Here's a follow-up to Part I in the final days before we begin our draft coverage:
SteelByDesign: I've heard a lot about drafting DeAngelo Williams' replacement. Do you think that will happen? Why should the Steelers spend a mid-round pick at a position that sits so much? I know we need a good backup but solid RBs seem to grow on trees now in free agency. Going the LeGarrette Blount/DeAngelo route has worked out fine for them. A guy like Eddie Lacy, Rex Burkhead, Jacquizz Rodgers or Rashad Jennings could fill the hole immediately and cheaply. That also buys a year or two to see what you have in Karlos Williams.
JW: You make a lot of sense, but I will add that part of the reason Le'Veon Bell has played so much is that Williams has been hurt so often and the No. 3 RB hasn't been, well, very good. I agree with you that an RB in free agency could be found cheaply, but, with this draft is so rich at the position, they could find one in the middle rounds and groom him they way they want and as their own. I mentioned Christian McCaffrey the other day because I believe he's the special type of player who can help win Super Bowls. Also, I believe Karlos Williams can be that quality backup, but again he's a question mark because of his problematic past. One would hope that being with older brother Vince, and being down to what's realistically his last chance, would cause Karlos to pull himself together. But in the meantime, they need another as a No. 3 anyway. The Karlos Williams question mark means that No. 3 has to be better than their usual No. 3.
Heinzsight: What's the statute of limitations on all those things you see during the week but can't report? If it's OK after the season, even if they're no longer fresh, what are a few things you kept a lid on during the season?
JW: I can't think of anything off the top of my head. Whenever something comes up that kicks my brain into action, I'll write about it, as long as it doesn't hurt the team from a competitive standpoint. The protocol of not writing what we see in practice has been reasonable. By that I mean this: When I think of something that might be a problem to the PR staff after the season, I ask myself if what I write can hurt the team competitively. I value the privilege of being able to watch practice, and so I make sure that what I write -- humorous anecdotes, judgment of ability, insight that will help reveal the depth chart -- doesn't cross that line.
Heinzsight: Dime and moneybacker go hand in hand, as most teams including the Steelers play dime with a third safety in the box. And each year under Keith Butler it initially looks like something he strongly wants to install, only to scrap it early into the season. They brought it back late in 2015 and the Steelers seemed keenly interested in moneybacker types last draft, then kinda gave up on it again early 2016. Will they be once again looking for that missing piece to finally install it? Or have they just given up on it?
JW: I look at Jeremy Cash and wonder just how keen the Steelers actually were in acquiring a "moneybacker" or "$LB," as Deone Bucannon is listed in NFL gamebooks. We all thought they were interested in that position by the attention they paid to Cash prior to last year's draft, but then they allowed him to go undrafted. Cash did make the Carolina Panthers as a 4-3 outside backer and is supposedly being groomed to become the next Bucannon and/or Mark Barron. I'm not sure I'm at your level of belief in their approach, because I felt two years ago the Steelers used their 3-safety look because of injuries, or because Lawrence Timmons was playing hurt. Perhaps my memory is off there, but I never felt it was a direction Butler was taking them. Again, I could be wrong. With Ryan Shazier, I don't know how light they want to get inside, so it's never been something I've investigated with any gusto. Yes, I feel they need a three-safety dime for long-yardage third downs, but I don't see it as a priority.
KentuckySteeler: Did the players feel the game plan wasn't right for New England or did it just appear that way from a frustrated fan perspective?
JW: I didn't sense any frustration about the game plan in the locker room after the game, not even from Ben Roethlisberger. I just sensed disappointment. I thought the player who was taking it most personally was Stephon Tuitt, possibly because much was expected from the interior rush. And that's just an opinion, that perhaps the coaches put a lot of the game plan on his back -- and that of their fire-Xing ILBs -- because they were planning on dropping their OLBs. But I didn't hear any grumbling, or even sense it. They know they killed themselves by not scoring points when it mattered and making poor decisions on defense.
Steelmann58: Jim, since this year is a bad year to look at QBs in the draft, are they better off waiting until 2018?
JW: I really don't think this is that bad of a year. I think it's about the same as last year. If teams want to let Mitch Trubisky slide because he started only one year and doesn't measure 6 feet 2, fine, I'll take him. If Deshaun Watson slips because of inconsistency, I would be willing to take a closer look at him (and because I believe he is Kevin Colbert's type of national championship QB, see: Tee Martin, only better). If DeShone Kizer looks to be a poor man's Cam Newton and slides to the bottom of the first round because he'll need a few more years, I'm willing to trust the Steelers scouts for their opinion on him. Patrick Mahomes has the rifle and the release, but might fall because, well, sometimes he just stunk. Again, I would be willing to trust the scouts. This very well could be the year. Next year I don't expect them to be drafting any higher, and the obvious franchise QBs will be drafted by then anyway.
Steelmann58: So Mike Tomlin decided to make no coaching changes. Is Mike satisfied with the job they did, especially against the Pats?
JW: I don't see one game erasing what they accomplished last season. As I've written several times, that was a bad day, a bad plan, and poorly played. They would have to fire the entire team if they're looking to place blame for one game. I thought the team, all the way around, had a great year and I expect to see them picking up from where they left off, with some tweaks here and there. This time, be the healthy team, with a bye, at home, and not having to play the AFCCG on six days. Be the rested team playing on eight days. Changing an assistant of an assistant isn't going to affect any of that. That's more about throwing someone under the bus for appearance's sake, and I've always respected Tomlin for not making that type of maneuver.
