Ask Wexell

Enough time has been wasted, so let's get right to our newest gig – that's not fashioned after the outstanding "Ask Vic" series in Jacksonville. No, this one's much different. It's called "Ask Wexell."

Tyranid: Can the Steelers fix their offense and supplement the defensive depth in this draft alone?

I don't think any team can fix all of their problems with one draft. We focus so much on the team in front of us that we don't realize all teams have several problems. The Steelers can do a bit of both. I wrote of my desire to drafting OLmen -- Bryan Bulaga and Maurkice Pouncey – one and two, and the leaders of the mobs that actually watched the games this season and saw the defense, they called the story dumb. Well, OK. But I'm looking at value, and those two are not only true building blocks, they would help right away. I'd even take Trent Williams and Matt Tennant at those spots instead of reaching for a CB like Patrick Robinson and taking a linebacker in the second. While I appreciate an ILB such as Darryl Washington, I'd prefer a Matt Tennant because it's time for Timmons to step up and be that 3-down ILB. Brandon Spikes first? OK, since I can find a way for him to play three downs, but is he a better building block than Bulaga or Williams? I don't think so. I'd have to rank Spikes a notch or two below them, particularly Bulaga.

Tyranid: You've talked to Casey Hampton. What are the chances of franchising him and maybe drafting a later-round prospect this year? Can you risk starting Chris Hoke this year with a mid-round prospect behind him?

Not franchising Hampton is something to which he says the Steelers have agreed. I can understand why he's against it, since it would cripple his chance for one last grand deal in his career. And if the Steelers did in fact agree, then it will become so because the Rooneys abide by their promises. Now, that may help Hampton's emotional state as he negotiates a multi-year contract, but it may not help the Steelers, who really have to think long and hard about giving the 33-year-old anything longer than a three-year deal.

Should Hampton leave, yes, I think Chris Hoke would serve as a valuable starter with Scott Paxson behind him. I feel they could competently serve the season while a third NT is kept on the roster and a fourth on the practice squad. If no one can be developed, perhaps it's time to transition to playing more 4-3.

Tyranid: When do you start looking for a replacement for Hines Ward? I like Golden Tate and Eric Decker. What do you think of those two?

They've been looking for Ward's replacement since 2000 when they drafted Plaxico Burress a year after drafting Troy Edwards and two years after drafting Ward. The moral of the story is to never ever count Ward out. I think he read my story about his possible retirement last spring, and I think he posted it on his locker, and I think he thinks I disrespected him, and I think he's going to play till he's 40 just to prove me wrong.

No, not really, but you get my drift with that guy. As for Golden Tate, his value's at an all-time high right now and that would be too high for the Steelers right now. I adore Eric Decker's toughness, but it got him killed this season. I wonder if he'll be able to withstand NFL punishment. I'd take him if he were somehow available in the fourth round. Another guy who compares favorably to Ward is Illinois junior Arrelious Benn, a 6-2, 220-pounder who had an awful year (with his awful quarterback). He'd been considered first-round material till only recently and could be a steal in the second. Yet, that may even be too soon for a team that hasn't given up on Limas Sweed yet.

Tyranid: What are your thoughts on drafting tight ends? The guy I like is Ed Dickson. Is he better than Colin Peek?

No one's better than Colin Peek. Just kidding. I like Dickson as well. I think his blocking's underrated and so is his deep speed. But, again, I'm more interested in a bulldog like Peek, who's been well schooled in the run game and has enough toughness and courage to help on third downs and in the red zone. So to answer your question, Dickson will probably rank higher (unless Peek runs a great 40 at the combine), but my eye will wander over to someone like Peek in the middle rounds, even Nate Byham of Pitt later.

Tyranid: If Willie Parker leaves, the team will need a second running back. Do you like anyone in the draft?

I mentioned yesterday the mid to late-round big backs that I like, although it's doubtful that Ben Tate has slipped anyone's notice. Geez, can any Auburn back get lost in the shuffle with that school's tradition? I like Jarvarris James as well, guys like that. Big backs who run mediocre 40 times tend to become available late. That would be my thinking going in.

SteelinLogic: Has Isaac Redman improved his stamina yet?

We shall find out. My guess is he's working at it, particularly since he took such a public lashing from Mike Tomlin over it. Yes, I would think that Redman sees the opportunity and will give it his all. If he doesn't, then we'll all know why he ended up at Bowie State in the first place.

SteelerBill13: I noticed that Ed Bouchette reported the Steelers tried to sign a fullback from the CFL. Thoughts on this? Any other free-agent fullbacks out there?

I know of no others, but that's a position that flies under the radar. I take it as a good sign that Tomlin doesn't believe this morass of H-backs has sufficiently helped the two-year short-yardage problem. You can have a fullback and not upset the precious 12-tight end ecosystem Bruce Arians has in place. Just bring him in off the bench when necessary. Any football fan can see that tight ends just don't lead block as well as fullbacks. Too damn bad Henry Hynoski didn't leave Pitt early this year.

SteelerBill13: Also, do you agree with me that the success of the Ravens will serve to punch the Steelers in the mouth and wake them up, so to speak?

Bill, I know you didn't use those exact words. I did.

You'd think it would be unnecessary after the debacle in Cleveland, but my whole point of the Arians debate is not just the one debacle, but the entire lightweight environment that's evolved. None of the stats geeks can quantify that side of their pro-Arians arguments, so unfortunately a punch in the face might not even work, as far as I'm concerned.

Jdam43: Beyond the obvious injury problems, what do you think happened to the secondary this season? What is the best short-term approach to fixing it?

Jdam, you obviously have me confused with one of those smart sportswriters. I just think the talent was woefully insufficient. While Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu may very well be the best safety tandem in the NFL, the tandem of Clark and Ty Carter was dreadful. And then you have to wonder about the capability of the young talent behind them. But this will be a great year to add safety depth and find someone to groom at free safety.

As for cornerback, Will Gay and Ike Taylor had awful seasons. We've seen Taylor's roller coaster rides in the past, so his inconsistency wasn't a big surprise. But I was surprised at how poorly Gay played. His position will be a focus this off-season. They've already signed Trae Williams, a guy I liked at South Florida. They might try to find a cheap free agent, and I'd draft a mid-rounder like Devin McCourty of Rutgers or Devin Ross of Arizona. They're a bit on the short side, but they're tough and were confident leaders for their respective teams, so I feel both have the capability to show "the stage isn't too big for him." I'm worried about reaching at the top of the draft for a Patrick Robinson or a Perrish Cox.

Mikey86: What's the bigger need: cornerback, defensive line or offensive line?

Well, if you're talking about draft priorities, go with the better value at any of the three positions. I'd rather have Joe Haden than Trent Williams, but I'd rather have Williams than Perrish Cox. Then there's the need at nose tackle, but that's a two-down position, even a 1.5-down position at times. Tough call, but to finally answer your question, I'd go CB, OL, DL.

Mikey86: Was James Harrison playing injured?

James stopped coming around the locker room during media time, and even if he did he's not the kind of guy to talk about injuries or make excuses. We know he gutted out the one game with the biceps bruise, but I don't know if there was another injury or if that bruise lingered. I thought he played well, but he's taking criticism around town, particularly on the radio, so he should respond with his most grueling off-season yet.


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