Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports writer Ed Bouchette holds a weekly chat in which he takes questions from the general public. If you are unfamiliar with Bouchette, he is definitely an interesting character. He’s is known for breaking important Steelers news and also for his snarky and colorful comments. This week’s full chat session can be read here.
Most of Bouchette’s answers to fans questions are one-liners. It is hard to glean useful information from that, so I decided to expand on questions he takes with answers of my own. The chat lasts around a half-hour so I cherry-picked some of the questions. For a bit of fun with this, if you put BTSC at the end of your nickname there and your questions get answered, I will include your questions in next week’s article. Better make it good -- do not want the BTSC faithful to chide you.
Question: Do you see Ben getting extended now that he has only 2 years left on his contract? Almost seems like with his recent comments he is testing the front office? Thoughts?
Bouchette: I don’t think that was a test, I think it was an honest reaction that many others also were thinking. I also don’t think they will extend for practical reasons. They can do it next year. The last time they did a new contract, he was headed into his final season under contract.
Flip: A Ben Roethlisberger extension now is off the board. An extension would involve adding more new money to his 2018 contract via a signing bonus. A restructure through an extension is also not likely. Such a deal would involve creating salary cap space. While Pittsburgh does need to make cap space — no reason to create that much with Big Ben. Next season would be more fitting for such a move if the Steelers see a need to free up cap space in 2019, or lock Roethlisberger up for future years.
Question: When Le’Veon Bell signs his franchise deal, do the Steelers have the right to trade him at any point up to the deadline?
Bouchette: Once he signs, yes, they can. But I would not look for it to happen.
Flip: What would be the benefit to this? Le’Veon Bell will not sign his tender until just before the season starts, just like he did last season. The Steelers do not have a glaring hole like they did last year when they brought in cornerback Joe Haden. By then, the salary cap drama will have been a distant memory. Purging a dynamic player in Bell would be of zero benefit. Would another team part with a valued starter just days before the regular season starts? Unlikely.
Question: Hi Ed, Thank you for your time. Do you think Williams and Bostic can serve the defense well enough over the upcoming season or do you see the inside linebackers as a glaring weakness?
Bouchette: Bostic supposedly is a good player when healthy. He’s been on IR twice, traded twice.
Flip: Jon Bostic does have a checkered past regarding injuries and Steeler Nation will be keeping its collective fingers crossed in 2018. I encourage all to go back and watch the Indianapolis Colts and Steelers game from 2017. I did just that, and came away impressed and hopeful. Bostic read and reacted to plays during the game naturally. The run pursuit was solid, and he did not get hung up by a number of Steeler lineman who tried to block him all while not over-pursuing. One of the limitations Bostic has been labeled with are his struggles in coverage — I did not see this rearing its ugly head in the three games I watched. Bostic will help cover up Vince Williams’ shortcomings in the run game and coverage like Ryan Shazier did. (Not comparing Shazier to Bostic.)
Question: Thanks for doing these chats, Ed. Any positions other than ILB that is flying under the radar as a potential problem this year? Any positions you see becoming a strength, like perhaps CB?
Bouchette: The potential problem is at outside linebacker. Very little depth there.
Flip: With outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo backing up at OLB, this should give Steeler fans pause to worry about the depth of the outside linebacker position. Chickillo has played in 31 out of a possible 32 games in the past two years to go along with nine starts. He racked up 5.5 sacks and 38 total tackles during that span. He is viewed as a capable replacement level reserve.
If OLB is not that big of a concern, what position is? Depth at offensive tackle. Former swing tackle, Chris Hubbard left via free agency, which is a cause for concern. Hubbard made 10 starts in 2017 and his departure creates a glaring void. The Steelers two starting tackles have their positions nailed down, but, starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert has missed 12 games over the past two seasons and will enter the upcoming season at 30 years old.
So what about the backups leads me to be concerned about their ability to fill in? Jerald Hawkins, the Steelers 2016 fourth round offensive linemen, was viewed by some as being a better fit playing in the interior of the offensive line. During the 2017 preseason, and one start during the 2017 regular season, he struggled in both run blocking and pass protection. Chukwuma Okorafor, who was drafted late in the third round of this year's draft, has potential, but by all accounts is raw and needs time to develop. Does this give you pause for concern? It does me.
Bouchette’s snarky answer of the week:
Question: If Bostic gets hurt and misses time, who fills his shoes?
Bouchette: The great unanswered question.
Flip: Oh great. Bouchette dodges the question I pose to him. Forty years of covering the Steelers and I get this answer?
Fine, I will give it a shot at answering my own question. Three possible outcomes could occur — none too palatable.
1: Inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich would sub into the MACK LB position. I just cringe at thinking about such a scenario. Dirty Red is a fan favorite with his high motor, but is limited athletically. His poor coverage skills would end up causing matchup nightmares.
2: Could one of the undrafted guys currently on the tail end of the roster impress and earn not only a roster spot while also securing the backup MACK spot? Mike Hilton type players do not come around every year. One player to keep an eye on is former Florida St. linebacker, Matthew Thomas. Thomas put together some fine tape at FSU, but comes with a troubled past and needs to add some weight. His tackling technique does have shortcomings.
3: A change in defensive scheme could be on the horizon. Pittsburgh only runs their base 3-4 about 30-percent of the time, but shifting out of that more would be dramatic. Running a big nickel or dime would open the Steelers up to getting exposed in the run game. Could the Steelers current starters adjust to a base 4-3 30-percent of the time?
While Bouchette has covered the Steelers going on 45 years, fans would appreciate more valued information. Fans do need to remember that these answers are all off the cuff, which is a tough style to undertake. He has no time to prepare or gather information. Do you read or participate in the chat sessions? What is your opinion on the sessions?