Answer Man

The wisest football man in Pittsburgh took some time to talk to publisher Jim Wexell about Mike Wallace, the draft, and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers.


Q: Before we get into draft talk, what are your thoughts on Mike Wallace? Do you see a trade? A holdout? Will he sign a long-term deal sometime this summer?

AM: We, the public, haven't heard anything from Mike Wallace specifically. We haven't heard anything about holding out. We haven't heard anything even from his agent. In any other year, Mike Wallace probably wouldn't be here for this part of the offseason program anyway. He lives down south. Right now this is Phase I. You're in there with the strength and conditioning coach. That's it. No footballs are allowed to be used. No helmets are allowed to be worn. There's no on-field activity at all. He's home working out, doing what he's doing. I don't even know if James Harrison's here right now. He's doing his thing. There are a lot of guys doing their offseason workout-maniac program right now. That's what they should be doing. Moving forward, I don't know. I'm not going to think the worst of him, Mike Wallace, and assume he's going to be a jerk and a holdout because he has never been a jerk. And, really, that doesn't serve him very well. The Steelers aren't a hold-hostage kind of franchise. Never been. I just don't see that there is anything to gain. If he wants to hit it big, in terms of a contract, you play for $2.7 million. That's the worst-case scenario, and $2.7 million is hardly minimum wage. Then you're unrestricted. Have a good year and write your own ticket. That's the system and God bless him. I still think the Steelers are sincere when they say they want to come to some sort of long-term agreement with him, but if it doesn't happen, $2.7 million and then being totally unrestricted in a year? I don't know. That doesn't sound like such a horrendous situation for a player to be in.

Q: He's smart enough to sign the tender instead of playing for $550,000, isn't he?

AM: Again, he's never impressed me as a guy who was stupid or a bad guy or hard-headed or selfish, any of that stuff. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Q: There's zero chance of him being traded before the draft, isn't there?

AM: I don't think the Steelers are interested in that. If a team was going to give a first-round pick for him they would've signed him to an offer sheet. That hasn't happened. And I don't know if I take a second-rounder for him. I want him to play next year. One year at $2.7 million, I think, isn't the optimum situation for either side but again it's not all that bad. I think that both sides can kind of gain from Mike Wallace having another Pro Bowl season in 2012.

Q: Do the Steelers have to consider the wide receiver position in this draft because of Wallace's situation?

AM: I would consider receiver. Let me say this: The last receiver the Steelers picked in the first round was Santonio. If you were sitting at 24 on Thursday, and Santonio Holmes without the baggage was there, I'd pick him. I'd pick him. Um, I just think you've got to pick great players first, so I think that Santonio would have been, could have been if he didn't have the problems that he has, so, yeah, I think you've got to consider receiver because as I said there's no guarantee that you have Mike Wallace beyond 2012. If he leaves, you're in a situation where you might need a No. 1 receiver. Maybe that's Antonio Brown. Maybe it's not. I don't know that yet, and I'm not saying that you look that far forward necessarily and use your first-round pick that way. I'm just saying that with the first pick I want the best player I can get. To me, with the exception of tight end and quarterback, there is not a position that I would not consider. Kevin Colbert always says first-round picks are Pro Bowl guys. If you add a Pro Bowl guy at any position to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012, I think it helps.

Q: So, you're taking Coby Fleener off the board. You don't think he can help the receiving situation?

AM: No. It remains to be seen what Todd Haley is specifically looking for, but he had a fullback in Arizona and a fullback in Kansas City, so I think you're fine with Heath Miller, Leonard Pope – who is to me an upgrade over Matt Spaeth – and I like Weslye Saunders. He got hit for that four-game suspension for the performance enhancers, but hopefully he's learned to run that stuff through the Steelers' training room in the future and he'll be fine. I think he's got some nice potential. I don't think you need more than three.

Q: So you're not cutting Saunders like others in the media have?

AM: I think that would be stupid.

Q: He wouldn't count on the roster during the suspension, right?

AM: That is correct. Nor do you have to pay him. Nor does he count on the cap.

Q: So there's no point in cutting him after camp or at camp?

