFC conferences. The only thing the league controls is when the games are played and when the bye week takes place. Other than that, we knew the opponents last December.
steelscott: The offense is close, but the defense scares me and seems to lack star power. Are the stuck in mediocrity for a while?
Ray Fittipaldo: The defense might not be dominant for a while, but that does not mean the Steelers can't make the playoffs. There are plenty of teams in the league that are stronger on one side of the ball and play to their strengths. That's the way the Patriots have been built for the past few years. I know they haven't won a Super Bowl in 10 years, but they've been perennial playoff contenders without a great defense. No reason the Steelers can make the tournament and possibly make some noise with a defense that is slightly improved from last season.
Dave: Do you think there is a chance Pittsburgh trades back to end of first round and still has a shot at dennard?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'd be surprised if Dennard lasts until late in the first round. He has been one of the top two cornerbacks in the draft since the end of the college season. I know we're in the paralysis by analysis mode now and he's slipped in some mock drafts, but I just don't see him slipping all that much.
Tony O: Is there any chance they get Woirlds extended? Does not make sense for either side to have a 1 yr contract, Woirlds must be awful confident to gamble with a one year deal. Even if its 9 million.
Ray Fittipaldo: I think it's a goal for both sides, but each side has to come to terms with they feel is a fair contract. I agree with you that it would be a gamble for Worilds, but players have done it before and succeeded. Look at what Joe Flacco did a few years back. He went into his contract year and won the Super Bowl. Boom. Jackpot.
Touchdown Joey: Do you think Pitt's Devin Street is on the Steelers draft board at all? He seems like a good flyer to take in the later rounds.
Ray Fittipaldo: I think Street will be gone by the fourth or fifth round. He's a very solid prospect and is being pushed down in the draft because there are so many other good receivers coming out this year. In another year he might ave been a third round pick.
steelscott: I like CB with first pick...but if Ebron is there at 15, do you take him?
Ray Fittipaldo: If Gilbert or Dennard is there at No. 15 I'd go with cornerback, too. But Ebron is intriguing if those two are gone and the receiver they want isn't there either. I've said it several times in the past few months, Ebron would kill two birds with one stone. Heath Miller is nearing the end and he'd be your long-term starter at tight end. Plus, he could be the de facto big and tall WR the team covets so much.
Jorge Ortiz: If Bridgewater drops and sits on the Steelers big board, do the Steelers draft him. Similar to what the Packers did with Rodgers and Farve?
Ray Fittipaldo: No.
Bob: Should the steelers choose obj at 15
Ray Fittipaldo: ODell Beckham, Jr. has been a fast riser on draft boards, but the only two WRs I'd take over a CB at No. 15 are Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans. Now, if Dennard and Gilbert are gone then maybe Beckham comes into play.
Eric: What is your opinion on the rise of Tom Savage? I went to Pitt games this year, he never impressed me.
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't understand the hype, but it's coming from so many different sources that you have to believe some of it is true. NFL teams love his arm strength and his size. I'm like you. I was never impressed watching him at Pitt, but I do acknowledge he played behind a terrible line. I think NFL teams are doing their best to project what he can be at the next level because what he was in college was not what you think of when you think of a high draft pick.
Wild Bill: Any positions you think the Steelers will use multiple picks on?
Ray Fittipaldo: I can see the Steelers taking two receivers and two cornerbacks. Remember, Derek Moye was the fifth WR last year and almost never played. If they can upgrade there I think they'll try to do that. Also, cornerback depth remains a concern. I know they signed Brice McCain, but if they can get another CB in round 4 or 5 that guy who beat McCain out for a roster spot this summer.
Eric: Some people have Stephon Tuitt going in the first round, some have him falling to the third. Where do you think he'll end up? Would the Steelers draft him?
Ray Fittipaldo: Tuitt visited with the Steelers during the predraft process so there could be some interest there. But he's not someone I think they would take at No. 15. I think he's more likely a second-round option. I don't see him lasting until the third round.
NVSTEELERS723: Ray l would like to see James Harrison & Brett Kiesel back this year , & retire Steelers . Do you think mgt will bring them back ?
Ray Fittipaldo: Depending on what happens in the draft I could see one or both returning in a new role.
JamesinNYC: The more I think on the draft the more holes I see at DL and LB vs WR but the draft is so good at WR it is hard to pass on a game changing WR. Sound true?
Ray Fittipaldo: It's certainly a deeper draft for receivers and as a result I think the top end guys have a chance to come in and make big impacts as rookies. You almost ever see that type of impact from a defensive rookie with the Steelers, especially along the defensive line.