Calisteel: Love Heinz's statute of limitations question! Here's an additional one: What's the biggest issue holding back the offense from reaching its potential? Is it inconsistent surrounding weapons beyond the three Bs (perhaps soon to be four again this next season)? Or is it the playcalling of our OC? Or him trying to make something of Ben that he is not? Or is it Ben? Or is it simply mostly attributable to bad luck/untimely circumstances?
JW: Well, I wrote a story for Pro Football Weekly the week of the AFCGG saying that the Steelers MUST find another WR somehow, some way to avoid what I thought were the longest odds they've ever faced in a playoff game. I've written plenty of those stories questioning how this team could win without secondary or tertiary weapons, and that it would all blow up on them when they met true quality. So, if you had been reading my stuff, you know where I stood, and where I stand. Not that I'm placing the blame on guys like Eli Rogers, Jesse James and Cobi Hamilton. They came from out of nowhere and developed at breakneck paces. Those players and the team will be the better for this experience in years to come. But, that offense at that time needed a veteran threat opposite Antonio Brown in the worst way. That all came to a realization in New England, where Sammie Coates didn't extend his arms for one touchdown, Hamilton dropped another touchdown and Rogers fumbled to give the Patriots a touchdown. Bell's injury crippled their chances further and not scoring at the goal line cost them another four points. This, after a nine-game win streak, so you tell me what's wrong with the offense. Let the rest of the media -- who've been railing at Todd Haley ever since they surmised he was hired because his dad used to work for the Steelers -- find some other nonsense other than what's so obvious, at least to me.
Heinzsight: What has changed in the way the Steelers attribute QB pressures? Very stark difference in totals between when Dick LeBeau was here and now under Butler. Different guy doing the grading? And who? Or new/different criteria? Something has dramatically changed, and it isn't talent.
JW: Well, let's look back at the last five years. In 2012, the leader of 148 team pressures was Brett Keisel with 40. In 2013, Cam Heyward (31), Jason Worilds (27) and Keisel (26) led a team credited with 151 total pressures. In 2014, Heyward had 21 and Worilds had 18 of a team total 103 pressures. In 2015, James Harrison and Heyward led with 13 pressures each for a team with 84 total pressures. And last season, Tuitt led the 92 team pressures with 14. The numbers from 2012-13 were slashed by 41 percent in 2015-16. Butler replaced LeBeau on Jan. 13, 2014, so perhaps those 2014 numbers were a combination of LeBeau keeping track during the season and Butler reigning in those totals in post-season film review. I can't explain the hows, but I think you're spot on with your assessment of the whos.
FlpDzl: Realistically, what positions/players, if you know them, can we expect to come in or at least be addressed through free agency?
JW: I believe they want to bring in a mid-tier defensive lineman in free agency. Running back could be another position, although I would lean to the draft to fill that spot. I would doubt they want to pay the price that comes with a free-agent cornerback, although that seems to be the conjecture lately from the local media. I just think CBs cost way too much, and why go there with such a deep draft crop? It's also a deep draft crop of edge rushers, but if they want to keep their options open in case a QB drops in the first round, they may want to pay the big price for someone such as Melvin Ingram in free agency. The combination of the charismatic coach and a potential ring as recruiting tools could keep that massive price down and in their pay-scale range.
StillerFreak: Perhaps an interview with last year's fourth-round pick Jerald Hawkins, offensive lineman, LSU?
JW: Definitely a good idea for the spring. Not only is Hawkins a point of interest, after having sat out his rookie year with a shoulder injury, but he's interesting and insightful.
CJJonesz: Once this might have been an obvious answer but now that Ben's perceived window may be narrower than we thought, and Tom Brady's longer, who do you think retires first? Ben or Brady?
JW: Ben turns 35 in a few days (March 2) and I've seen no drop off in him physically, other than he's not as fast as he used to be. Brady will turn 40 in August and I detected a fall-off in arm strength last season, particularly in the first half of the Super Bowl. So, by a wide margin, I expect Brady to retire first.
ElHombredeAcero: Ditto on the statute of limitations question. Also I'm curious to know if you ever got push back from the Burt Lautens of the world on stuff you've posted behind the paywall. On a semi-related topic, what is your take on Ben Roethlisberger-Ron Cook Antonio Brown-Dale Lolley exchange that we saw immediately after the season? Is there real tension between the two?
JW: Nice, a couple of media questions to finish off this round. As for the first one, I've never received any criticism whatsoever from Mr. Lauten and/or his PR staff on anything I've written behind the paywall. While I believe I satisfy customers with fresh insider information, I never feel I can "push an envelope" because I'm behind a paywall. I always assume they have someone reading, just as I assume other teams have someone reading in search of info they can use as an advantage. As for the second question, I can assume you are referring to tension between Ben and AB instead of tension between Cook and Lolley. The latter having a public blowout would amuse us all, I'm sure. As for the tension between the two players, I'll frame it this way and hope that no one accuses me of sexism:
I've paid more attention to women's sports over the last decade because of my 17-year-old daughter, and, yes, I believe women's teams can perform without drama if they have a special leader or two. Not every women's team has them, so a lot of those teams are indeed "fraught with drama." Well, that's how I view the local media, feminine in that way and "fraught with drama." Some of these guys remember quotes and small incidents far longer than the players, and their questions are often just full of, for lack of a better word, crap. These guys can hang onto this stuff as they write their offseason stories and conjure up all types of perceived inner turmoil. But Ben and AB will wonder what the heck those guys are talking about after their next touchdown. Anyone who's coached both boys and girls teams knows exactly what I'm talking about. And again, it's not that way with every girls team, but it is with many of them. Just like it's not that way with all male reporters, but, sheesh, some of these guys need to give it a break already and take some of this stuff a lot less seriously than the players do.