Ray Fittipaldo: Welcome to my weekly Steelers chat. Please post your questions and we'll get started early.
Clint: Do the Steelers plan on drafting a punter, finding one as a FA, or just go status quo?
Ray Fittipaldo: They used a fourth-round draft choice on Daniel Sepulveda a few years ago and they never really got much out of him because of injuries. I suppose they could draft one again, but most of the time teams can find punter in the free agent pool. Mat McBriar did a decent job when he was brought in midseason, but he wasn't great by any means. I would think they would bring in another veteran to challenge him or a young guy from college that they like.
Who will be MVP of Super Bowl XLVIII?
Peyton Manning (71%)
DeMariyus Thomas (0%)
Knowshon Moreno (0%)
Russell Wilson (0%)
Richard Sherman (8%)
Marshawn Lynch (21%)
Tom: Any word on the offensive line coach?
Ray Fittipaldo: Gerry Dulac reported Friday that Mike Munchak interviewed for the job. He is the second known candidate to interview. Tomlin also interviewed Shaun Sarrett, who was the assistant line coach last season. The Senior Bowl is this week and that's like a job convention for unemployed coaches, so Tomlin might interview another candidate down there. But I would think Munchak would be his choice if he wants the job. Munchak interviewed with the Browns, so he might be waiting on their situation before making a decision.
Phill: Are the Steelers looking to draft a backup running back or content to look elsewhere
Ray Fittipaldo: I think it depends on a couple of guys who were on the team this season and how their contract situations play out. Jonathan Dwyer played well in short-yardage situations this season after he was re-signed to the 53-man roster a few weeks after getting cut at the end of training camp. He is a free agent, however, and would have to come to terms with the team to return. The other player who is a possibility to return next season is LaRod Stephens-Howling, who was very good in the preseason before he blew out his knee in the opener against Tennessee. Stepehns-Howling was very adept at running the inside zone in camp and if the Steelers recommit to that concept he would be an option, if his rehab is progressing at a normal rate. So, in short, I'd like to wait to see what happens in free agency before answering your question.
George: When he gets healthy, will Shamarko Thomas be ready to start?
Ray Fittipaldo: Thomas was only inactive for a few games this season with an ankle injury, so it's not like he's coming off a major injury. And yes, he is a candidate to earn a starting job. They used a fourth-round pick on him and they believed at the time that he would have gone higher if not for his short stature. They like him as a prospect and this will be a big spring and summer for him because the team is unlikely to bring back 34-year old Ryan Clark. An opportunity might be there and it will up to Thomas to be able to snatch it.
Jim: Why didn't Butler interview with the Titans?
Ray Fittipaldo: That has not come out yet and I'm not sure it ever will. It had been reported that he was a top candidate along with Ray Horton. Both worked with Whisnehunt when Whisenhunt was with the Steelers.
Rick: Does ziggy get resigned. Or allocate that money to a more traditional NT. An move McClendon to end
Ray Fittipaldo: Hood could come back for a number of reasons, the most important now being that he is unlikely to attract much interest after another so-so season. Unless a team believes they can get more out of him than the Steelers did in five years the Steelers might be his best option. If not Hood, the Steelers could look to Al Woods, another free agent who played out the final season of his contract last year. Woods is a trained defensive end but filled in at nose guard late in the year when Steve McLendon was hurt. For what it's worth, I asked Hood if moving to nose tackle had ever been broached with him by the Steelers and he said no. This was a couple of days after the season ended. So if he is brought back it appears the Steelers don't have any plans to make him a nose as some had suggested.
Clint: Do you think the Steelers could enter 2014 with Gilbert, DeCastro, Foster, Pouncey, and Beachem as their starters, or is an upgrade needed somewhere?
Ray Fittipaldo: That line, minus Pouncey of course, played pretty well in the second half of the season. Of those you mentioned I think Gilbert could use the most improvement. He allowed the most sacks of any lineman on the team and had a roller coaster type of season. He was good one week and bad the next and followed that pattern for much of the season. He has to develop consistency. So perhaps Mike Adams, who played well as a right tackle as a rookie, provides some competition this spring and summer for Gilbert, who will be entering the final year of his rookie contract. I've seen plenty of mock drafts that have the Steelers taking Lewan of Michigan in the first round. While it's not out of the question that the Steelers would draft a lineman in May I have a hard time believing they would use their first pick on one considering the needs they have at other positions not to mention the fact that they have already invested first- and second-round picks in linemen in recent years.
Haley's Comet: Has Ike Taylor played his last down as a Pittsburgh Steeler?
Ray Fittipaldo: That's quite possible if he does not agree to a pay cut. He is set to make a lot of money next season and it's highly unlikely the Steelers would want him back for that steep price.
Haley's Comet: The Browns are obviously waiting for someone on one of the four staffs involved in yesterday's games. Who do you think will be the next sucker tasked with giving CPR to the mistake by the lake?
Ray Fittipaldo: It seems like they are waiting for one of the coordinators from the Seahawks and Broncos, although Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase has said he is content in Denver. The head coach is important but more important is the quarterback, and the Browns are in position to get a good one because they have a top 5 pick in the draft.
Haley's Comet: Play virtual GM -- If Mike Evans and Louis Nix are both sitting there for the Steelers at #15, which one do you take and why?
Ray Fittipaldo: Based on the way this team has drafted under Kevin Colbert, I would say Nix because the defense is predicated on stopping the run and they did not do that last season. They fell from near the top of the league in rush defense to near the bottom. I know a guy like Nix would not play much in games against teams such as the Broncos or the Patriots, but the Steelers don;t play either next year. They do play the Ravens, Bengals and Browns twice, however, and those teams like to run the ball. So for that reason I say take nix and hope a guy like Benjamin, another big WR from Florida State, falls to the Steelers in the second round.
Thomas: Hi Ray, Shamarko will play FS or Steelers will have to draft one ?
Ray Fittipaldo: Thomas was listed as the backup to Polamalu at strong safety all season while Robert Golden was listed as the backup at free safety. However, neither played much after Will Allen came back on board. I think Thomas projects as more of a strong safety but that's not to say he can't play free safety in this system. Clark made a name for himself by being a hard-hitter in that spot for years before the rules changes. Maybe Thomas can play that role.
Old Galoot: What was the takeaway on Mike Adams this year? Bust? Nothing more than a substitute? Work in progress?
Ray Fittipaldo: I think we learned he is not a left tackle. Other than that, I say it's too early to tell. He will be entering his third year. And as I mentioned earlier, he played pretty well as a rookie at right tackle. He is someone who would benefit from a guy like Munchak or another good teacher. He has the tools to become a solid pro but for whatever reason those tools have not translated to the field.
Rick: Do the Steelers view Vince Williams a potential starter or is backup his ceiling?
Ray Fittipaldo: He was solid for a rookie. I'm not sure the team saw enough from him to think that he'll be a long-term starter, but at the very least they know they have a dependable backup. Those are important, too.
Alfonso from Mexico: Hi Ray, personally hate Patriots. But it seems they are always at the top, AFC title game. How can they accomplish that? And why do you think the Steelers can't do that, even though they have six Lombardis. Thanks my man.
Ray Fittipaldo: The Patriots adjust very well to offseason departures and in-season injuries. It helps that they have Tom Brady at quarterback but it goes beyond that. Their coaching staff does a great job of identifying colleges prospects who can make a transition to another position in the pros. That being said, the Steelers have won twice as many Super Bowls as the Patriots in the past decade. It's nice to get to conference title games and win them, but for franchises like the Steelers and Patriots it's about winning Super Bowls and the Patriots haven't done that since 2004.
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