Ask Wex

The combine is a week away but the draft questions are starting to roll in. Jim Wexell answers those and touches on financial, health and coaching questions about the Steelers.

Stillerfreak: If Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, and Rashard Mendenhall sign elsewhere, what comp picks do you think we'll get in 2014?

Depends on the difference in the sum free-agent game. Since the Steelers won't sign anyone as expensive as any of those three, my guess is – and I'm being very conservative here – two fourths and a seventh.

Tattoos Anonymous: How did Plaxico Burress fit in with the team? Is he worthy to be resigned at the right price?

Not if "the right price" is anything more than minimum wage. But I thought he fit in well. I thought he provided a life-wizened role model for the kiddie corps, in an I've-done-it-wrong-so-please-do-it-right kind of way.

Steeler Junky: What grading scale or system do the Steelers use to value draft prospects? Is it the same or does it match up well with the system used by NFL Network?

On a more specific note, you mentioned Arthur Brown as a player to watch and possibly a Day 2 pick to play ILB for the Steelers. But I find it surprising that Brown's pre-combine ranking on is higher than either Kevin Minter's or Manti Teo's. What are your thoughts on this?

I've tried to glean a system or scale from Kevin Colbert but he doesn't want to get into that. And that's OK with me, because it really wouldn't help me much. And I have no idea what system is used by the league's network. Sorry.

As for Brown, I don't understand all of the raving being done about him by some of the media draft analysts that I follow. I like him, but in no way do I think he's a consistent playmaker or tackling machine in the Lavonte David mold. Now, I only watched Kansas State twice (and thought Brown was an easy focus because only he and CB Nigel Malone were considered prospects), so maybe I need to watch him again considering all of the talk about him being a first-rounder. But I graded him as an early third-round player and in my notes compared him to Sean Spence. Again, I like Mike Mauti in the fourth round if his knees check out.

Steelmann58: Jim, what are the chances that the Steelers draft two wide receivers or two running backs in this draft?

I know you've been trying to pin me down on this. All I can do is provide the template that guides you to watch the proceedings and make better decisions yourself. At least that's what I try to do. Um, to answer your question, I wouldn't be surprised to see them draft two at each position. In the only 7-round Steelers-specific mock I put on the message board, I included Pitt's Ray Graham as the second back drafted and Pitt's Mike Shanahan as the second receiver drafted. That will depend on the upcoming roster maneuverings, though.

FlpDzl: Who are the Steelers looking at (potentially) as a new WRs coach?

I couldn't get any names, but you can cross Hines Ward off the list. He's too tied up in acting, triathlons, and media to take on something as grueling and low-paying as coaching – although he, for one, would be crazy enough to try it someday.

Danimal: Although it is early, as signings and releases have not yet happened, what do YOU believe likely to be the Steelers' biggest perceived need(s) on defense for the draft?

I think they'd be foolish to ignore the safety position. While I liked what I saw from Robert Golden last camp, I was disappointed that he didn't make a bigger splash on special teams. I was also taken aback a bit by Dick LeBeau's late-season comment that "Coach Tomlin's judgment was reinforced in that game" about Golden. LeBeau had other complimentary things to say about Golden, so don't get me wrong, but my first thought was, "Didn't you like him, too, Dick?" But anyway, as much as I'd like to think they have a young up-and-comer at the position, Golden is still unproven.

Blitz36: Have there been talks with a few expensive guys about a restructure, such as Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark, The Diesel (Brett Keisel)? And most importantly, how the heck is Heath (Miller)?

I talked to a source who hasn't heard a thing. (That's how it goes sometimes.) Usually, the bloggers who keep an eye on the contract sites are the first to break stories of restructurings and extensions, but since this is so closely watched this year I believe an agent will either tweet or answer a ringing phone to provide news along that front.

As for Heath, he was at the facility a couple of weeks ago without crutches, but wearing a brace. I expect the same kind of recovery time as Mendenhall's last season. He'll likely start the season on the PUP and miss, say, a month of games. I really don't see the Steelers drafting a tight end early just for that purpose. They like David Paulson and have a couple of inexpensive free-agent vets they could sign as a No. 2.

Blue Meanies: Are there any young guys on the team that could step up and be a fiery, emotional leader? Do you think Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders learned anything last year, and will they grow from their mistakes or regress? And what is your honest evaluation of Marcus Gilbert?

Let me start with the Gilbert question. I didn't like Gilbert while he played LT at Florida, but thought he played fairly well at the position his rookie preseason (although players such as Trent Cole could hardly be expected to breathe fire in a preseason opener, nor did Cole play that many snaps). I was impressed with how well Gilbert played right tackle as a rookie, and then the five games last season. So when I add all of that info together, I can't say I'm all that excited about the reporting that Gilbert will be moved back over to LT, because I think he's a natural RT and Mike Adams is a natural LT. HOWEVER, I'm willing to concede that Gilbert has more experience and probably deserves to get the call until Adams shows better as a pass-blocker.

Now, as for your other two questions, the young leaders I like are Maurkice Pouncey and Ziggy Hood. And that info is well known. I also like the character of players such as David DeCastro, Sean Spence, Kelvin Beachum, Cortez Allen, Chris Carter and Baron Batch. There are some other guys with potential, like Cameron Heyward, but let me withhold any more comment there.

Same with Brown and Sanders. Let's just watch how they react this off-season to a media that's falling out of love with them.

IACAPA: I wonder about extensions. Are any of those guys candidates to be given more years, softening the cap hit over the next year or even two, maybe even with the plan that they don't play out the full new contract and we take all of our cap medicine at once in a couple of years? In particular, could they extend Ike, Troy (Polamalu), Hood, and/or Miller to save money this year? What about Keisel?

I'm not sure you want to extend Polamalu, Taylor or Keisel because of age. Take a look at them again next year. I think you can safely assume they're lifers, if the team chooses for them to remain. Miller still has two years left on his deal, so it may be too early to extend him (but restructuring would work). Hood's entering the final year of his contract, so he would be an ideal candidate.

SteelByDesign: James Harrison's agent told columnist John Harris that he won't take a pay cut to stay on the team, which all but guarantees he'll be cut. Do you think Jason Worilds would be a capable starter as his replacement? Worilds did show a little more this season as a pass rusher than the previous two seasons. I don't think he's the next Gildon/Porter/Harrison, but could he at least be the next Clark Haggans?

Worilds definitely has a better burst than Haggans ever did. Will he develop those same instincts? That's the answer we all have to wait on. I'm not as down on him as most Steelers fans. Also, I can just hear LeBeau on draft day saying "Don't forget about Chris Carter" in the way John Mitchell spoke of Steve McLendon last year.

Steel Weaver: Did John Malecki play enough last year to form an opinion on the possibility of being our LG in the new scheme? Assuming we don't draft a Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper and Willie Colon is gone.

No, Malecki didn't play enough for me to make that kind of a jump in opinion, but I wouldn't hesitate to count on him as the backup C/G if Doug Legursky wants more than minimum wage. There's also Ramon Foster to be considered at LG, not to mention, say, a third-round draft pick. I'll throw the name Dallas Thomas out there for now. Or how about second-round RT D.J. Fluker? The possibilities are endless.

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