Eric: Do you think Leveon Bell would be the top rb of this year's draft class?
Ray Fittipaldo: Probably. I think Carlos Hyde of Ohio State is regarded as the top back and he's not expected to go until the second round. Bell is a good player and he'll do well in the Steelers' offense for years if he can stay healthy.
Bud: Will Tom Savage be the next Dan Marino the Steelers pass on because we drafted Landry Jones last year?
Ray Fittipaldo: Or maybe he's the next Rick Trocano.
steelscott: Love playing the clowns to start the season instead of last game...having said that who do you pick to win the AFC North this year?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't necessarily think Andy Dalton is the QB to lead the Bengals to a Super Bowl, but he has been plenty good enough to win consecutive AFC North titles the past two years. The Bengals did it last year without the services of their best defensive player, Geno Atkins. Atkins will be back this year and the Bengals are my favorite again but not by a wide margin. I could see the Steelers or Ravens challenging. And as far as playing the Browns in the opener, I don't like it. I prefer to see the division rivals in the latter portion of the season.
Menace Steel: When should we know if James Harrison will be returning or not?
Ray Fittipaldo: After the draft. Can the Steelers fill their OLB needs in the draft or will they still be in search of depth after the draft?
Matt: Dennard or Gilbert who should the steelers go with???
Ray Fittipaldo: Dennard is probably a better fit with the Steelers' scheme. He is a good tackler in addition to being good in coverage. Gilbert is faster and might have more upside potential and he's a kick returner
Derek: Any chance the Steelers trade up for wr Mike Evans?
Ray Fittipaldo: It's going to be tough to move up in the draft without a third-round pick this year. The Steelers traded it away last year to move up in the fourth round to get Shamarko Thomas.
Touchdown Joey: If GM Ray took Ebron at 15 and killed two birds with one stone, would you then not take a WR in the next few rounds and just go all D from there?
Ray Fittipaldo: No. I would still be open to take a receiver in the third round in that scenario.
Tevya Jones: What are your thoughts on the current state of our O line? Is there any chance of us drafting an O lineman in first 4rounds?
Ray Fittipaldo: The offensive line improved in the second half of last season. I'm not sure if they improved as much as Ben was getting rid of the ball quicker, but nonetheless the sack numbers declined. I think the front office would like to see how much of an impact Mike Munchak can have on these guys before making any big moves in the draft. So in my opinion that means O-line will not be an option until the later rounds. I'm not saying it's a good unit, but there are so many other holes to fill that I can't see them using a high picks this year on another lineman.
Wild Bill: If we do select Ebron, the Steelers will need him on the line to chip block for Adams/Gilbert. Wouldn't that completely waste his talent? Will the Steelers pick a TE or ever use a TE that is solely lined up outside? IMO, never.
Ray Fittipaldo: You misunderstand how I would use him THIS year. Miller would still be the starting TE, but Ebron would be split out like a WR. Who know what the roster would look like in 2015.
Ray Fittipaldo: 9-7. Shot to make the playoffs depending on tiebreakers.
Guest: I think we should defense in the first two rounds withe the receiving class being so deep. Either defensive line or corner back in first two rounds. Everybody has forgotten we have Moye and the other kid that transferred from Penn State they are both big targets and have been in our system for one season.
Ray Fittipaldo: Justin Brown was on the practice squad all season and Moye dressed for only a few games. They are looking to upgrade, not stay the same.
Wild Bill: The draft is super deep because so many underclassmen came out. Reasoning that next years draft won't be that deep, is this the year to trade for an extra 4th for next years 3rd (or something similar)?
Ray Fittipaldo: What makes you think the underclassmen will stop coming out? They've been coming out in droves. The numbers continue to climb every year. We can argue whether they'll be as good as this year's crop of underclassmen, but don't think for a minute that underclassmen are going to start staying in school.
Renegade: Great chat as always Ray. Can DHB make this roster and actually play? Maybe a change of scenery and new coaching can produce that result? Would focus first two picks on top CB and DL if coaching staff was feeling the likelihood. Thoughts?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think they're counting on Darrius Heyward Bey to come here and be a main contributor after struggling in the league for so many years. I think he was brought in as a precaution if the Steelers don't get the receiver(s) they want in the draft.
Jeff in Carolina: Do you think the OL as it today will play much better than last year due to Munchak?
Ray Fittipaldo: I do think Munchak will make a big difference. But I also acknowledge that there are not five elite players in that unit. I'm anxious to see how much better they can get. It's one of the biggest storylines of the 2014 season in my opinion.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for taking part in the chat this week. We'll do it again next week, three days before the draft.