Ask Wexell (Jan. 28)

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."

Jenksinrke: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe Pierre Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent on March 5. What do you think about adding him? Also, I think New England would be a great landing spot for Willie Parker. What do you think?

If the CBA isn't renegotiated by March 5, Thomas will be a restricted free agent. As for Parker landing in New England, I really don't see the connection. But I do see that New England's outstanding third-down back Kevin Faulk will become an unrestricted free agent, so I'm all in for a free-agent type of swap.

By1297: I realize you feel the DB depth will provide better draft value after the first round, but if the team makes its secondary the priority, who are some of the candidates for pick 18?

After Joe Haden, the next best cornerback is a bottom-of-the-round type, whether he be Kyle Wilson, Devin McCourty, Perrish Cox or Brandon Ghee. Wilson is the one drawing all the praise at the Senior Bowl. He's an excellent cover corner who returned punts and played gunner for Boise State. His drawback is toughness against the run. He's no wimp, by any means, but he's not as tough as McCourty, who lacks Wilson's sticky man skills, but is a special-teams sensation. Cox was suspended for his bowl game and had an up-and-down season. He was burned badly by Jordan Shipley in Oklahoma State's biggest game, but I like Cox's toughness and ball skills. He's also a return man. As for Ghee, many had high hopes for him entering Senior Bowl week, but he showed early that he's not a first-rounder. He's said to have improved as the week went on, but I can't forget some of my earlier visions and don't see him as a first-rounder. The true sleeper corner at Senior Bowl week has been 6-1¾ Chris Cook of Virginia. He's someone to watch in the second round, when I expect the Steelers to draft their defensive back.

As for safeties, Taylor Mays does nothing for me and Earl Thomas had tackling issues against Alabama. Thomas is a bit on the small side for my taste at 18, particularly with such a deep crop of safeties this year. But those safeties are two possibilities for the Steelers at 18.

ToddinSyracuse: I don't understand all the love for Casey Hampton. He was single-blocked an awful lot and is clearly in decline. Why not save the money and use Chris Hoke as a stopgap and coach up a draft pick?

While I agree Hampton is in decline, I believe he still has three good seasons in him. I agree with line coach John Mitchell that Hampton played much better this season than he did in 2008. The Steelers believe this had to do with salary drive, thus their hesitancy over handing him a big signing bonus. I have no problem with Hoke taking over and mentoring a rookie, except I'd hate to waste a first-round pick on that rookie, particularly at a position that's only on the field for roughly half of the defensive snaps. (Hampton took 592 snaps this year; James Farrior took 1,033). Also, to correct myself (and the Steelers' media guide), Hoke will turn 34 on April 6, not 32.

ToddinSyracuse: Is this really the year the Steelers draft O-line early and often? Or better, move Willie Colon inside? I think it's wishful thinking. While perhaps not a mainstay, the shotgun/empty backfield in short yardage is here to stay.

You could be right that it's wishful thinking, particularly the idea of moving Colon inside after his best season yet at RT, but the value for an O-lineman should be there at pick 18. They wanted one in 2008, but wouldn't reach. They instead signed Max Starks to a long-term deal. They wanted Eric Wood last year, but he was picked a few spots earlier so they drafted Kraig Urbik in the third round. Could the alternative measures they took after each of the previous drafts prevent them from finally drafting a lynchpin lineman this year? I say it shouldn't, but they certainly have an excuse if they fall in love with someone at another position.

Jewelsongs: Did Dale Lolley leave the site?

No. Dale's blog at the Washington Observer-Reporter is where he puts his inside information, so he'll work as a practice reporter for us when practice resumes.

ToddinSyracuse: If we learned anything this year, it's that the defense goes as Troy Polamalu goes. They sorely need another playmaker in the secondary to prevent a repeat of 2009. Do the Steelers share this concern enough to make it a Round 1 or 2 priority?

Does the "repeat of 2009" include another injury to Polamalu? I ask because he's had two injury-plagued seasons in the last three and many now figure him as a question mark every year. I don't know that the Steelers agree with that, but they should realize they need better depth at safety. That doesn't necessarily mean R1-2 though.

As for cornerback, I believe the lack of talent became apparent this past season with the aging of Deshea Townsend and the free-agent loss of Bryant McFadden. Again, I'm not certain the Steelers believe the position requires a R1-2 priority, but I believe it does.

ToddinSyracuse: What is the strength of this draft and how deep does it go? What are the positions of strength and weakness? How do they coincide with the Steelers' needs at S, CB, OG and DL?

You're wearing me out, Todd, but you're bringing such well-written and thoughtful questions that I'll answer them all, even though I'm beginning to think that you should be on the other side of this exchange. But, to answer your questions, the experts believe this to be a deep draft. To me, watching these late-round prospects languish throughout the college season, it seems like only a few can step onto an NFL season. However, I'm proven wrong every year, so I continue to monitor the process closely. The draft strengths are at safety, tight end, and offensive line. I'd say that matches up fairly well with the Steelers' needs, particularly with the deep safety crop. They should also be able to find a cornerback in the middle rounds and a blocking tight end at any point they desire. On the other hand, I haven't seen one quality lead-blocking fullback, except for Pitt redshirt sophomore Harry Hynoski and he's not coming out.

SteelerBill13: Wex, any vacations planned?

Just this little break from Todd. But, no, we're going to San Diego soon.

ToddinSyracuse: What to do with James Farrior? To my eyes, he struggled in space and gave up a lot of key third downs. Would he accept a lesser role without undermining his replacement? And would Dick LeBeau even contemplate the move out of loyalty to the player? It seems like such a move would take place before training camp to provide ample transition time.

While it's true that Farrior and Larry Foote were cool to the young Lawrence Timmons, forcing Mike Tomlin to steer Timmons toward James Harrison for mentorship, I doubt Farrior would ever undermine Timmons if Timmons were to replace him on pass downs. That's the move I expect, although Dick LeBeau is adamant that Farrior – who led the defense in plays last season – has not lost a step. So if you disagree with LeBeau, than you'd have to believe he's sticking with Farrior out of loyalty. I don't know enough about the assignments to have a knowledgeable opinion either way. I do know they need linebacker depth, particularly inside.

ToddinSyracuse: Every year at this time, talk of going to a 4-3 defense comes up. Do you think the team debates this internally? What is the allure of the 4-3?

I don't know if it's "allure" but the conversation comes up because Tomlin coached the 4-3 at Tampa Bay and Minnesota. As for debating it internally, I doubt it. They most likely just discuss ways in which their defense can best match its talent.

Steelmann58: Who do you think will be the next wide receivers coach?

A guy named Todd. He's from Syracuse. Intelligent and inquisitive at the same time.

Steelmann58: What's your take on Jerry Olsavsky or Earl Holmes trying to get the defensive assistant job?

Jerry O spent a training camp here a few years ago and tried to get a job then. He was told to spend some more time as a college coach, which he has done at Youngstown State. Without knowing much about either former player's coaching ability, I'd say the serious and studious Olsavsky would be a great hire.


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