Poll Question: Who will earn a roster spot as the fifth receiver in training camp? Answer #1: Justin Brown (65%) Answer #2: Derek Moye (15%) Answer #3: Darrius Heyward-Bey (20%) Answer #4: other (0%)
Navy copper: What UFAs are coming in to camp with a permanent job or good chance?
Ray Fittipaldo: One or two undrafted free agents always seem to find their way onto the roster every year. There are a few this year who are worth watching in training camp. Howard Jones is an OLB who played at Division II Shepherd College. He was invited to the combine and ran a sub 4.5 in the 40. He is a project, but the Steelers have some issues with depth at OLB. If he doesn't find his way into the roster he's a guy they'd like to try to keep I think because of his athleticism. The Steelers are not deep at DE either. Josh Mauro was a productive DE at Stanford, so he has a shot as well unless of course Brett Keisel is signed between now and camp. That would diminish his chances. I like Chris Elkins, the offensive lineman from Youngstown State, too. I don't think he has a chance to make the 53-man roster but he is someone who can make a practice squad.
Aron: Now that Chris Carter has some experience in the defense, do you think that he will contribute more on defense
Ray Fittipaldo: This is a big year for Chris Carter. He is entering his fourth season and the final year of his rookie contract. He was a fifth-round pick and hasn't really stood out all that much to be honest. He had an opportunity in 2012 when James Harrison was injured in training camp and he really didn't take advantage of it. As noted earlier, the Steelers are thin at OLB so his experience might help him make the team again, but I'm not sure he has a role with the team beyond this season unless he really shows something in 2014.
Gunther: any ideas on Sean Spence's role?
Ray Fittipaldo: Spence has to make the 53-man roster first. That's not a given because there are so many good ILBs competing against him. He hasn't gone through a training camp since his rookie year in 2012. That's almost two full years of not going at full speed. He did a lot this spring, but that was without pads in OTAs and minicamp. I'd like to see how his knee holds up for a month in camp before I make any determinations about him. If he does make the roster he'd add depth behind Timmons and Shazier inside and he's have to be able to make some contributions on special teams.
Andrew: Hi Ray. With some cap room available and limited talent at CB, aren't you surprised the Steelers didn't make a one year offer to Flowers?
Ray Fittipaldo: Not really. I wrote a blog post about this very subject last week. Flowers received an incentive-laden one-year deal with the Chargers and can make up to $5 million next season. The Steelers have about $6 million in cap space, but they'd like to have some maneuverability for other potential signings or extensions. That $5 million price tag was too high. Plus, once the Steelers restructured Ike Taylor's contract in March they weren't going to cut him in favor of someone who never played in the Steelers' system. Taylor and Allen will start and Gay will play a lot in the slot, for better or worse. If Flowers was added he's have been the fourth corner.
Dawg: How much does Timmons have left in the tank, trade him for a first rounder while we still can?
Ray Fittipaldo: First of all, it's rare for an NFL team to give up a first-round draft pick in a trade for a veteran. Plus, I'm not sure the return for a LB who has never made a Pro Bowl entering his eighth season in the league would be a first-rounder. Timmons played really well in 2012 and had a bit of a drop-off last season. I think with some faster and potentially better players around him this season he can return to top form in 2014. I think Timmons can benefit big-time by having someone as fast ash Shazier next to him.
Guest: When does training camp start?
Ray Fittipaldo: July 25 at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
Britti: Do you think this years draft class will develop and produce results quicker than previous draft classes (you know, the ones that were a total flop)?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think they are committed to finding out about these guys sooner than they have in the past. They wanted to let Jarvis Jones learn on the fly last season, but they were forced to bench him when he proved he could not handle a starting job. They are affording Ryan Shazier the same opportunity this season. I'm not sure how Stephon Tuitt will be used because defensive linemen in this system have so much to learn. I think Dri Archer will be used immediately in the return game and possibly a small role in the offense and the same goes for fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant. Rookies traditionally have not been counted on for big contributions in Pittsburgh, but this team can use an infusion of speed and talent and those guys fit the bill.
