There might only be a degree or two outside but this offseason doesn't feel as cold as the last. The Pittsburgh Steelers made genuine progress this past season and there's every reason for fans to be optimistic about 2015. So let's get to the mailbag:
MightyVeg: Apparently the Steelers are going to name Keith Butler defensive coordinator very soon. Is he likely to change the current philosophy in regard to more press coverage?
Dick LeBeau used plenty of press man with Ike Taylor when Ike was going through his best years. He even tried it again when Ike came back this year, but Ike wasn't the old Ike and got burned by A.J. Green. I believe we'll see some changes, but they've been mixing coverages per their personnel and using hybrid schemes as well as any other defense in the league. Reports are that Butler has a few ideas of his own and so does Mike Tomlin, but we'll see how those ideas mix with the talent at hand.
Steel Therapy: Have you gotten a feel over the years for what Butler's core philosophy is. All we really know at this point is that he has produced an amazing group of LB's over the years, and gives great interviews.
All I know is that he gives great interviews. If I were a former defensive player like Chris Hoke writing this column I would be willing and able to answer. Alas, I'm not.
Draftnut: Several years ago, the Steelers were interested in signing a punter (Andy Lee) to the point of making him an offer (which the 49ers matched). Could you see the Steelers being interested in someone like Brett Kern? Would Mike Munchak being a Steeler help in that regard? The Steelers also seem to be interested in an experienced veteran to back up Le'Veon Bell. Roy Helu was a pretty solid RB at Nebraska. Think the Steelers might be interested in a low-cost veteran like that?
Who's Brett Kern? A good punter? From Tennessee? I think you answered your own questions because yes they've done it in the past so why not if the price is right and the guy's physically fit? I liked Helu coming out but don't know where he is now nor his injury history. Dale Lolley is a fantasy football expert who follows players for other teams more closely than I, and he'll have his lowdown for us soon enough.
I think they have a better clue than those of us on the outside. LeBeau believes Jones will turn it on and become "a very good player," so that's enough to give me hope. I think we all saw that Shazier is a baller when healthy.
Ericksen72: If the team concludes Cortez Allen is in fact not fast enough to play outside CB, what are your thoughts re: repurposing him? Given his ball skills, and what I remember of him shutting down the Pats' TEs a few years back, it seems like we ought to be able to find a way to use the guy, as a slot corner, or possibly one of the safety spots.
Are those couple of plays against Rob Gronkowski in 2011 enough to make you want to give him a $3 million roster bonus this March? I don't know. He's looked pretty slow and weak the last couple of seasons. Those attributes don't bode well for either the slot or safety. I'm sure Tomlin, being a former DBs coach, is better suited to make that call than I, so I'll just wait to see if they pay the man on March 10.
Ericksen 72, Part II: Based on what you know at this early stage in the process, do you like CB, T or TE best for the first-round pick?
I like all three positions, CB for need, OT for value, and Maxx Williams as a TE because he looks like a perfect fit and would follow in the pattern started by former first-round picks Mark Bruener (1995) and Heath Miller (2005). But Mad Maxx might be a luxury at this point because I feel the Steelers can win with the TEs currently on the roster. Tackles and cornerbacks are so hard to come by. Perhaps the Steelers' own grading system at these two positions has been too rigid compared to the rest of the league. They just don't seem to value particular traits at those positions as much as other teams and end up getting shut out entirely. I think this year there will be a few quality OTs available to them just by the sheer number of the crop. As for CB, it's not such a hot crop. I do like Alex Carter but he's being called a low first, early second-round player. I don't know. Looks like the real deal to me.
Danimal: IIRC, during the 2013 season you mentioned that the coaches were continually surprised at what Kelvin Beachum could do. It was noted by those who look through the Steelers' draft-day photos that the Steelers did have some OTs at the top of their first-round draft list last spring. With the way Beachum performed this year under the tutelage of Munchak and the way Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams progressed, do you really see much of a possibility of an OT to be the first-round selection, particularly with the needs on D?
Adams progressed? I don't know. I root for the guy, and I'm certainly no expert so maybe he did. And if so, he's still only the third and last tackle on the roster. There's a legitimate roster hole and I would have no problem if they filled it with value. But, no, I don't believe the Steelers will go in that direction, even though I might.
Mule Funk: Same BPA gave us Mike Adams. But OK Wex, what can David DeCastro do to prevent getting bull-rushed by DTs. Is it technique or is it a physical limitation?
Adams? The guy who's the only backup tackle before having to move Maurkice Pouncey outside? That was just going BPA instead of need? I have to disagree. And it was at the bottom of the second round. We're talking about drafting a legitimate battleship in the first round and making him the cornerstone of the future. And for as well as Beachum has played, he's not a move-em-out guy on a team that could've used one or two in the red zone. Speaking of which, DeCastro is a legitimate talent who as you say can get bull-rushed. That's another reason they need bigger and stronger people alongside him. As for DeCastro's future, I believe he's been well-coached and has solid technique.
BJRieken: What are the chances the Steelers draft CB Marcus Peters if he is available at 22? Sounds like he is a fierce competitor who went overboard with his coaches. I would think Tomlin would be as good as any coach to be able to control him. I hear the CB position requires a different mentality and maybe this guy has it. Are there reports of drug use or off-the-field assault accusations with this guy?
All I've read on Peters is that he seems to have trouble being coached. That was the knock on James Harrison (along with lacking size and speed) when he was cut three times in his early years. As I've written elsewhere, Tomlin should investigate Peters because he looks like a perfect match for what the Steelers value in a cornerback. He would give them that press-man CB they've been lacking. And you're right, Tomlin would seem to be as good a coach as any to reign him in, but Tomlin thought the same about LeGarrette Blount and that decision will probably end up costing Tomlin the use of Bell for a game or two next season.
Jewelsongs: Wex, is Troy Polamalu the greatest Steelers player in the years you have been covering the team? I know Mean Joe is the greatest ever!
Troy has been my favorite but the greatest Steelers player I've ever covered would have to be Rod Woodson.
Steelclan: Given the cap, I assume the Steelers will have more cap room than they've had in a while. Will they go after a higher profile FA this offseason? A Pernell McPhee type perhaps?
We can hope. And they have in the past. But even when they signed a young Jeff Hartings (who became their second-highest paid player), he was a guard, and we know that position isn't valued that highly by the league, or nearly as highly as a pass-rusher such as McPhee. James Farrior was another hit, but no one realized at the time that he was just mis-fit into the Jets' scheme. Even the Steelers weren't that hot after Farrior. He worked out masterfully though. So my answer is that yes they would do it, but the positions they need won't allow that player to come cheaply enough.
Barlow Knows: I know you have mentioned that you don't care to speculate on free agents until we get closer to the start of the new league year, but if you could humor us with some possibilities, particularly at CB (maybe a guy named Maxwell??) I'm sure it would make great fodder for discussion.
The problem with guessing is that I have no idea what players have been doing and how mangled they are since they've left college. I don't follow these guys as closely as those of you who play fantasy football or stay home to watch the games and switch channels while I'm either writing or talking to players in the locker room. That said, I have no CBs in mind and don't even know for which team Maxwell plays. I'm going to guess Seattle. That's all I can tell you about him. Sorry.