Ask Wex (1/24)

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.

fellasheowed: We've heard all the talk, and competing and contradictory theories abound. Why did the Steelers' powers-that-be fire Bruce Arians, or not renew his contract, or ease him out the door?

Over the years we've chronicled the front office's side of the philosophical coin. Most in the front office prefer a possession-oriented offense that gives its frenetically styled defense more rest. And then before the 2010 season Art Rooney II said he wanted a better running game. And then this year he said he wanted more proficiency from a quarterback who's being hit too often. But this has always been a coach's organization. And so it was the loss of Mike Tomlin's support that spelled the end for Arians. That made it easy for the front office to not offer him another contract.

You may remember before the playoffs I quoted a front-office source who said if it were up to him, that if he were Tomlin, he'd spell it out very easily for Ben Roethlisberger: Be great or the gravy train (with your favorite OC) is over. That was just a sampling of front-office thinking. On a side note, the coach is probably relieved that he doesn't have to deal with all of the leaks to the many Arians apologists in the media.

MuleFunk: And to follow up on that question, did Tomlin allow Arians to hang himself since Arians was promised the OC job to begin with?

I'm really not sure how that alleged "promise" worked. You may have a better memory, but I remember a source telling me nothing of the sort took place. As for your question, no, I don't think Tomlin allowed Arians to "hang himself." In fact, I'm worrying right now that Tomlin has NO other assistant coaches in mind and that he needed Arians. Sad thought if true.

bjrieken: Does Hines Ward's chances of remaining with the team increase now that Arians is gone? Would James Farrior be considered to replace Keith Butler when Dick LeBeau retires? If both are available when Steelers pick, who fits Steelers better Luke Kuechly or Dont'a Hightower?

1.) Arians spoke highly of Ward last training camp (and remember that Ward suffered a high-ankle sprain in the middle of the season that he tried to play through), but conversely there was an unconfirmed rumor floating around that Arians had wanted to cut Ward prior to 2010. I didn't believe it, and doubt that it has any relevancy here. I think the front office wants the coaching staff to work something out for the iconic Ward this year. It'll come down to – and this holds for Casey Hampton and one of the buck backers – whether Ward accepts a reasonable pay cut.

2.) Before last year, I'd say, no, Farrior doesn't have the personality to be an assistant coach. He has a very laid-back personality and really doesn't need all of the work that goes into coaching. But then I watched Carnell Lake do his thing last season. They have very similar personalities. The difference between the two is that Farrior made so much more money in his career. It's hard for me to believe he would want to put in all those hours for the kind of pay coaches receive. The odds-on favorite to replace a Butler move would be Jerry Olsavsky.

3.) For starters, I think ILBs in a 3-4 can be found anywhere. I don't think there really is a prototype there. I think both Kuechly and Hightower would excel as a Steelers buck, particularly the instinctive Kuechly. Hightower seems a bit stiff for pass downs, but he showed in the national title game that he's effective (maybe even more so) as a 4-3 end on pass downs. In fact, he showed superior pass-rush ability. So, they're different, but I think each would find a way to fit.

Ironman63: If let go by the Ravens, as reported, would Cam Cameron be a good fit as the OC for the Steelers? And would the Ravens consider Arians as their OC if they cut loose Cameron?

Well, the Ravens ran the ball better, and with a fullback. Is that enough? Of course not. I really know little about Cameron. I believe it would be a risk to take in a failed OC over an in-house candidate, but then again Tomlin always speaks about going out of one's comfort range if one really want to meet his goals. But I just can't see him doing it with Cameron. That offense just wasn't very impressive.

Ironman63: If the Steelers do not bring back Hampton, would they consider bringing in a free-agent NT to bridge the gap until they find and develop their own guy? And are there any free-agent NTs available?

I think they are developing their own guy in Steve McLendon. He's a bit more of a 4-3 nose, but perhaps Tomlin will move in that direction. (That information – if he's smart – wouldn't leak out until after the draft.) I only bring that up for those insisting NT is the biggest need. Hell, it may not even be on the depth chart anymore. Not likely to break that way, but the possibility must be considered. As for the other possibility being floated, I will wretch if Ziggy Hood is moved to NT. That makes so very little sense to me.

As for free agents, Antonio Gray would definitely be too expensive and Sione Pouha would probably be too expensive. Aubrayo Franklin received little interest last year, and then signed a one-year deal with New Orleans. So perhaps that's your cheap sleeper. If Hampton doesn't accept my proposed offer to cut his salary to $1.5 million, that's the amount of money they could spend on the position in free agency.

SteelerBill13: Simple: What do they want? I understand letting B. A. go, but what is the type of offense they expect/want? I read folks waxing poetic about a return to "blue-collar" football but don't buy it entirely. I believe it stems from the line in Bronx Tale: "nothing worse than wasted talent."

Well, AR2 wants to run better and he wants more proficiency in his QB, perhaps one last chance to smooth out his fundamentals. Tomlin, surely, wants the same. My guess is something along the lines of the San Francisco 49ers-Stanford approach with a power team that will annihilate you if you're not up to it, but can throw it, too, if that's your defensive weakness. Maybe that type of power football (with good tight ends and fullbacks) is the new West Coast offense. The better term to sum all of that up is this: B-A-L-A-N-C-E.

MuleFunk: What are the attitudes and feelings of the Steelers' front office and coaches regarding the multitude of petty fouls on the Steelers and the lack of the same calls on opponents.

If I read Tomlin correctly it's that if he ignores it, the problem will go away. And I agree. They probably stew behind the scenes, but to "go to war" with NFL officials would not serve his purpose at all. Roethlisberger uses this credo as well.

So far, the problem has not gone away. Perhaps the league realized it overreached in the latest James Harrison suspension and that was the end of it. Perhaps.

novasteel: What kind of impact, if any, will the expected return of Dan Rooney have on the Steelers this offseason, the 2012 season and beyond? Are Dan's and Art's football philosophies pretty much the same, and can you provide any insight into the Steelers' upper management structure?

Dan will have the title Chairman Emeritus, which is kind of a figurehead title, and that seems a bit off-putting, but no one denies that he brings so much wisdom to any difficult decision that has to be made. AR2 has done a great job since taking the reins. I'm sure his dad sees it and intends to stay out of the way.

As for differences in philosophies, I'm sure they're similar. Dan probably has a more open mind; AR2 probably is more of a realist. Those are just observances from a reporter who's been close to them, but not nearly close enough to be confident in his judgments.


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