AM: Not looking at what he was on the field last year. Again, looking at the suspension, he was trying to make himself better. He's not a destructive individual. We were talking about Santonio Holmes earlier. His suspension to me is not in the same category. I'm assuming we go to camp and he improves as a lot of second-year guys do, and I thought he showed enough last year to certainly be one of the best 53. We'll see, though. When we get to camp maybe he's not and then you make that call, but I'm not cutting him because he got suspended.

Q: OK, what position do you see them drafting in the first round?

AM: When you're looking at 24th and what's usually there at that time in the draft, a lot of the dynamic guys are gone. They just are. The butt-kicking offensive tackles, the difference-making pass-rushers, those kinds of people are going to get picked. You can still get a Pro Bowl-caliber player, but what's usually available in that area, by position, are inside linebackers, interior offensive linemen. You can maybe get the best guy at one of those positions 24th, so that's what I'm looking for. If you can get the best player at a position that's not tight end or quarterback, I'm pretty much interested. Over the course of the draft you have to do some things to help yourself at offensive line, at inside linebacker, at safety. I'd like to see some competition/upgrade there. But, again, as I said, I think it's foolish to rule anything out and say ‘I'm set there' and you pass somebody who could make your football team better.

What the Steelers don't do usually is anoint unproven people. I'm just using this as an example, but you probably figure Baron Batch can be a third-down guy and a versatile guy, but if you're put in a position during the draft where you have a chance to pick somebody who could be better, I don't think you say ‘We don't want him because we have this guy we saw the first two weeks of training camp and he looked like he had some potential.' I think you make mistakes building your roster that way. The draft is the Steelers' main way of roster building. Pick your board. As they used to say around here in the '70s, ‘Plan your work and work your plan.'

Q: OK, Dontari Poe was in the other day. Does a player like that create a buzz in the building?

AM: [Chuckles] I'll be honest with you, I didn't see him. I didn't. Hightower's been here, too. Stephen Hill the receiver has been here. The Steelers, the way they use their visits, there are some top first-round caliber kind of guys they bring in every year. I wouldn't say Poe is any more eye-opening than when they brought in Pouncey or any of those people.

Q: What's your opinion of Poe being drafted 24th?

AM: I'm hoping he's picked earlier. I don't know. I don't watch tape. The thing that makes me nervous is workout warriors, so to speak. I'm not saying this guy can't play. I don't know. I'm not a scout. I can't judge it. But I don't want a guy picked first because he ran good at the combine. I just don't. I don't care. God forbid, if he's running 40 yards on Sundays at Heinz Field, [stuff] isn't going right.

Q: Have you ever heard stories about what Joe Greene's college tape looked like?

AM: No, I haven't. And I don't know if Joe Greene ever ran 40 yards except when he was running down the sideline to congratulate Franco Harris after the Immaculate Reception. But, no, I don't even know anymore if a nose tackle has to have that fireplug kind of build. I don't know. That's what we have come to expect around here based on Casey Hampton, Joel Steed. They were pretty good. Both of them went to the Pro Bowl. But I don't know if Ziggy Hood's not a good nose tackle or I don't know if Steve McLendon isn't a good nose tackle. People a lot of times like what they know so you look for a guy who looks like Casey. I don't know that that's necessarily the way you do it.

Q: What are your thoughts on Hightower?

AM: It sounds good. I mean, it really sounds good. His size. I like SEC football. I watch it on TV and he was a guy you noticed. He's a guy Tomlin calls a run-and-hit linebacker. That's a good thing to have. You play at Alabama, a two-time team captain, they won a lot of games there, Nick Saban is a demanding coach, and obviously he was able to handle the things he was faced with at that level. If he's your best guy, pick him. I've got no problem at all. But if your best guy's a guard, pick him. Hightower I think is a guy who gets a lot of attention A.) for his ability and B.) for where he played. They were on TV a lot. If they picked him, I wouldn't argue with it until the guy showed me that he couldn't play at camp, if he did. So let me put it this way: He passes the eye test.

Q: They're bringing in quite a rich group of outside linebackers. Would you look to find James Harrison's replacement at this point?

AM: Remember what that defense was like last year without Woodley and Harrison? Or with only one of them healthy?

Q: Is this a sign they didn't like what they saw in Worilds?

