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    Steelers Q & A: Scott Brown answers your questions

    By Scott Brown
    Wednesday, February 6, 2008

    Tribune-Review Steelers writer Scott Brown answers your questions about the Pittsburgh Steelers.
    What do you think of the Steelers trying to signing Bryant Johnson as a UFA? He has good size, good hands and will come at a good price. I think drafted WRs take time to develop so I would like to get one on the free agent market. The Steelers should focus on the defensive line on the first day of the draft along with the offensive line. The only player I would want to see the Steelers pick on the first day other then the big uglys up front would be Matt Forte of Tulane. But after his Senior Bowl performance, I think his stock would be rising.
    - Dennis Abbate of Coram, N.Y.
    For full disclosure purposes Bryant Johnson and I share the same alma mater (Penn State). That said, he caught me eye when I first looked at the list of unrestricted free agents.
    story continues below

    He had a solid season as a reserve for the Cardinals in 2007 and, as you pointed out, the Steelers won't have to break the bank to sign him. Another receiver I think the Steelers should look into signing is Andre Davis from the Texans. He set a career-high in receiving yards last season (583) and returned three kickoffs for touchdowns.
    Agreed that the Steelers need to focus on bolstering each side of the line early in the draft. You would hope, however, that they don't take a player just to fill a need when there are better ones still one the board who could also help the team.
    Check out Scott's View from the Press Box blog entry for his latest take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Q: Little word has been said on the prognosis of Willie Parker. Could you perhaps give some insight on how his ankle and health is? And do you think if the Steelers get a chance at a huge wide receiver in the second or third round, would they draft a receiver such as James Hardy from Indiana University? And although Willie Parker put up solid numbers this past season, would adding a bruising-style runner or a quick and nimble runner be a better fit for the pass-happy, no fullback style offense?
    - Robert Yaga of Raleigh
    I saw Parker a couple of weeks ago in the cafeteria at the Steelersí practice facility but didnít get a chance to talk to him. Mike Tomlin has said Parker is expected to make a full recovery and be 100 percent for next season. As far as I know, there are no indications that his rehabilitation isnít going well or that heís not progressing as quickly as the Steelers had hoped.
    To answer your other question about the running game, I think the Steelers would be wise to get a back that can truly complement Parker. I thought his workload was too heavy last season, and the Giants, make that the world-champion Giants, showed the value of having a legitimate 1-2 punch at running back with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
    As for drafting a wide receiver early, I think it would be a good move for the Steelers simply because I think they need to upgrade the position, whether itís with a taller player or not. They do have more pressing needs, such as long both lines, but if a talent like Hardy is there in the second or third round, I would think the Steelers would be tempted to grab him.
    Q: Is Brett Keisel on the Mike Vrabel career path? He doesn't seem like 'a good fit' at the 3-technique and the OLB spots are pretty set. He was a freak on special teams and really productive as a sub for Kimo von Oelhoffen but would he stay if the Steelers take a D-lineman like Colbert is hinting at?
    - Sam Zelver of San Francisco
    A: Thatís an interesting comparison between Keisel and Vrabel. They couldnít find a place for the latter Ė he has flourished in New England since leaving Pittsburgh Ė and the same may well be true of Keisel. Itís funny because prior to the 2007 season there was all of this talk about moving Keisel around on defense to take advantage of his size and athleticism yet we never saw it. I thought he had his moments at left defensive end in 2007 but did not have the kind of impact that a lot of folks expected him to have.
    Even if the Steelers use one of their first picks in Aprilís draft on a defensive lineman I would expect Keisel to figure prominently into the Steelers plans next season. The injury to Aaron Smith exposed the Steelersí lack of depth at defensive end last season, and bringing in a quality end, via free agency or the draft, would give the Steelers three pretty good ones in 2008. It might also allow the Steelers to find more creative ways to use Keisel next season.
    Q: Given that the Steelers will likely be done with Dan Kreider and Jerame Tuman because of their age and injury issues, I am wondering whether you think they might be interesting in drafting WVU's bruising FB/TE Owen Schmitt? Some are speculating he may still be available in rounds 3-5, and one Pittsburgh sportswriter told me Mike Tomlin "loves the guy." He could also be used as the primary back in short-yardage and goal-line situations. He's a physical freak to be able to do the things he does at his size and he has the heart of a lion and would give the Steelers everything he has in every game. I think he would fit in perfectly with the Steelers mentality and toughness, what do you think?
    - Scott Davis of Moundsville, W.Va.
    A: I think Schmitt is an absolute stud. As you pointed out, what's not to like about the guy? He has incredible physical gifts, fits the mold of a "Steelers" player and could be used in a number of different capacities. I would think the Steelers will consider drafting him. The question is can they afford to use a high pick on Schmitt -- I'll be shocked if he lasts past the third round -- given the other needs they have? That said, they couldn't go wrong in drafting Schmitt as I think he'll be a really good player at the next level.
    Q: 1. Do you feel that any coaching staff member should be/will be fired?
    2. With little second-half adjustments made all season do you feel Cowher played a larger part in the defenses in the past?
    3. You thoughts of a line consisting of Simmons at center, Colon and Kemoeatu the guards and Smith, Starks, or Essex at tackle?
    4. Should Ben Roethlisberger tell the Steelers that they must draft an offensive lineman with two of the first three picks, and then he will talk money?
    5. McFadden played the whole game and his name wasnít mentioned too often. LaMarr Woodley had pressure much of the game. Why arenít they starting?

