Ask Wex (1/12)

Welcome back to another offseason. It came upon us a little sooner than anticipated, but with all of the injuries it was inevitable, wasn't it? Oh, that's right. You're asking the questions around here.

SteelerBill13: (Looks around) OK, I'll go first ... The 900 pound gorilla in the room - over/under on Bruce Arians returning?

Over or under what? I'll say the odds on him returning are about 80-20. I don't think his superiors want him gone. I think he gets a break in that the offense is the youngest in the AFC and the line's in the process of being overhauled, and possibly could come out of it brighter and shinier than it has in a long time.

Steelclan: Will Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown see the field more in 2012? And what is Steeler draft priority: guard or inside linebacker?

Allen could be in the mix for a starting job, whether Gay returns or not. That's how impressed people are with him. Don't be surprised if Gay leaves as a free agent, because the Steelers would also have Keenan Lewis to compete for his job. Brown will certainly see more time in sub-packages.

As for guard or linebacker in the draft, it had better be all about value. But if you're asking me for my gut instinct it's this: They'll use a couple of key picks on the offensive line and a 4-5th round pick on a two-down linebacker such as Danny Travathan. But, again, value always trumps any preconceived game plan.

Knoxville Steeler Fan: In a follow up to Bill's question, if Arians does not return, will they promote from within or do you see them going outside to get someone to replace him?

I imagine Mike Tomlin has a guy or two in mind – but it's a mind he won't let me read. If they promote from within, I expect it would be Randy Fichtner, particularly since Kirby Wilson has a long and painful recovery ahead of him. The burns, I understand, are pretty severe on his arms and legs.

ix4kid: This cap mess is a concern. Cutting Chris Kemoeatu, Hines Ward, Arnaz Battle, Bryant McFadden, James Farrior, Will Allen and Casey Hampton saves $20 million, which could get them to the cap. What other salary moves do you expect?

Other than that? Well Aaron Smith transferred some numbers during the season. Hampton could renegotiate. I'm not going to start cutting players here. I'll be looking at the roster in my next piece of business today. Our capologist, Ian Whetstone, tells me the contracts of Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley seemed to have been built to be restructured this year. Just don't take it too seriously, Kid. I've always heard the cap is only an excuse to cut players, that anything can be accomplished if the will is there.

SteelerBill13: As a follow up to the follow up to my question, if you can, I'd love to hear from the Answer Man about how many changes will be influenced from up top. Oh, and a question from my friend Lawyer Phil: Do Hines and Ben not get along?

You've really pinned yourself in a corner by asking me a question for someone else. On a darker day this would eliminate you from competition. Hey, I'd like to ask Art Rooney II what the hell he intends to do about this loss, this DAMN loss, as well. But I settle myself down with reminders that this team was ravaged by injury and that the offense is the youngest in the conference. Also, this wasn't as big of an upset as many are trying to make it out. This was a seven-point upset. The landscape's littered with those. So, anyway, Bill, you always allow me to pontificate so I thank you for that. As for Ward and Ben Roethlisberger, they're fine. We don't have to love each other to function as an effective team, do we? Bill? And wasn't that Hines at the exact spot on the field that would've stopped the clock and produced a field goal? And didn't Ben throw to him? It was just Champ's year to be lucky.

Novasteel: I remember Dick LeBeau saying he would retire when Aaron Smith does. It looks as if that will be the case, so do you see LeBeau retiring?

Maybe you're right, but I remember line coach John Mitchell saying he'd retire when Aaron retired. As for LeBeau, you've most likely read the news that he'll return. And, no, I don't see Mitchell retiring any time soon.

SteelMagnolias: I feel like you are my therapist. I have a few -- answer what you can. Does Rashard Mendenhall return and start? The recovery period for his injury is 6-9 months I would think. And who will be on the offensive line? Any free agent prospects? The draft?

Isaac Redman gives them the ability to break free from worry over Mendenhall's rehab. Once Mendenhall's full go, they'll see what Redman has done with the position and decide then.

The offensive line, from left to right, in my opinion, will be Marcus Gilbert, Doug Legursky, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Willie Colon. If Gilbert's not working on the left side, the injury to Max Starks might allow them sign him late for low wages. Without Starks, you still have Jonathan Scott and either a draft pick, Chris Scott, Jamon Meredith or Travis Turner as the No. 4 tackle. My backups guards are Trai Essex and a draft pick. The tricky part of all of this is the Gilbert move.

Mightyveg: Does Big Snack's ACL injury move NT up the priority list on draft day? I like Steve McLendon, but probably like him a lot more filling the Chris Hoke role than the Hamp role. And with the Steelers in cap hell next year, does that preclude any second-tier FA signings? In other words, does cutting Kemo and a couple of retirements (Smith, Hoke) and/or restructurings (Ward) give us enough room to address one of our weaknesses?

It's an ongoing jigsaw puzzle, but I don't see how it will affect the completion of an offensive line that in my mind is just about there. These are the questions they'll answer as they move from day to day. You know how they work. There's no way I could lay out a complete blueprint. It's one day at a time and the puzzle seems to always come together. They rarely deal in the free-agent market, and it will even be difficult this year to sign a secondary-type player, yes. But the needs aren't as great as that injury-ravaged last game is leading many to believe.

As for Hampton, you're probably right that NT moves up from the long-term need it was last year. But don't all of the sudden pin McLendon into a backup role behind a rookie to be named later. They won't operate that way. I'm assuming Hampton will restructure his $8 million salary and team with McLendon to handle the position until Hampton's recovery is complete. And by then McLendon can prove himself either way. I don't believe that a highly drafted rookie is necessarily a must at this point.


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