Ask Wexell (Jan. 27)

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."

Labguy1: Considering the past organizational division on Max Starks, are the personnel department and the coaching staff on the same page about the talent level on the offensive line?

There was some confusion during the O-line transition, and that's understandable to a degree, but I assume all are in agreement on what they have right now. Judging by the contracts handed out, the Steelers like their LT and LG. They liked their RT enough last year to offer him the first-round tender, which they're likely to do again. They drafted a third-round RG at the offensive coordinator's request, and they have two players in line behind the starting center.

StuckinVa: Any chance the new offensive line coach demands these offensive linemen get in better shape. Most of them are 20-30 pounds overweight and look like 330 pounds of chewed bubble gum.

That seems to be the NFL way anymore. For the most part these guys are stouter than some of their players in the recent past, so I assume they're encouraged to add weight. But it does appear they've gone overboard. I'll ask Sean Kugler about it this spring.

Cjfollett: Any word on the Ben Roethlisberger situation in Nevada? Would you say that was just the start of a distraction-plagued season? How does a 6-2 team just implode like that?

I've heard nothing about Ben's legal issues. After the first week or two of reports, I just assumed he'd get out of it with nary a scratch. Yes, it was a distraction-plagued season, but you had to expect it to a degree since they were the defending champs. I viewed some of the distractions as self-correcting hiccups, since Mike Tomlin won so early and never had the chance to make changes. You just hope it went down as a learning experience for all.

RI Steel: Love the format. It's a great idea. What odds do you give on the team re-signing the players whose contracts just expired? And what are the odds on them signing LaMarr Woodley, Santonio Holmes and Willie Colon to long-term deals?

Not much has changed on that front since last summer, but we do know Casey Hampton will take a bit less to stay in Pittsburgh because he understands these coaches will utilize him in a daily fashion that'll extend his career. Hampton understands that, and the Steelers understand they need a run-stuffer on early downs and would rather not spend a premium draft pick in search of that specific skill. The trick will be Hampton convincing the Steelers he'll stay motivated throughout the length of the deal he's seeking.

I'll give Hampton 3-2 odds of returning, and would put even better odds on Ryan Clark returning. The franchise tag would fit Jeff Reed beautifully, so I expect him back as well. If they want Deshea Townsend back, he'd be an easy sign, too. I doubt Willie Parker will return. He's been injured in each of the last three seasons and my guess is they want a bigger back to complement Rashard Mendenhall.

As for the players with one year remaining on their contracts, those young stars will be the priority for the Steelers. I couldn't even speculate on the odds, but I do believe the money the team saves by not signing outside free agents will go toward re-signing Colon, Woodley and Holmes.

Dennb: Bill Cowher used Max Starks as a third tight end in goal-line situations with good success. Why doesn't Mike Tomlin bring in someone like Tony Hills to replace Matt Spaeth in two-TE short-yardage packages? Hills went to college as a tight end, and it would at least give him some experience.

Good idea, but does Hills deserve to play? Ramon Foster can play tackle and guard and Doug Legursky can play center and guard. For Hills to "get a hat" on game day, he must provide the coaches with more than just his unproven ability to play left tackle. I'd prefer using David Johnson as the second tight end on short-yardage plays. If they're going to stick with Johnson at fullback, than a blocking tight end should be added in the draft.

StuckinVa: If the Steelers don't re-sign Ryan Clark, do you see them going the free-agent route for a free safety? And might they go after a middle-tier cornerback in free agency?

I think Clark is the free-agent free safety who'd suit them best. If not, be prepared for Tyrone Carter because this draft is deep at the safety position and that's where the Steelers' future free safety will likely be found. Clark or Carter will be that player's mentor. As for middle-tier free agent cornerbacks, bargains there are very hard to come by, but Leigh Bodden should at least be brought in for a visit. He's 28 and had five interceptions as a starter for the Patriots last season.

StuckinVa: If you could pick Joe Haden or Rolando McClain at pick 18, who would you pick? For the record, I'd take McClain. Linebackers key this whole defense.

I'd take McClain, too. He's an intelligent, athletic and tough leader who'd become the unit captain within time.

Steelblitzkrieg: Do you think James Farrior's apparent loss of speed is due to him not trusting Lawrence Timmons as opposed to Larry Foote? Or might it have more to do with him adding weight after 2008's extreme weight loss.

I'm not even sure Farrior has lost much speed, and I really don't know why he would appear slower with Timmons next to him. As for the weight gain, I haven't been following those ups and downs. I mean, I heard he was down pretty low at last year's Super Bowl, but he always looks the same to me. Sorry.

Steelblitzkrieg: The Steelers over the years have used several strong safety types at free safety. Since you expect the Steelers to draft a safety this year, would they continue this tradition or draft a true free safety?

I really don't think it matters. Beyond the balls skills, toughness and tackling ability that's needed at both positions, I think the player just has to be smart enough for the position. That was the difference between SS types Chris Hope and Anthony Smith. Hope played FS because he was smart enough.

Steelblitzkrieg: We know how Roethlisberger feels about Bruce Arians, but perhaps a more realistic view might come from Hines Ward. What's the vibe from Ward on Arians?

Our daily Arians question gets me in too much trouble on the message boards. I'll just say that Ward is unquestionably a team player who in a down moment after a loss this past season complained about and questioned the play calling. But I've never detected any disdain from him about any of his coaches.


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