Ask Wex (1/29)

Here we are again, answering questions about the offseason instead of the Super Bowl. I don't expect customers to be tossing me softballs about the Pittsburgh Steelers, but I'll try to hit some sharp singles anyway.

SgtRobo: Why do the Steelers seem hell-bent on getting rid of Max Starks while continually paying Willie Colon to commit penalty after penalty, look very pedestrian in the running game, and end up on the IR on an annual basis?

I think both, particularly as tackles, have been viewed as liabilities in the Steelers' run game. Colon was moved to guard in an attempt to uproot some of the massive tackles in the division while improving their athleticism at right tackle. Starks can't get out to the second level, either, but he has grown into a plus as a blind-side pass protector. But, it would appear both are on their way out. I don't know that Ramon Foster will get to the second level any better than Colon as the left guard, and I don't know that Marcus Gilbert will protect the blind-side any better than Starks. But time marches on in an attempt to finally fix the running game.

Mineola: Any new projects in the works? Still hoping for a book on Troy.

Yes, I'm excited about a new project but I don't know the full details and am in no position to pass along what I do know. As for the Troy Polamalu biography, he has maintained his stance that he won't help with a book, and I'm beginning to understand that it all has to do with his humility. He's also made it clear that he won't hinder it. So the dream is that both projects come together and form an exciting career arc.

Steelmann58: Jim, what free agent are the Steelers going to be try to keep and who will they let walk?

I think it's best to remain grounded in reality at this point and figure that Foster is the most important because he's the most available and would provide a needed band-aid at a position that shouldn't be too hard to improve upon in the future. I also wouldn't be too surprised to see Casey Hampton come back for minimum wage. Keenan Lewis would like to come back, but is he affordable, even at the modest price he has in mind? I'm not sure, particularly since Cortez Allen is such a good backup there. Mike Wallace seems to want to test the big-money market, and that doesn't bode well for him staying here. I also think they want to see what Stevenson Sylvester offers at ILB, while keeping Larry Foote as a late-August/early-September option.

Steel Magnolias: What type of leader is Ben? Is his style of leadership effective?

I think I get this question about Ben Roethlisberger every year. And, really, I wouldn't know the complete answer unless I was a player or coach in the huddle or in the room with him. Leadership is a funny subject. You can only be who you are, and Ben is a tough guy who's charismatic and effective – of course, more than effective – as a player. I don't what else to say, other than the most important thing is for him to just be himself. Role players can come in and affect the chemistry in a positive way, so it's about how it all comes together. My only advice to Ben, as I've written before, is to keep some of his thoughts about others (like Todd Haley) out of the media.

Hodge33: You're the GM. Who are you taking in the first three rounds?

I'm going to stick with this mock until I get another brainstorm: 1. Trade down for a skill player (Quinton Patton, DeAndre Hopkins, Eddie Lacy); 2. Developmental defensive player (Corey Lemonier, Jonathan Cyprien, Matt Elam); 3. The other skill position (Joseph Randle, Mike Gillislee, Chris Harper, Ryan Swope); 3B. The other defensive developmental player (Cornellius Carradine, D.J. Swearinger). Of course, after I talk to these guys at the combine my opinions are bound to change. I still remember going from liking Russell Wilson before the last combine to raving about him afterward.

NebbSteeler: The run game has not been the same since the great Dick Hoak retired as RB coach. I remember a story you told a while ago. It was about being in the meeting room and Hoak correcting the offensive coordinator's play by saying, "We can't block that." And the play would be scrapped. It seems like over the years it's become a mish-mash of different run plays that haven't felt "right." To me it seems like the offense has missed the guy on the staff who has the eye for the details in the run game. Where do you see this run game as a whole – staff, RBs, system – going?

Well, thank you for believing I could actually answer that question. I'm not smart enough with the X's and O's to properly address it, but I will say that Hoak's departure coincided with the rebuilding of an offensive line that appears to be on the verge of completion. I trust RB coach Kirby Wilson, and still trust the offensive coordinator. Now it's time to see what the young offensive line and some new running backs can do.

Mule Funk: Who is Todd Haley going to be more like, Joe Walton or Kevin Gilbride? Will his offense work with a Roethlisberger or do the Steelers get rid of Ben?

Wow, that's a double negative. I don't think Haley is trying to implement an offense no one can understand, a la Walton. Nor do I believe he's trying to make himself look like a pass-game genius, a la Gilbride. And, yes, I believe the offense – with a line and a running back – will work with a top-flight dropback passer such as Roethlisberger. The latter just has to believe.

Dam3391: Jim, is there any way that we don't see significant roster turnover this year given the aging veterans and the cap situation?

I realize this question's been in the queue for a while, and that Kevin Colbert has warned us that veterans will be jettisoned. But I really don't see a massive makeover. I think the front office – in spite of their understandable comments about blowing up an 8-8 team – still believes this group can win a championship. Much will depend on the new offensive line, in my opinion.


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