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Before We Get This Party Started, One Last BTSC Steelers Chat With Jim Wexell

Jim Wexell's one cool dude. Seriously. You guys and gals are really going to enjoy what he has to say in this Q&A. I figured he was busy, so I thought I was kind of tossing soft balls to him, but as you'll see, he really gives us fans some gems in here. James 'Silverback' Harrison's real nickname? It isn't Silverback, that's for sure. Think instead of a villain in a 90s Ice Cube movie. Read on, that's just one of the many enjoyable and insightful things he has to say.

Huge thanks and respct to Jim Wexell for bringing it to us real, with thought, candor, and humor. As always, you can check out his stuff at SteelCityInsiderSteelers Digest, The Tribune Democrat, and The Herald Standard. And don't forget, his most recent book, which chronicles Jim's travels last season, as he followed the team and met with "fans, former players, families and friends and rivals of current players, anything to do with the Pittsburgh Steelers,"  is due out any day now.

The book's going to be great, and I'll be sure to let y'all know when and how you can buy a copy, just as soon as I can. Arrive in Seattle tomorrw. Check y'all then. -MB (Blitz)-


1) Random question here, but can you tell me a little bit about the strenghts and weaknesses of Chris Kemoeatu's game? He hasn't seen the field much in his career, and I'll freely admit I was not watching his every move during the preseason action that I was able to catch.

JW: Don't look at me like I'm some kind of scout. I only think pretend I am. But Kemo has brute strength. That's why I rooted for him to start at RG the previous two seasons. He started two games, and in the 45-7 win over Kansas City, he, at the goal line, feigned pass pro since it was a draw or something, and then threw his man to his right and knocked down both RT Starks and the guy Starks was blocking. It was like a bowling ball picking up a spare. The Steelers scored a TD on the play. On the flip side, he's said to have trouble with the mental part of his position. (Isn't that a nice way to put it?) But my guess is the coaches so love their screens and Simmons' potential as a move guard, that they don't want to dummy down their approach. In other words, overcoaching is the reason this bad-ass brute has been on the stinkin bench so long.

2) In a previous interview here at BTSC, you astutely 'predicted' that you didn't see Limas Sweed or Rashard Mendenhall having as tremendous an impact as some might be hoping for, particularly Sweed. From where I'm sitting, that's a good call. Still contend the same thing? To be clear to the readers though, in Mendenhall's case, you were more referring to the unlikelihood of the team deployinga 2-back set with him and Parker, not necessarily that he wouldn't see the field much. As a quick follow-up, have Mendenhall's fumbling problems cost him goal-line duties perhaps?

JW: It absolutely caused him goal-line duties, but the fumbling was only the second part of the equation. He hasn't proven to be Brandon Jacobs just yet. (Wow, did that horse look good the other night or what?) Mendenhall and Sweed have both shown plenty of potential, particularly in the last game. Sweed's catch in the corner of the end zone has to stick out in the coaches' minds. I know, it didn't count, but nothing in preseason counts except perceptions, and my perception of Sweed is someone who in the future will be a stud with fade passes. My problem with Sweed is that when I told him this, he was surprised. He wanted to hear more. The guy needs more confidence. I hope the coaches told him what a great play that was, one he can build on.

I think everyone else sees him for what he is -- a big, fast, nervous young man in the first year of his chosen profession. Still could go either way, but I like what I've seen. Mendenhall, I don't think we need to waste much time here because he's really starting to look terrific. I was surprised to learn he never fumbled in college. Now, that stat may have been for lost fumbles. Anyway, the guy's strong, fast and has the right attitude. But let's not pidgeonhole him as a short-yardage guy. Right now, that order, I believe, is Parker, Carey Davis, Mendenhall-Russell. Even Mewelde Moore will pound a couple draws in because of the weight he added (much to the chagrin of the punt-returns coach) to improve as a pass-blocker. 

3) Hines Ward. What's the likelihood of seeing him turn in a big year numbers wise, say 80+ catches and ~ 1000 yards.

JW: If someone calls him up and tells him he won't post those numbers, it's 100 percent that he will. Realistically, those numbers are too high with the other weapons on the team. Every possible position has a pass-catcher, even fullback and No. 2 TE. Arians has everything he ever asked for. So, I see Ward's numbers falling, but he really looks terrific. He's going to still burn teams with huge catches and that wicked smile.

4) Any signs that Heath Miller will factor into Bruce Arians's gameplans more prominently this year?

JW: I don't see the need with the aforementioned weapons. I'm certain Spaeth will catch more balls. Nate Washington really looks primed. I've always held my breath when he's settled under deep balls, but anymore in practice it's not a surprise to anyone. Everyone's expecting him to catch balls lately and no one cheers when he does. That's one thing, Nate is still a favorite of Ben's.

5) Were you at all surprised by the decision to keep Dallas Baker while letting Willie Reed and Eddie Drummond walk? Does that mean Mewelde Moore will be fielding punts?

JW: No. Neither return man showed much. Baker's another of Ben's favorites. As for Moore, he's a bit pudged up, and I like it. So the lack of a return man goes on the front office, not Moore or for that matter Santonio Holmes.

6) Will LaMarr Woodley be on the same side as against rookie T Duane Brown? I sure hope so. I can't see any way that the noise of Heinz Field plus the multiple looks of LeBeau's blitzes does not get to him.

JW: No. Even worse for young Mr. Brown, Deebo's on his side. That's James Harrison's nickname on the team. You'll also see Lawrence Timmons rotate in over there. Of course, Woodley could mix in. I also look for Brett Keisel to take advantage of this great mismatch. And Troy Polamalu. And Ike Taylor. And James Farrior. And Aaron Smith. I'm sure Matt "Rusty" Schaub will be planning quick releases all day. I wonder if TE Owen Daniels will finish the game, considering the pounding he's about to take.

7) One more game related question: do you think the coverage units will be significantly better than they were last year? Interestingly enough, at least to me, the Texans, while not great, may provide one of the better challenges in the two departments where we're most vulnerable: pass protection and special teams.

JW: Let's hope, huh? You have to like Keyaron Fox and the job Anthony Madison's doing as a gunner. Deebo and Timmons will also be blowing people up. I also suspect the lack of a booming leg will temper the enthusiasm of the coach. They'll just tell Berger to get it out of bounds when a real dangerous guy's back there.