Answer Man

Pittsburgh's most astute football expert startles the media by making a combine appearance.

Q: I just wrote a story about the interest the Steelers are showing tight ends up here. I think I convinced myself it could happen in the first round. Am I nuts?

AM: Well, the 22nd pick in the first round is supposed to be a Pro Bowl player. So, except for quarterback, running back and maybe wide receiver, where couldn't you use a Pro Bowl player on this team? Tight end, um, I would think that things would have to fall correctly in terms of them getting a tight end if there are not other comparable talents at other positions. But I don't think you can pass a Pro Bowl tight end to pick a guy who you hope can start at safety somewhere down the road -- just to pick a position that's perceived, certainly by the fans, as a need, defensive backfield. This team isn't that good. The Steelers aren't that good, because if you look and say, 'Yeah, we're set. We're set at running back.' And then Le'Veon Bell gets hurt. How set are you? You lose a playoff game. So they're not set. Guys who may have played every snap last year aren't guaranteed to start every snap this year. This team is not deep. Look at the offensive line. Pick a tackle 22nd?

Q: Do you think that's likely? Because I really like the first-round tackles?

AM: If you have a good one, one you really like there, sure. Maybe you move Kelvin Beachum to guard. I don't know. I think in the draft, in the first round, the 22nd pick is supposed to be a Pro Bowl guy sometime in his career, so you pick the great player and you figure out what you're going to do with him later. I don't think you can eliminate something because you think you're set there. As I said, I don't think this team is good enough to think that way.

Q: It's funny, because going into the Baltimore playoff game I thought they were a good team. But, you're right, when you break this down there are holes everywhere.

AM: What about the tackles in the Baltimore game? Are you happy with the offensive tackle play in the Baltimore game? I wasn't. They got pushed around, controlled. The Ravens controlled the line of scrimmage, their defense against the Steelers' offense. If you think we don't need offensive tackles go pop in that Ravens game and look at that for a while, what Dumervil was doing and Suggs pushing people around. And that's a team in your division. If it was, say, Denver you could say, 'Well, we only play the West every third year.' You've got to beat the Ravens twice to get out of there probably with a home game if you win the division. Otherwise you're a wild-card and have to win on the road. So, yeah, if they pick a tackle 22nd, that's OK with me.

Q: When I look at that Ravens tape, I think they've spent a lot of capital on asskicking defensive front-seven players and that the Steelers should get back to that. I think that's the fans' identity: kicking ass.

AM: Yeah.

Q: I'm sure you would agree they need defensive help.

AM: Cameron Heyward is an asskicker. Stephon Tuitt can become one now that he's old enough to drink, finally.

Q: (Laughs)

AM: But I don't know that Jarvis Jones is not. I don't know if Ryan Shazier is not. Certainly in terms of size those two guys are not as big as Suggs and Mosely, but James Harrison wasn't that big either and he kicked a lot of ass.

Q: Yep.

AM: But, yeah, you're right. Yes, you need to get back to ass-kicking. I don't think you get where you're going until you get back to that.

Q: They can't look for Jarvis Jones' replacement right now, can they?

AM: No. You've invested too much at this point and there isn't enough evidence to suggest he can't play yet. I mean, it's a guess. That dislocated wrist, I mean, Jarvis Jones has to continue to build his body. Even through a season he has to maintain his strength. He's not a big guy normally. So when he dislocated that wrist there was no more weightlifting. So he's eight weeks without doing that, and then you put him back on an NFL field, I don't think he was capable of defending himself because he had been out of action for that long. No, I can't say Jarvis Jones can't play yet. I can't say Shamarko Thomas can't play yet.

Q: Shamarko still has to be in their plans, doesn't he?

AM: Shamarko?

Q: Has there been a determination made by the staff?

AM: No. I expect him to be starting.

Q: Do you expect Troy Polamalu to retire?

AM: I hope so, because otherwise it's not going to end well. (Pause) It's not.

Q: What about the other three veterans: Harrison, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor?

AM: Let's start with Ike. He took a paycut -- he had to take a paycut -- last year. And the way the season ended, Ike wasn't even the fifth corner, based on who was getting helmets for the games and who was not. So I don't see that. I think that that is over. Troy, we talked about. Harrison, this is the thing with James: I don't think his body can go through the whole offseason, extra week of training camp this year, five preseason games, not that he's going to play. James was able to do what he did last year because he wasn't signed until the end of September. Do you know how much wear and tear on his body he was spared by that? So I don't think the Steelers want to be in that position again. They went to him because they had nothing else. I don't think that was ever a plan. If Jarvis Jones doesn't dislocate his wrist in Carolina, James Harrison is not on the Steelers last year. I think that one of the things we can kind of look at a little bit is the Dick LeBeau situation. People should really look at that as a turning of the page. Just keep that in your head. All these names, think about that: Turning of the page. It's time. It has to happen. This new group has to establish its own identity. You can't just keep going back, because what you're thinking of these guys is what they used to be.