AM: No, not necessarily. I just don't think they have enough. I don't. Harrison's age is starting to become something that you need to consider. And I don't know that three is enough because I don't know anything about Chris Carter yet. Looked good in some individual drills in Latrobe as a rookie. I don't know what that means. I just know what the defense looked like when you didn't have a healthy Harrison and Woodley. I didn't like the way it looked. I didn't think it was very effective, so, yeah, if you can pick a difference-maker there, go for it. I remember people complaining after the Steelers picked Woodley, ‘What are they doing picking linebackers first and second?' It didn't turn out to be such a bad pick. Nothing helps this defense, in my opinion, more than if you can add a guy who can get heat on the quarterback. It makes your defensive backs better, everything.

Q: Didn't they a 10-year low in sacks last year? Shouldn't that number be addressed as a matter of logic?

AM: I think a lot of it had to do with injuries. Woodley was playing great until the fourth quarter of the New England game. That hamstring injury, that was pretty much it. Harrison, I think we got to see a little bit more of himself as the season went on, but, hey, let's face it, they let him be held. They allow it. Um, it's not fair. I scream about it all the time. So as he ages and they continue to allow them to hook his neck, I don't know that James Harrison is a consistent double-digit sack guy moving forward. So you've got to find it from somewhere else. Maybe it's Timmons. I don't know. But you mentioned the number of sacks, it wasn't high enough and I think the defense suffered as a result.

Q: You have to have one offensive lineman in mind. Who do you like?

AM: I don't know. I kind of like the idea of drafting tackles because that's a more difficult position to play and then move them inside. But, hey, if Alan Faneca's there, pick him, put him at guard and you're done for 10 years. That's the other philosophy. I don't really know how to stack them, but if you can identify a guard who is the Maurkice Pouncey of the guards or something close to that, I'm all in favor because you've got to cut down on the abuse the quarterback takes. You've got to do that.

Q: What was your reaction to reading about Amini Silotalu? That he's another Chris Kemoeatu? And did you automatically say no way?

AM: [Chuckles] To borrow a Tomlin-ism, I wouldn't want to paint with such a wide brush. Just because he's Polynesian doesn't make him another Kemoeatu. But what you cannot have is a guard in his fifth or sixth year as a starter who continues to make mental mistakes. That's what I don't want. I don't believe that that is nationality-specific, those traits. That to me was a move that needed to be made. I'm pleased that it was. Not in the sense that I didn't like the guy or anything because Chris Kemoeatu has been a decent person from the first day he was here to the last day he was here. But as I said, mental mistakes from guys who've been here this long is just not winning football.

Q: What was your reaction to the schedule?

AM: The teams you're looking at now and think they're tough often aren't by the time you play them, or are maybe disabled to some degree when you play them. That also works in reverse. A team you think will stink ends up being pretty good, so what you think is an easy game in April turns into a tough one in November. It is what it is. The Steelers are going to be on prime time as many times as they can put you on because every time you're on you're setting records for the network. So they're going to want you on. The league wants what the networks want because that's the cash cow, so this is what it is. The schedule to me has long been taken out of the hands of the football people and placed into the hands of the accountants, so to speak. It's what the networks want, and the networks pay, and their money greases the wheels for the whole machine to operate. I'd like them all 1 o'clock on Sunday, but I'm a dinosaur.

Q: I sense a confidence from you about the team. Am I right?

AM: This team contends. The Steelers contend every year. Sometimes it's for championships; other times it's for the playoffs. There is an expectation here. As Mike Tomlin says, ‘the standard is the standard.' I don't see there being an inability by the Steelers to compete in their division.

I think there are no more dynasties. I don't think there are any more great teams, certainly not from one year to the next. A team may be great over a short span of a particular season, like the New York Giants last year. From December on they were a great team. But you don't dominate any more. It doesn't happen. And you've got a quarterback like Ben, you're in it. Bring 'em on [pauses] and let's see what happens.

Q: Were you going to say ‘as a great president once said?'

AM: No, I was going to say ‘as a famous ex-Steelers quarterback once said after they drafted Neil O'Donnell, bring 'em on.' That would be Bubby.

Q: So, George W. was quoting Bubby?

AM: Well, there you go.

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