Andrew: It feels like things should really come together for the offense this year. Defense is faster, but without strong corners,the D-line has to step up. Other than Heyward, is there really anyone you see as a breakthrough player this year?
Ray Fittipaldo: Steve McLendon added about 20 pounds and says he won't wear down as easily as he did last year. Nose tackle is such an important position in this defense. If McLendon can be better and keep offensive linemen off the linebackers the defense will be better. I am not counting on Tuitt being a big contributor and I have no idea what to make of Cam Thomas. Right now, Thomas is a starter, but he's never really been in that role. He was a starter for most of the 2013 season at nose tackle for the Chargers. So to your point, the DL is a big question mark for this team. McLendon and the others have to come through and help Heyward out a little bit.
Aron: Who do you think is the next player that will have a contract extension? If it isnt Big Ben do you think they will extend him in the future.
Ray Fittipaldo: CB Cortez Allen is a possibility. He is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He hasn't exactly been a model of consistency but he has the raw skills to be a good corner in this defense. The last time the Steelers let a CB play out the final year of his deal they could not afford to keep him. Keenan Lewis became too expensive and signed a big free agent deal with the Saints. I think they'd like to avoid that type of scenario again. The other player entering the final year of his rookie deal is OT Marcus Gilbert, but I doubt something gets done there. Tackles clean up in free agency and I don't think the Steelers want to invest $5 million or more per year in a player who also has had consistency issues. Allen, I think, would come cheaper.
Guest: There has been some hype over Justin Brown, could he be a legitimate starter or is he being over-hyped.
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't know if I would call it hype. I think he is in contention for that fifth WR spot heading into camp. He maybe even has a leg up on the competition after a strong spring. But I haven't see anything that suggest he is someone who could make the jump all the way to being a starter one year after being on the practice squad. Players have to go through progressions in the NFL. Let's see if he makes the 53-man roster first before we start projecting him as a future starter.
Guest: How likely is it that Mcullers makes the 53-man roster
Ray Fittipaldo: I think at this point he's a long shot to make the roster, but he is someone they can work with on the practice squad if he goes through the waiver wire. Mike Tomlin called him a project when they drafted him. Projects don;t usually make the 53-man roster as rookies unless they have really strong training camps. It's hard for a DL to make an impression at OTAs and minicamp, so we'll see what McCullers has at training camp.
Guest: do you think the team is putting to much faith in mike mitchell since he only has 1 good season
Ray Fittipaldo: That's why you have pro scouts. The Steelers have scouts who watch every NFL game for the purpose of seeing who would be a good fit for the team in free agency. The Steelers have a pretty good track record when it comes to signing free agents. Mitchell had the bust tag in Oakland after he failed to make an impression in four years with the Raiders. He did have a good year in Carolina on a very good defense. He adds a speed element the secondary has been missing so I think he can be successful in this defense provided he learns the nuances of the system.
John B: Don't you agree that they should have traded Woodley instead of cutting him? Getting at least a 2nd round pick would have been better, right?
Ray Fittipaldo: If they could have traded him they would have. No team out there wanted to absorb the contract he had with the Steelers. It was too much money over too many years. Why give up a pick when you can negotiate your price after he is released?
Otis: I am afraid that the Steelers will try to force feed too many touches to Dri Archer and Blount thus reducing Bell's effectiveness by not allowing him to get in rhythm. What are your thoughts?
Ray Fittipaldo: I agree with you when it comes to Archer. They tried to force Chris Rainey into the offense and it never really worked out. I understand Archer is not Rainey but he is the same type of player. I don't think they'll force touches to Blount and if they do I'm not sure it would be a bad thing. Blount had a really good season in 2013 for the Patriots and was gaining steam late in the year. I think they'll use him to spell Bell and he'll be a guy they can look to in goal line situations. I'd rather have a healthy Bell for a late-season push toward the playoffs than having him get all the touches in September and October.
