Ask Wexell (Feb. 23)

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

Steelmann58: What are the chances the Steelers sign Jeff Reed before the start of free agency March 5? And what are the chances the Steelers slap a tag on Casey Hampton?

Word is that Reed wants to stay and the Steelers have said they want him back. Apparently his short kickoffs mean little to them, because they expect a deal to get done before March 5.

As for Hampton, my source tells me the chances are very strong that he'll be slapped with the franchise tag in the next couple of days. He's looking for much more bonus money than the Steelers are willing to pay, so they'll pay him the $7 million the tag will require for this coming season. [Edit: Resident capologist Ian Whetstone points out that tagging Hampton would cause the Steelers to pay him $7.743 million in 2010, or the required 20 percent increase over his 2009 salary.]

Dam3391: Do you see the signing of Derrick Doggett and Rey Williams as an effort to improve the special teams? Or are they just camp bodies?

Another of my sources believes Doggett has the better chance of making the team. And, yes, the 210-pound Doggett would be used initially – and perhaps solely – on special teams.

Jenksinrke: What is the contract status of Kevin Colbert? Certainly the Rooneys will extend the best personnel director in the league, won't they?

Colbert is signed through the 2010 season, which would actually take him through the 2011 draft. But there's no rush to extend his contract. Coming off a non-playoff season, there's no reason to throw rose petals at anyone. So, he'll work hard through this draft, the team will look over his picks at camp, and I expect an offer to be made at some point during the regular season. That is, unless Bill Cowher gets a head coaching job in the next month or so. That would give Kevin some leverage and force the team into talks.

Mightyveg: What do you think of the Steelers' picks in this mock draft: http://www.draftsite.com/nfl/2010mock.htm?

I like it. Someone who follows the Steelers closely must've come up with that. Here it is:

1. Mike Iupati, G.

2. Nate Allen, FS.

3. Anthony Dixon, RB.

4. C.J. Wilson, DE.

5. Rodger Saffold, LT.

5 (comp). Myron Lewis, CB.

6. Cam Thomas, NT.

6 (comp). Carlton Mitchell, WR.

7. Dexter Davis, OLB.

Love Iupati, Allen and Dixon up top. Dixon is a classic power back, but his speed's in question, so he'll have to run a quality 40 time at the combine. Wilson seems a bit fat for a 4-3 end, so obviously he projects better to a 3-4 end position – unless he was put at end by East Carolina because of problems against the run. I don't know. Saffold has been one of my favorite sleeper tackles since the regular season, but that sleeper status was blown up by his performance at the Shrine Game. It was so good he was asked to play at the Senior Bowl. So I highly doubt Saffold will be available in the fifth, and I also don't agree with everyone saying he's a better guard prospect. While he could play guard, I believe he has fine tackle potential. Lewis is another who'll be picked earlier than the fifth. When I watched him play for Vanderbilt, he looked just like Keenan Lewis to me. Thomas, thank you, belongs in the sixth, not the third as everyone right now seems to have him pegged. Mitchell is a 6-4 sleeper receiver in the Marques Colston mold. In fact, Colston's success as a seventh-rounder will probably move Mitchell into an earlier round. Davis played DE at Arizona State. I watched him closely twice, since he's regarded as a 3-4 OLB as a pro. He's athletic but unfortunately he couldn't get off blocks at all, so ranking him in the seventh by this draft site is insightful.

As for the comp picks, I believe the Steelers are expecting two fifths and a seventh for losing Bryant McFadden, Nate Washington and Byron Leftwich.

Mightyveg: Would you sign Jamal Lewis as a complement power back for Mendenhall? Does he have anything left in the tank? Would he help or hurt the locker room chemistry?

I'd have no problem with Jamal Lewis. I believe he's one of those guys who could convert first downs well into his 30s, a la Jerome Bettis. Steelers fans have the perception that he's cancerous, since he played for the Ravens, but I'd have to believe a true pro like Lewis would only help the locker room.

