Poll Question: Other than Ben Roethlisberger who is the most indispensable Steeler in 2014? Answer #1: Antonio Brown (46%) Answer #2: Maurkice Pouncey (7%) Answer #3: Troy Polamalu (7%) Answer #4: Lawrence Timmons (20%) Answer #5: Cam Heyward (13%) Answer #6: Jason Worilds (7%)
Ryan: What's your opinion on Brendon Kay, rookie FA out of University of Cincy? Is he showing any promise to be apart of the roster?
Ray Fittipaldo: From what I saw in OTAs and minicamp Kay looked pretty good. He has a nice arm and is accurate. However, the Steelers have a backup QB in Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones is entering his second season. Jones had a tough time as a rookie, but I still don't think they cut a fourth-round pick one year after drafting him. So barring injury, I don't see a way Kay makes the team.
Zack: Who would you rather have as the 3rd qb Landry jones or brenden Kay?
Ray Fittipaldo: Honestly, if it gets to the point that either has to play the 2014 season is likely lost so I'm not sure what the point is. I guess let's see how Jones progresses this year. If no improvement by January then maybe they'll begin to look at other options.
Joe: We heard a lot about the rookies in camp but not much about the veterans. Did any come into the mini camps out of shape and over weight?
Ray Fittipaldo: The NFL is a business for the players and they realize they have to be in shape to be on rosters from year to year. So rarely does a player show up to camp out of shape. It happened to Jonathan Dwyer a couple of years ago. It also happened to Jamain Stephens. To a lesser degree, Casey hampton was never in tip-top shape. Not that a nose guards has to be in great cardio shape to play the position. My point is that it doesn't happen very often and to my recollection there was not anyone this spring that was out of shape.
Zack: What your opinion on why Big Ben always gets excluded from the elite qb decision
Ray Fittipaldo: i can certainly understand why he is not mentioned in the same breath as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Those two will go down as two of the all-time greats. They play in passing offenses tailored to their talents and they have been great for a long time. I have a harder time figuring out how someone like Drew Brees is considered "elite" ahead of Roethlisberger. Yes, Brees has the stats, but playing QB in the NFL is all about winning. Roethlisberger has a better winning percentage in the regular season and postseason and has one more Super Bowl ring. I'm fine with Roethlisberger being grouped in a so-called second-tier behind Brady and Manning, but in my opinion that first tier should be exclusive to Brady and Manning.
Ryan: Do you see Justin Brown becoming like Antonio Brown? Both drafted in 6th round by Pittsburgh.
Ray Fittipaldo: Well, Antonio Brown made the team as a rookie in 2010 and played a huge role in that team getting to Super Bowl XLV. He made that big catch down the sideline in the playoff game against the Ravens and he caught the third-down pass near midfield late in the AFC championship game against the Jets that finally ran the clock out on that game that turned into a nail-biter. Justin Brown, meanwhile, spent his rookie season on the practice squad. That's a huge difference. Justin Brown had a good offseason and I think he has a shot to make the 53-man roster, but he has a long way to go to be included in any conversation with Antonio Brown.
Brandon: Chances Harrison/Keisel is resigned? I'm not too excited with our DL and OLB depth
Ray Fittipaldo: I'm thinking that won't happen unless there is an injury in camp. I could be wrong, but they've had the cap space to sign either since June 2 and they didn't so...
Joseph: Ray, are there any under-the-radar camp battles you're especially looking forward to? Like who emerges from the crowded middle linebacker corps or how the CB depth chart stacks up?
Ray Fittipaldo: Yeah I think you make a great point about the inside linebackers. I wrote about Vince Williams a while back. Here is a guy who started as a rookie and now he'll be in a battle to make the roster. Does Sean Spence show enough to make the 53-man roster? Does Jordan Zumwalt make it because of his special teams ability and versatility? What about Terence Garvin, who made it last year? There may not be room for someone like him this season. The tight end position might be another one to watch. After Miller and Spaeth you have a bunch of young guys who will battle it out for one or two roster spots.
Heeeath: Who do we have in a pinch at running backs? Our depth there is worrisome.
Ray Fittipaldo: Did you miss the free agent signing of LeGarrette Blount? I actually think RB is a position of strength. If Bell is injured for any length of time Blount is starter-capable and Dri Archer gives the coaches some options. If Bell is healthy Blount can be a big-time asset in the red zone.
Heeeath: In all your interviews with new players, who strikes you as having the most confidence? The least? Do you think personality has anything to do with these new players progression into the NFL?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a great question. I've interviewed most of the rookies and perhaps more importantly I see how they practice and interact with their teammates and coaches. The player who seemed like he had the most confidence to me in the spring was Jordan Zumwalt. I know he was only there for a few weeks, but he was active and talking and he just exuded confidence. I have no idea if that will carry over into training camp or not, or even if he'll make the team, but I was struck by his outgoing personality. That's not to minimize the other rookies. Ryan Shazier took the bull by the horns and showed some of the same traits. He was the first in line for drills and did all the sorts of things you expect of first-rounds picks. So I would mention those two first and foremost. Good question.
