Ask Wex (2/1)

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.

SteelMagnolias: In regard to Ben Roethlisberger's style of play, do you think it is one of the contributing factors to some of his injuries and the injuries to his offensive linemen?

I don't have any hard evidence to say that his injuries and those of his offensive linemen have anything to do with his style of play, but I do know he was hurt against Cleveland while scrambling and ignoring Rashard Mendenhall as a checkdown receiver.

I can say that Roethlisberger and the Steelers played much better with talented players at the key OL positions. Without Max Starks and Maurkice Pouncey in the starting lineup, the Steelers were 2-4 (counting the playoff game) and Ben had a passer rating of 74.6. With both Starks and Pouncey in the starting lineup, the Steelers were 9-1 and Ben had a 98.7 passer rating. Taken a step further, with Starks and Pouncey starting along with Doug Legursky instead of Chris Kemoeatu, the Steelers were 5-0 and Ben had a 104.5 passer rating. The O-line does matter and improving it should remain a point of emphasis.

Dam3391: What is needed to improve the red zone offense? A new offensive coordinator? Better scheme? Legitimate red-zone target (big WR or athletic TE)?

More talent on the O-line, as stated above. As for your points, no, I never liked the playcalling in the red zone under Bruce Arians so perhaps that will improve. I don't know that it had as much to do with scheme as it did the playcalling. And, yes, they could use another legitimate red-zone target aside from Heath Miller. Weslye Saunders needs to take a big step next season.

Thor1970: Whom do you believe will take a big step next year? Also, this team was beat up physically by the Ravens and the Texans. Is this still a physical team?

It's about time for Emmanuel Sanders to live up to the coaching staff's expectations. Yes, he has a great understanding of their offense at such a young age, but now it's time to stay healthy and make big plays on a consistent basis. The young defensive ends could make big progress at any time, and I also expect one of the rookie cornerbacks to step into a key role.

Are they a physical team? Well, let's look at the changes from the last championship team. On the offensive line, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey and David Johnson are certainly more physical than Darnell Stapleton, Justin Hartwig and Matt Spaeth, but at the skill positions Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Willie Parker get the edge over Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Rashard Mendenhall.

Defensively, Ziggy Hood, Lawrence Timmons and William Gay are a bit less physical than Aaron Smith, Larry Foote and Bryant McFadden. They're still in the ballpark, physically, to what they used to be, but not so with the Bill Cowher teams that relied on Jerome Bettis. I don't think anyone in today's league is that physical.

Steelerjunky: I read that Hines Ward said the Steelers' decision date for him is March 1st. What are some of the other decision deadlines regarding players?

If he said that he would know. Perhaps he assumed that was the start of the new fiscal year, as it has been in the past. The start of the new fiscal year is March 13. That's the start of free agency and also the date when the top 51 players on the roster have to be under the salary cap.

Jewelsongs: What impact, if any, did the new owners have on football operations?

They helped supply the money the Steelers used to put a Super Bowl competitor on the field each of the last few years, but other than that I don't think they impacted the decision-making process much, if at all. If they did, it's not something Art Rooney II would share with anyone.

Jenksinrke: As we all know, Mike Tomlin had zero confidence in Shaun Suisham. Will we target a new kicker early in the draft?

You're right. I think even I had more confidence in Suisham and I was against the contract extension from the start. I kind of doubt that now is the time to target a new kicker in the draft, unless they were knocked out with value. And I don't see kind of kicker out there.

Kentuckysteeler: What is our actual offensive philosophy? And why does it always seem like Ben and the WRs are just winging it?

Big chunks. And the longer Roethlisberger can improvise, the better the chance of that happening.

sgtrobo: 1. How bad are Snack's and Starks's injuries? They have had issues with their weight and conditioning in the past when they were healthy. How can they possibly show up to camp in shape if they're going to be on crutches for much of the next 4-5 months?

2. If Starks is going to be MIA at the beginning of next season, do the Steelers dare enter 2012 with the same OTs they entered 2011, i.e. Marcus Gilbert, Willie Colon, Jonathan Scott, and (later) Trai Essex? It was an absolute disaster in 2011.

3. It seems they were looking for Larry Foote to replace James Farrior, and from what I could tell they weren't as pleased with that as they thought they'd be. Would they consider relieving themselves of Foote and Farrior's $5+ million cap hit, and get a reasonably-priced free agent like Larry Grant or David Hawthorne? Or might they even consider going all in on guys like Stephen Tulloch or Curtis Lofton?

4. Is the NT of the future on the roster, or will we look to an early-round pick on one of the NT's coming out in the 2012 draft?

Since I had a couple of short answers today, I'll try to tackle all four of yours to finish today's session.

1. Both Hampton and Starks underwent surgery to repair ACLs recently, and that's about a 6 to 9-month rehabilitation. You should be worried about their weight with that much time away from conditioning. The Steelers have already decided to move Marcus Gilbert to left tackle, so there's no rush to re-sign Starks. Hampton's backup also fared well, and that, too, could give Hampton a chance to rehab properly. More will depend on Hampton's willingness to reduce his salary by March 13. That could answer whether they need to draft an interior defender with a high pick.

2. They may not be able to go into next month with the tackles you mentioned. Jonathan Scott could be a cap casualty to save the Steelers $2.2 million. A move like that would require a replacement in the draft and right now I'm looking at a guy like Cordy Glenn, who appears able to play four positions on the O-line. Even if they do keep Scott, Colon's injury problems can't make them feel real secure there, so look for them to draft a couple offensive linemen.

3. I don't see them bringing in any free agents, unless they're at rock-bottom prices. I do think it's time to begin developing a young playcaller at the buck position behind either Foote or Farrior, whichever one they keep.

4. Steve McLendon showed me a lot. He's still learning the position, and might never be the true nose tackle that Hampton is, but there are few of those. My advice is to just get the best possible value in the draft on an interior prospect, whether he's a true NT or not, and then scheme for the talent on hand.

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