Choltzeakin: Chad Jones or Nate Allen? I know you like Jones as a free safety, but I'd like to hear your comparison here. Also, how do I change my username?

Changing your username is close to impossible here. You'll have to sign up again. As for your question on the safeties, Allen is getting so much attention right now, but I like Jones much more. He's bigger, will be a punishing force over the middle, and will have much more of an impact on special teams. His ball skills aren't as good as Allen's, but, at 21, Jones has greater upside and I think will develop those ball skills.

Steelmann58: What do you think about these later-round wide receiver prospects: Freddie Barnes, Blair White and Shay Hodge? Also, how will the Steelers go about replacing Willie Parker as Rashard Mendenhall's sidekick in the backfield?

I'm thinking White and Hodge are mid-rounders while Barnes is a late-rounder. I like all three. White may not have the raw tools that Hodge has, but he was a decent punt returner and that's always a good sign of athletic ability. Plus, White has a better work ethic. Barnes, the leading college receiver last year, is more of a possession receiver, but he could surprise. It's hard to knock that productivity.

As for the running back, I'm hoping they replace Parker in the draft, but the aforementioned idea of signing Jamal Lewis as a cheap free agent appeals to me. Those who don't follow the Steelers closely believe Mendenhall's build makes him a short-yardage back, and that a back like C.J. Spiller would make a better replacement for Parker. While I really like Spiller, I don't agree that Mendenhall is a quality power back. I think they need one.

Choltzeakin: Are you comfortable with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch as Ben's backups? The more I think about it, the more I'm not. What are the Steelers' options?

No, I'm not comfortable with them at all. Batch has been injured most of his career and can hardly get through a series anymore without getting hurt. And Dixon's legs are so skinny that Bruce Arians used it as an excuse for not running him more in his uneven start against the Ravens. I'd prefer another third-teamer than Batch. Tyler Palko is one option. My favorite late-rounder is Northwestern's Mike Kafka.

Draftnut: What's your opinion of Corey Wootton? Given the age of the Steelers' defensive line, could he be included in a group with a trade-down in mind?

In an interview we have on our front page, Wootton said he's ready to show everyone at the combine how much more explosive he is now that he's had a full year to recover from his ACL injury from the 2008 bowl season. But he also talked about playing OLB in a 3-4. Are you kidding me? People think anyone can play that position, and it's just not true. If he's that light, than he's no 3-4 DE, and that was the Steelers' hope as they scouted him closely all season.

As for the Steelers' needs, they did add two rookie DEs to their roster last season, and first-rounder Ziggy Hood showed starter potential. I don't think it's as big a need as some are making out. Although, I think Jared Odrick would make for a dynamite first-round pick, just on the best-available-athlete theory alone.

Dennb: In your draft article, part two, you wrote that Maurkice Pouncey doesn't play with leverage. Is that something that can be taught? I've had the belief for several years that the offensive line can't get any movement and that it's due mainly to the center position.

Assistant coaches think they can teach anything, so if I answer for the Steelers, yes, it's teachable. But my own personal belief is that at 6 feet 5 it will be difficult for him to improve his leverage much as a center. Still, I really like Pouncey. I wouldn't draft him at 18, but he'd certainly be in any trade-down target group.

Jenksinrke: Would the Steelers put the transition tag on Ryan Clark? When paired with Troy Polamalu, he's played well, and, really, there's no depth at safety.

Since I really don't have a good feel for Clark's monetary worth, I thought initially that the transition tag would be the way to go. Then again, I don't believe he's worth top-10 money. So I think the Steelers will let him test the market and then try to match any sensible offer. If they lose him, they lose him. Ryan Mundy would then step in. Chortle if you wish, but Clark's agent is also telling the Steelers that Ryan's a much better player when Polamalu's healthy. Well, I'd think Mundy could make the same claim.

By the way, didn't Clark become upset when we reporters wrote that he plays much better with Polamalu?


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