Mark: I've got major concerns about our corners this year. Give me a reason(s) why they won't be as bad as I think.
Ray Fittipaldo: How about because the coaches have confidence in them? That's about all I got. They certainly did not make a lot of moves to strengthen the position over the offseason. But Dick LeBeau and Carnell Lake both mentioned how they like the depth, especially for some of the lesser known guys such as Brice McCain and Antwon Blake. We'll see how it goes, but that is one area of the team where there should be some concern, especially if there is an injury to Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen or William Gay.
Zack: If Sean spence doesn't make the 53 man roster could he be signed to the practice squad or is this a make or break year for him with the steelers since this is his third season in the nfl and hasn't had a chance to play a regular season game
Ray Fittipaldo: We get briefed every camp on who is eligible for the practice squad and who is not. I honestly do not know the answer to your question about Spence because he was on IR for two years and I'm not sure how that's counted toward years of service, etc. Regardless, I get the feeling this might be a make or break type of situation for him.
Bob: Ray, do you see the Steelers drafting a solid QB in the next couple of years and training him behind Roethlisberger for a few years as he career comes to a close? Much like Aaron Rodgers sat behind Favre... That turned out pretty well.
Ray Fittipaldo: That turned out well for the Packers, but there haven't been a lot of situations like that in recent years. The expectation now is for first-round QBs to come in and start right away and learn on the job. I'm not saying one is the right way and one is the wrong way I'm just saying the economics of the game has made it so rookie QBs get on the field sooner rather than later. Not to mention the fact that many teams wait to draft a QB until they really need one and just insert him because he's better than what they have.
Karen: Could you see Antwon Blake starting opposite Cortez Allen at some point this season, and thus, moving ahead of Ike Taylor on the depth chart?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's a big leap for someone who has eight NFL snaps on defense. If Taylor or Allen is injured at some point I think you would see Gay inserted into starting lineup and Blake or McCain being the slot corner.
Mark: Does Haley finally take the reins off and really let Ben run the no huddle......seems like they've talked about doing that before but only relented when things maybe got somewhat desperate...like starting the season 0-4....appreciate your thoughts....
Ray Fittipaldo: It makes perfect sense to run the no-huddle from the start of the season. It was highly successful in the second half of last season. And their work this spring seemed to point to that happening. They worked on the no-huddle extensively in OTAs and minicamp and I expect more of the same in training camp. You have aveteran QB who has demonstrated he can flourish in the no-huddle. The only question for me is the new WRs and how they adapt.
Mark: The only reason I could think of regarding our corners is that we will get more pressure on the QB this year. I think Jarvis Jones will be great this year. Give me some arguments to convince my friends.
Ray Fittipaldo: You're right. Pressure can certainly mask some of the deficiencies they have in the secondary. If Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones combine for 16-18 sacks I think the defense will be much better than a year ago and you're likely not to be hearing a lot of complaints about the secondary. Not because they're necessarily playing better but because QBS won't have the time to expose them.
Rock: Do you think they will finally cut Michael Adams or have you seen progress in his development?
Ray Fittipaldo: They used a second-round draft pick on Adams and he was their rookie of the year in 2012, so I don't see them cutting ties with him this year. Now if he doesn't show something this season...
Zack: Do you see this as the last year that worilds is on the team
Ray Fittipaldo: Not necessarily. They can use the franchise tag on him next season if they cannot sign him to a long-term deal.
Mark: Over or under 8.5 wins this season?
Ray Fittipaldo: Over but not by much.
Steve: With new weapons in the backfield, does our offense's identity shift back to the ground game? Getting back to that hard-nosed rushing attack would be huge, and we definitely have the weapons to do it, now.
Ray Fittipaldo: It all goes back to what Art Rooney II said a couple of years ago. He'd like to see the Steelers run more effectively, not necessarily run more often. Unfortunately for the Steelers they haven't been able to satisfy their owner in recent years. Mike Munchak was brought in to fix the running game. I do think you'll see improvement. But even if there is marked improvement I'm not sure you'll see a return to the old days. The Steelers have a franchise QB and the league is set up for passing nowadays. It's Todd Haley's job to strike a balance.
Ryan: What's the word on a Punter this year? We cannot go through what happened last season again.
Ray Fittipaldo: They signed Adam Podlesh and Brad Wing as free agents. The hope is one of them comes through and improves what has been an ongoing problem for the past few years.
Dominique: Let's say Martavis Bryant and Stephon Tuitt are still on the Steelers in 3-4 years. Who do you think will be a better player by then?
Ray Fittipaldo: Tuitt was a second-round pick so I guess it would be a bigger disappointment if he wasn't a starter and a good player by then. When a team uses a second-round pick on someone the expectation for them is to be a long-tern starter. That's not the case with a fourth-rounder. Fourth-rounders have much lower success rates.
Ray Fittipaldo: Thanks for another great chat. We'll do it again next week at the same time.
First Published July 7, 2014 12:00 AM