Q: What can you tell me about the other free agents? What are the priorities?

AM: Ben Roethlisberger's not a free agent but that's a priority. It's time for that. Art said that right before last season began that this was the offseason for that, and in explaining it he said we have talked to Ben's representatives, we have talked to Ben, we have told him this. So, that to me is something that is a priority, even though he's not a free agent. Jason Worilds, I don't think he gets tagged. I think it's too much money. And this is just my own feeling: I think at some point with players who you want to become cornerstones/leaders, whatever word you want to use in terms of the current group, they have to show a little bit of 'I want to be part of this.' And if I've got to tag you every year to keep you around, you're not showing me that. Hey, I don't know what Jason Worilds' thoughts are or how he's viewing this, but last year was his fifth season, the first time in his NFL career he had a position to call his own, from the beginning. Mike Tomlin after the season alluded to how Jason came out of his shell, or however he described that. He was interacting with some of the younger guys. A lot of people aren't as outgoing as others. Jason wasn't that kind of guy, but he was coming out of it a little bit, feeling more comfortable. So, I don't know, but if I'm him I don't know if I want to start over, because if he stays with us that position is still his. His status in the locker room is what it was at the end of last year, and maybe on the rise. Go somewhere else, he's starting over. And, hey, it's not like we're going to pay him $850,00 and someone else is going to pay him $8 million. The numbers are probably going to be close. And he cashed a pretty big check last year. That's $10 million you know that you have. If he signs a four-year deal, say, I would imagine he would see the bonus and the first two years of salary and all the bonuses that are attached to that, so that's a fairly significant hunk of money. I don't tag him. And I want to keep Brice McCain. I want to keep Antwon Blake, but he's a restricted free agent and those guys don't move any more. Who else we got?

Q: There's Matt Spaeth.

AM: Spaeth, I want him, too. And, hey, I used to make fun of him. Tight ends from Minnesota? Come on.

Q: I just wrote a story about a tight end from Minnesota. You come on.

AM: (Chuckles) But then he left for the Bears and we didn't have anybody who could block on the line of scrimmage, because you want Heath Miller to be doing other things. And then the year before last, when he was hurt, and then he came back, boy we could run the ball all of the sudden. So, yeah, I want him. A lot of times, like Will Allen, William Gay, examples of guys who left and then came back, they say they like it here. A lot. Talk to Will Allen a little bit about his time in Dallas, or what it was like in Tampa. I don't know. Obviously I perceive this is special because this is where I am, but guys who've gone other places and come back perceive it as special, too. But I want Will Allen back. I want Spaeth back. And I don't think I'm paying these guys big money. Arthur Moats. I want Moats back. I think he's another guy who really enjoyed the year and how he was -- I won't say accepted because it makes him sound like he was difficult -- but how he quickly became a part of the family, so to speak. He could be a critical guy, in terms of being able to play either outside spot, core backup, plays teams, reliable, durable. You need guys like that on the roster.

Q: OK, just to bring this thing full circle, we agree this team has a lot of holes to fill, but I'm sure you feel this team's close, don't you?

AM: (Chuckles) I'll tell you what, when the quarterback plays like the quarterback plays, yeah, you're close. One of the things that Kevin Colbert said was, in terms of what are you looking for in the first round blah, blah, blah, he said something to the effect that -- I think we averaged 24 points a game last year -- he said, 'If we can pick a guy in the first round who helps us average 27 or 28 points a game, wouldn't you want to do that? What's wrong with that?' So, the perception of Pittsburgh Steelers fans is there's a certain specific brand of football that has to be played by this team. I will not argue that for generations that style has been successful, and I'm not saying that you want to abandon that. But I don't think it's necessary to recreate it specifically. I mean, you have to be tough, you have to kick some ass, you can't get pushed around. All of those things. You've got to be able to run the ball and do a lot of those things. But it doesn't have to be a defense-heavy outfit all the time like it used to be.

Q: Take what's given to you, right?

AM: This is one of Kevin's new favorites, he said Don Shula taught him this: If you've got red paint, paint the barn red. So, there we go.


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