    - Joseph S. Basile of Chippewa, Pa.
    A: Here are my answers in order:
    1. Mike Tomlin has said and reiterated that he will keep his coaching staff intact. I agree with him that continuity is important though if the special teams donít show marked improvement next season he will have to make a change there. Same probably goes for the offensive line.
    2. Tomlin is not as hands-on as Cowher was but he probably has more input than we think, particularly on defense since that is his background. Donít forget that even though the Steelers faltered a bit down the stretch, they still finished with the No. 1 defense in the NFL.
    3. I would have no problems with the changes to the line you propose. Iíll go a step further and say the Steelers take an offensive tackle with their first-round pick in April since Starks may leave as a free agent and tackle is a position of strength in the draft.
    4. I donít think Roethlisberger needs to tell the Steelers they have to upgrade their offensive line. They are well aware of it along with the fact that when they make Roethlisberger the highest-paid player in franchise history they will need to protect that investment.
    5. Clark Haggans will not be back next season, which means Woodley will almost surely be the starter at left outside linebacker in 2008. McFadden has to overtake Deshea Towsend, who has a solid season in 2007, if he too wants to crack the starting lineup.
    Q: The Steelers opponent list for 2008 looks brutal. However, after taking a second look at it, I found a couple of favorable aspects. First, the Steelers play all 16 regular-season games in the Eastern time zone. Second, the farthest road games are New England and Tennessee, which are fairly short flights from Pittsburgh.
    Do you think that having a "local" schedule will help the Steelers? In 2004 they had only one game outside the Eastern time zone (@Dallas) and they won 15 games.

    - Nate Pigott of Mechanicsburg, Pa.
    A: Not sure how much playing exclusively in the Eastern time zone will help the Steelers next season though it certainly is a plus. For whatever reason this team didn't travel all that well last season, and the Steelers played two of their worst games (at Arizona and at Denver) after traveling across the country. It can't hurt that the Steelers won't travel nearly as far in 2008 as they did last season but the schedule is still plenty tough, and the strength of it is one reason why I don't see the Steelers approaching anywhere near 15 wins in 2008.
    Q: What do you think the Steelers starting offense will look like next year? There doesn't appear to be many spots open on the starting offense at all. The line looks to have two, maybe three spots.
    You figure Marvel Smith will be at LT (for at least the last year on his contract). We'll need depth there with a young draft pick (who can back up and play LT and RT in year 1, before starting at LT in 2009).
    Hopefully, Alan Faneca can get a contract worked out and be at LG. If not -- a vet free agent would be good here ... or a first-round draft pick who can start in year 1 at LG. (Sean Mahan would move from starting to utility backup lineman ... and be a nice, versatile backup at LG, C, RG).
    Center is the position I see as needing a new starter. Whether it be Simmons, Colon or Stapleton ... or going outside to draft or sign someone. I think Simmons is set start somewhere on the line ... probably RG (since he just signed a long-term deal -- unless he moves to LG or center) and Colon at RT seems pretty set. Remember, this staff picked Colon over Starks ... so, they must see something in him.
    Depth at RT is an issue ... with Essex the only LT/RT backup (unless Max Starks re-signs to be a backup RT/LT with the hope of being the starting LT in 2 years).
    The skill positions look to be set -- (Parker, Ward, Holmes, Ben, Heath) ... maybe some depth would be needed at WR (tall receiver FA or fifth-round draft pick) and definitely some depth at fullback/RB ... or guys that are backups and play special teams (i.e. third, fourth WR need to play punt cover, kick cover, kick return, punt return). Some developing players at WR, RB for depth and special teams appears all that there is room for.
    So -- where are the possible spots for free agents or rookies on offense in terms of starters?
    Thanks - love your column. Go Steelers in 2008!!!

    - Julie Tran of Fitchburg, Wis.
    A: I don't know about you, but I feel fairly confident in saying that nobody has ever accused you of not knowing your Steelers. You pretty much nailed it as far as what the offense needs and where openings may be.
    A couple of things: first, Alan Faneca is as gone as those Wrangler jeans my mom, dear as she is, bought me a few weeks ago. He is primed for a big payday, one that I just can't see the Steelers giving him once the free-agent signing period starts on Feb. 29. That is one opening the Steelers must fill, and it wouldn't surprise me if, as you pointed out, they draft or sign a center (or move someone there) and make Mahan a swing guy.
    I could also see the Steelers taking an offensive tackle in the first round of the draft. This appears to be a good draft for tackles, and taking one would give the Steelers some insurance if Smith's back problems persist and/or allow them to move Colon from tackle to guard. In any event, the line is the only area on offense where there will be significant changes, but I do think the Steelers need to upgrade their wide receiving corps and consider getting a running back that can be a compliment to Willie Parker. I'm not sure Najeh Davenport is that guy.

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    That's a good point about Keisel, I remember Tomlin and Lebeau talking about using him as a floater or rover kinda like Troy was but we rarely saw it this year. Perhaps because of being thin at the DL already or maybe it just didn't work out for him to do it but I'm interested to see how much they try it next year.

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