Ask Wex (1/16)

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.

MightyVeg: Absent a signing or a stud draft pick, is the OL next year, left to right, Marcus Gilbert, Doug Legursky, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster and Willie Colon? Does Max Starks's ACL injury make it possible for us to resign him at the vet minimum?

To answer the first part, yes, one would think that's the way the line is headed. HOWEVER, look at how they're building this: They appear to have two gems in Pouncey at center and Gilbert at right tackle. So, instead of using logic to come up with next year's line, let's carry out that long-term blueprint which would require them to leave Gilbert at RT, where he belongs, and to just forget about the need to squeeze Colon in there because of his contract. That means they need a left tackle in this draft.

Zebrie Sanders could be that guy. I worry about his lack of anchor strength, just as I worried about Gosder Cherilus when he appeared to be a candidate a few years ago. So you gauge whether Sanders can add weight to that massive and lanky frame and become a superstar in a few years. It's possible. He has the feet.

Another possibility – albeit a bit of a reach – is Jeff Allen of Illinois. He has that Rodger Saffold look to me – not quite polished for pick No. 24, and you could end up drafting yet another right tackle. But if Allen takes to good coaching, he becomes an ass-kicker in your run game – a Duane Brown – at an unexpected place.

If you don't find a LT in the draft, then move Gilbert to LT and Colon to RT and improve your interior with say Peter Konz. As an added bonus there, I'm told the Ravens want to draft Konz to play center.

To answer the second part of your question, yes, Starks' ACL injury would keep him out of the early free-agent bidding, and therefore Starks could possibly sign late for a small salary and stabilize the position until the LT of the future is ready.

MightyVeg II: What do you think of Luke Kuechly out of Boston College?

I think he's the best inside linebacker to come out since Patrick Willis. Right now some of the top draft analysts have Kuechly ranked around No. 10, so it's unlikely he'll slip to No. 24. That's why Steelers fans should root for him to run a 4.8 40 at the combine.

I've seen enough of Kuechly to not care about his timed speed. He's plenty fast and his great instincts help. To me he looks like the next Jack Lambert – smart, physical, can run, LOVES to play. Probably won't smoke Tareytons at halftime though.

Tyranid: I thought cutting Chris Kemoeatu accelerates cap deferrals? And is there a way they can sign Starks and extend Mike Wallace or do both need their walking papers? I'd also love to know about what the organization feels about Bruce Arians. And what happens with the secondary? Does the youth movement continue? Do you expect another DB in the first few rounds?

I feel like I'm looking at a curve, screwball and knuckler on the same pitch. I'm not sure what you mean by "cap deferrals." My numbers show Kemo's final-year bonus number of $777,000 coming due if his $3.6 million salary is cut. So that's a no-brainer.

I've talked about Starks. As for Wallace, as a restricted free agent (RFA) he gets an estimated $2.7 million first-round tender. The Steelers can match any offer but at draft time the RFA period ends and they have until September to negotiate a long-term contract that ideally would result in a lower cap number than $2.7 million. If he doesn't sign in August, he still plays in 2012, but can test the open market the following March.

How does the organization feel about Arians? Well, the organization is asking him to come back. He's overseen the development of Ben Roethlisberger, and if you think Roethlisberger's development is continuing to arc, you like the job Arians has done and you definitely bring him back because you're too scared to change gears at this critical point in Roethlisberger's career. Some of us, though, believe it's the last chance for a new coach to come in and gain control of an offense that's undisciplined, too imprecise, to finish drives consistently. It's my opinion that Roethlisberger needs his dad, not his uncle, behind him. But there's a risk in that he rebels. So, we sigh and welcome Uncle Bruce back.

As for the secondary, yes, the youth movement always continues at every position, but I don't expect a high draft pick there unless they're overwhelmed by value. Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis were key figures this season. And with Curtis Brown there's little room for projects. As for safeties, I'll save my opinion for the anticipated question.