Andrew: It seemed like the TE, Paulson, did really well in camp and very early last year, then fell off the face of the Earth. With his great size, do you see much improvement this season? He could be a valuable compenent to the offence.
Ray Fittipaldo: Paulson will be in a battle to make the team. He earned some playing time early last season when Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth were injured. He had a big fumble against the Bengals that sort of turned the tide of the game. After Mill returned, Paulson's role kind of disappeared. And by the time Spaeth came back Paulson had been passed on the depth chart by Michael Palmer. Paulson is a good receiver, but he's not a good blocker. I think Paulson and seventh-round pick Rob Blanchflower will compete for the fourth tight end spot, if they decide to keep four tight ends again.
Tim: Do you think Woodley burned bridges with the Steelers?
Ray Fittipaldo: I don't think it matters if he did. He's getting older and likely only has a few years left anyway. Given his injury history he doesn't strike me as a guy who will play into his mid-30s.
Mel: Could you offer any tips for fans attending the Steelers training camp this year?
Ray Fittipaldo: Bring lots of water, sunscreen and a hat.
Cliff G.: Is anything going to change about the conditioning work for the O-Line? It seems that every year, without exception, we get devastated with injuries along that line. I know other teams have problems, too, but our seems to be acute in the Tomlin era.
Ray Fittipaldo: They have not changed conditioning coaches or made any other drastic changes so I think the Steelers believe those injuries are the result of merely playing the game. The knee injury for Maurkice Pouncey was a freak thing. You never see that happen. Mike Munchak was brought in to coach the line. I am pretty certain he can teach cut blocking better than Jack Bicknell. That alone should help.
Guest: Is it time to rethink the complexity of the steelers defense given the way the contracts are structured, and the need to get players to contribute sooner? It seems like waiting until the third year is too late to decide if you want to spend the $ on players, yet that's how long it takes rookies to figure out the D
Ray Fittipaldo: I've written about this extensively in the past year. The Steelers are changing their approach when it comes to younger players. They want to find out sooner about them. If that means force feeding them and living with their mistakes then so be it. That seems to be their approach with Shazier, who lined up with the starter from day one in OTAs. LB coach Keith Butler said something interesting the day after they drafted him. He said Shazier is so fast he can make up for his mistakes. We'll see how that plays out because you know a rookie is not going to be perfect assignment-wise.
Ray Fittipaldo: The cornerbacks and the lack of depth at OLB and the DL are legitimate concerns that could hamstring this team if there are any major injuries to those position groups. That being said, I really like what they did in free agency and the draft when it came to adding speed and addressing some of the things that limited the defense's effectiveness the past two years. They believe the speed will help with the turnover differential. If it does and the offense can pick up where it left off last season I think the Steelers can contend in the AFC North. I won;t go as far as Herm Edwards and predict the Super Bowl, but going 9-7 or 10-6 is not out of the question.
Steelerfan72: Noticing that some of the national magazines seem to have jumped on the Steeler's bandwagon this off season. What specific area do you personally feel the Steelers improved the most via the draft and free agent signings and conversely, do you feel any part of the team has weakened since the end of last season?
Ray Fittipaldo: Forgot to post question. The answer is above.
Will H.: Are we about to see Troy's last season this year?
Ray Fittipaldo: Could certainly be. I guess his play will decide that. There is dead money is his contract for two years after this one, so if he plays well there is incentive to keep him. But you never know when a player's wheels are going to fall off. Polamalu is in his 30s and plays a position where speed and quickness is essential. He played well last season, but when you get older you have to prove every season that you can still play.
POTUS: I'm glad they're going younger, I thought they let Hines Ward stay way too long - think about it, his tenth year was 2007! Anyway, with this being Troy's last year, care to speculate on his HOF credentials?
