Ask Wex (1/19)

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.

Blitz36: Who does the organization see as a James Farrior replacement. Sly? Also, Isaac Redman looked great at running back. Is there a thought of letting Rashard Mendenhall walk now?

Stevenson Sylvester hasn't been taught the buck linebacker position yet. I don't know if that means he can't or he won't be able to replace Farrior, but I have my doubts right now. I do know that Mike Tomlin wants to see more from Sylvester next season, and then perhaps we'll all know more, but at this point he's not been deemed the successor.

As for Mendenhall, I see no reason to let him go. He'll only make $650,000 this season, so he's a bargain. I do think Redman's earned more carries, but it doesn't matter to me how they're divvied up with Mendenhall because Mendenhall brings more speed into the game; Redman more toughness.

Steelmann58: First, what veterans do you see leaving? And, two, do you think the Steelers will put a first or second-round tender on Mike Wallace or Keenan Lewis? Third, do you see any coaching changes, especially with Kirby Wilson's current status?

1. The same veterans as I've been pointing to since November: Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke and Chris Kemoeatu. The Steelers will probably pare one of their two veteran buck backers as well. The rest will depend on who's amenable to contract reduction.

2. Wallace will receive a first-round tender, and even that may not be enough. A quick-striking team with an offer that's front-loaded would be difficult to match by a Steelers team with a bloated salary cap. The first-and-third tender would be the ideal in this case, but that's been eliminated with the new CBA. As for Lewis, he'll probably get the second-round tender.

3. As I reported last week, Kirby has months of painful rehabilitation in front of him, so it's quite possible he will be replaced, or at least assisted. Who that level-entry person might be is impossible for me to know.

SteelMagnolias: Is it possible for James Harrison to be as effective as he can be and was in today's NFL?

Let me first say that I hope Harrison's hit on Eric Decker's knee was not intentional. My guess is that the officials in the Denver game thought it was and that's why he was penalized a few plays later for that weak hit on the quarterback and that's why no one cared that he was blatantly held the rest of the game. And I have to tell you, I can't blame the officials for that. All of this squawking about hitting a player in the knees instead of the head appeared to have become a reality in Decker's case. Let's hope that either Harrison did not do that intentionally or that he was scared that he did wreck someone's career and got it out of his system. Thankfully, Decker is OK.

Harrison just has to keep his mouth shut and play hard – things he did rather well throughout the first half of his career. Hopefully there's enough time left in his career to turn around the perception of him as a dirty player – one that I don't believe, but one that NFL officials just might.

StuckInVa: Any word on how they feel about Sylvester's chances of being a starter? Or is he just depth and special teams? Also, is Steve McLendon a depth player or can he be a full-time starter? And do you feel that with a good offseason Weslye Saunders can be a legit receiving threat as the second TE?

Tomlin has made no indication that he believes Sylvester will be a starter any time soon. In fact, he singled him and Chris Carter out before the bye – as examples in a speech – that if they get in trouble they should not even try to return. He then pointed to another young player who was playing and said he wouldn't be cut, like the others, but would be inactive the rest of the season. It told me that Sylvester hasn't achieved anything yet. Let's wait for his third season to make a more sound judgment. Right now I think McLendon is a rotational player, but I like his potential to become a starter. His teammates rave about his raw strength and work ethic in the weight room. He's another about whom we have to wait and see. And, yes, Saunders needs a strong offseason and can become a receiving threat. He needs to improve and he needs to prove he can deal with success. He needs to prove his knucklehead days are behind him.

Jenksinrke: The interior of the O-line needs significant upgrading. Do we target a free-agent guard and also draft a guard in Rounds 1 or 2? Or do we suck it up with Ramon Foster on the right side and draft a stud in Round 1? I'm assuming that Chris Kemoeatu gets flushed (good riddance) and that Doug Legursky returns to the ever-important top interior reserve.

I'm sure you've read my previous opinions here, but I'll repeat that a free-agent acquisition at any position is highly unlikely, particularly at guard where the draft crop is strong. I'm happy with Foster on the right side, and I know that Ben Roethlisberger is too. Kemoeatu will likely get the axe before March 13. Legursky will be the starter at left guard, even ahead of a first-round pick. From there, the battle is on. Legursky doesn't seem very sturdy, though, so yes perhaps his lot in life is as an interior backup.

sanluisobispo: As fans, we all have ideas about how the various members of the OL and the DL performed. I'd be interested in what the coaches think.

I release that information as I learn it and I don't give up the source. Sometimes it happens in the spring; most times at training camp. If I were to formally interview one of those coaches, they would give everything but their true feelings about their players.

Also, along those lines, my gut tells me John Mitchell is the "senior" coach, referenced by Art Rooney, who's contemplating retirement. But the Post-Gazette seems to believe it's Bruce Arians. They could be right, but I never thought of Arians as a "senior" coach.

dpahoops: 1. Which young players from the last few drafts impress you? We drafted a lot of guys the last few years with very few starting positions available. Which ones will step up and replace our aging vets?

2. Do we have any young coaches on our staff who impress you? Ray Horton did a tremendous job in AZ and was being mentioned as a head-coaching candidate for the Rams. Do we have any candidates on the offensive staff that would keep the "consistency" and also improve the team's production?

1. Marcus Gilbert obviously surprised me. I didn't like the pick when it was made, but he's played well at right tackle. Jason Worilds has shown flashes, and I feel he'll become a Jason Gildon/Clark Haggans-type of starter some day, but there are no openings now. He'll need another injury. You know how I feel about the young cornerbacks, Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown. We all know about those two and their potential. Many others have shown flashes, but nothing deeply convincing.

2. As for young coaches, that really is hard to gauge. I remember when I reported that TE coach Ken Whisenhunt was the OC-in-waiting a long time ago, and the last couple of years I've been told that Randy Fichtner is the top internal OC candidate. I worry about Fichtner's youth and inexperience in a way I never did in former player Whisenhunt. However, Fichtner father is a revered coach and I know that's help provide Fichtner with broad respect among his peers. He was a popular choice to return to Memphis (former OC whose spread offense from 2001-06 smashed school records) as the head coach. And perhaps the fact that Fichtner wasn't hired for the job in December, a job he said he wanted, is part of the reason Arians is reportedly not coming back. Perhaps a deal was made with Tomlin then.

Mineola: There have been a few posts claiming James Harrison showed a noticeable decline this year. I don't buy it. How much do you feel LaMarr Woodley's absence lessened his impact and how long before he has his full strength back given the lengthy recovery from back surgery?

I think Woodley's absence played a partial role, but that's just more sportswriter cliché than anything. As I wrote earlier, Harrison's uncharacteristically flabby body late in the season told me he really couldn't workout to his standards. I blame injuries and feel he'll be back to his old self next season. How long that will last at 34 years old is hard to predict, but Worilds isn't ready to take his place as an elite pass-rusher at this point. Harrison is set to make $5.32 million this season in salary. I can't find any roster bonuses in my research, so by my calculation the Steelers would save only about $1.5 million by cutting him.


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