By1297: How do you think this defense goes about stopping the run from here forward? I'm assuming Casey Hampton is a cap cut and Chris Hoke retires. You have said before that you think Hampton's position as a 2-down player is something that the Steelers don't value as much as they may have in previous regimes. Because of that, do you think they would wait to draft a spaceeater until later rounds, not bother to draft one at all and shift current guys to new positions, drafting a run-stuffing MLB high ... ? Just curious how you see their front-3 (and LB's) shaking out from here.

I've asked Kevin Colbert if NTs are a dying breed, or have lost value, and he resolutely says no. And, hey, look at all the power football being played in the final four. A hole in your interior would eliminate you next. Even New England still has Vince Wilfork.

On the other hand, I've talked to Tomlin about "spaceeaters" and he's no fan of playing someone just because they take up space. He comes off to me as a "fat-ist" as a coach (although I have no concrete proof). Anyway, his solution there bears watching.

As for Hampton's future, the team genuinely feels he has a couple of years left. Judging by the successful goal-line stands the Steelers repeatedly turn in, I would have to agree. The trick will be finding a way to pay the man. I just can't see them cutting him completely, particularly since he won't undergo knee surgery.

As for drafting a developmental NT, I don't see anything in the first round. Although don't close the door on DT Jerel Worthy. He deserves a place on draft odds boards in case Tomlin decides to add another 4-3 piece. If Bill Cowher was still coaching I'd predict Joel Steed-like Alabama NT Josh Chapman in the second round. But nothing's that easy with Tomlin.

IronMeNow: The technical aspects of clock, timeouts, end-of-half playcalls, does Tomlin have a plan to improve in this area? And does Mike understand why he has to talk about the blown coverage and that we are entitled to answers? It helps to heal. And when he said in his opening interview he believed in attrition football, what did he mean?

Many on the message board have been up in arms over Tomlin's clock management this season, but I haven't had a big problem with it. Most of it is on Roethlisberger anyway. He ticked off 25 seconds between plays near the end of regulation in Denver. I also know that coaches like to keep clocks ticking to keep certain defenses on the field, but that was a mistake. It's just something Ben has to continue working on.

As for Tomlin and the blown-coverage question, he answered it. He just wouldn't throw an individual under the bus. He said the last coverage was supposed to be an inverted cover two, but as you saw Ike Taylor didn't back off his man and Ryan Mundy came up way too soon. Ryan Clark might've picked that off. We'll never know.

As for your final question, all coaches say they want to win by attrition. Unfortunately the Steelers have lost some of their physical edge. I attribute that to consistently poor draft position. They're grabbing value when they can and then living with some of the deficiencies. True, the lack of a fullback is self-inflicted. But Arians was ahead of his time with the increased use of tight ends. It's just that he should have better tight ends FOR BEING AHEAD OF THE CURVE TO BEGIN WITH!!

Sorry about that.

FeCity: Are the young defensive linemen truly suitable replacements for the old lions, or are we just whistling past the graveyard?

Not sure that anyone will ever ably replace Aaron Smith, but I do think Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward are capable and will be DEs with whom the Steelers can win.

I heard an interesting bit on Heyward after I had mentioned to someone how PO'd Troy Polamalu appeared when Tim Tebow interrupted his prayer. The guy said that for all of Polamalu's grace, he has some real "nasty" on the field, and then he said, "Tomlin wants to see more of that in Heyward." And the guy said, "Heyward's been told all his life not to be like his dad. So, he isn't. But they'd like to see some of his dad on the field every once in a while."

Aaron's convinced the kid will be a player. His word is good enough for me.

VladDolan: The Replacements or Husker Du?

Ah, the new music scene. You know, I still think of Pearl Jam as a new band. That's how fast time has flown by me. But I have to plea ignorance on your question. We've been plagued by corporate music here in Pittsburgh since about 1979. I came upon WYEP a little late in life, so there was a patch through the late 80s and early 90s that I missed completely. When I finally heard Uncle Tupelo in about 2003, I was stunned … and enraged at those responsible.

But anyway, I tried to backtrack with a couple of Replacements records and, with the exception of "Alex Chilton" and a few songs on that one CD, I don't think I've played them much. I can't even find the CD to tell you the name of it. And Husker Du is a mystery to me, I think. Let me know if there's anything I need to backtrack on there.


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