Ray Fittipaldo: Polamalu has been very good for a very long time. He played in three Super Bowls and won two of them. He made big plays in playoff games. I think he has a good shot, but I thought Jerome Bettis would get in last year and he did not. I find myself surprised when I hear other writers or analysts talking about potential Hall of Famers. I disagree often with a lot of them. So to answer your question, I think he is Hall of Fame worthy, but I'm not sure others feel the same way.
SCOTUS: Do you believe they should have taken the NT Nix in the second instead of the D-lineman?
Ray Fittipaldo: They thought Tuitt would have been a first-rounder had he not been injured last season. No nose tackles were drafted in the early rounds because they're becoming role players instead of starters. Tuitt can be a starter who never comes off the field if he develops. Nix, or any nose for that matter, plays about 65 percent of the time in the NFL these days.
Will H.: What do you make of the Ravens after all their changes - as big a threat as Cincy?
Ray Fittipaldo: The Ravens always seem to be in the mix for the division title and I don't expect anything different this season. I think the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers are pretty close in terms of their talent and one game might be all that separates them in the standings when the season is over.
Guest: What do you think are the chances of Keisel returning for one more year?
Ray Fittipaldo: I still think it's a possibility, but if they really thought they absolutely had to have him back they would have done it June 2 when they got the cap relief. I think it's more likely if there is an injury or if some players don;t perform well early in camp. And of course Keisel would have to decide he wants to continue to play and probably not for much more than the veteran's minimum.
Aron: Any predictions for our win-loss record for this season
Ray Fittipaldo: I'll say 9-7 but I reserve the right to change my mind before the start of the season after I witness training camp.
Guest: do you think that the team is done signing free agents or do u think they will let the remainder of the cap roll over to next season
Ray Fittipaldo: Injuries happen in camp so no I do not think they are done signing free agents.
NaplesDave: Hi Ray, Given the number of unproven LBs, I agree with the Steelers not giving a long term deal to Worilds. His body of work does not justify a long financial commitment. Who do you think may surprise you?
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm not sure any of the LBs will surprise. The projected starter are all former first- or second-round picks. I expect them to produce relative to their draft slot. I guess I would be mildly surprised if Jarvis Jones jumped from 1 sack to 15, but I'd be disappointed if he didn't get 7 or 8 this year.
Will H.: Have seen a lot of talk about no huddle this year, but will the attack plays be mostly similar?
Ray Fittipaldo: The no-huddle will basically be the same as it was last year in terms of the plays. It's just going to be up to Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore to learn the plays and get in synch with Ben Roethlisberger. As always, some wrinkles will be added, but the playbook won't be that different from previous years.
Chesta: Would you agree that the they gave up on Woodley too early? guy was a stud for years and has a down season or two and they throw him out...
Ray Fittipaldo: Woodley was unreliable because of his injury history. When he played he played well. But he was not available and when a team is paying you millions of dollars they'd like for you to remain healthy and earn that money on the field.
Will H.: Do you know of any plans to formally recall Coach Noll at any game this year?
Ray Fittipaldo: The Steelers have said there is nothing formal in place right now. But I am sure they will honor him in some way throughout the season.
Tode: Any idea why they took Limas Sweed part 2 in the fourth round of he draft this year?
Ray Fittipaldo: Bryant is 6-4 and runs in the 4.4 range. He's a fourth-rounder so he won't have that bust tag if he fails. Obviously, he has some flaws. Otherwise, he'd have been taken earlier. But the coaches think they can utilize him in the red zone this season and longer term, with some work, he might be able to play a regular role in the offense as a starter.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for another great chat. I managed to avoid answering the questions about Jarvis Jones' inevitable move to inside linebacker as well the ones about Kordell Stewart. I win. Let's do it again next week at the same time.
First Published June 30, 2014 12:00 AM