Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sportswriter Ed Bouchette holds a weekly chat in which he takes questions from the general public. If you’re unfamiliar with Bouchette, he’s definitely an interesting character. He’s 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 are one-liners. It’s hard to glean useful information from that, so I expanded on the 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’ll include your questions in next week’s article. Better make it good — don’t want to be chided by the BTSC faithful.
Question: Ed, curing the past two years, there have been high hopes for Justin Hunter. Even today, you wrote another article on him singing praises. But we haven’t seen anything during the season from him. What gives you hope/confidence that he will have any type of role this year?
Bouchette: My eyes and some words from coaches/scouts. His only season with the Steelers was 2017, not two years. Martavis Bryant was ahead of him so he didn’t get much opportunity. He also wasn’t in sync with Ben. That is changing dramatically.
Flip: The last thing I will do is buy into coachspeak in training camp when players aren’t tackling during team sessions. Justin Hunter has been known as an offseason phenom who can’t translate success to the regular season. Will this be the year that the lights turn on and shed the Lee Mays comparisons?
Martavis Bryant and chemistry were the reasons Hunter didn’t have a good season in 2017 — what were his reasons in the four previous years? Hunter has been given every opportunity to succeed since being the 34th overall pick in the 2014 draft. He’s either been hurt or else never lived up to the hype. Will Hunter make the 2018 squad? My thoughts on this will be revealed later in this article.
Question: Edmunds seems to be making a huge splash. What are the chances of him starting if his camp and preseason appearances continue to go well?
Bouchette: Good, depending also on how Burnett comes along. But Edmunds has been practicing and getting it done — Burnett has not. Long way to go still. Many times, rookies look great in the first week and then fade. We’ll see.
Flip: Morgan Burnett did not sign with the Black-and-gold to play second fiddle and ride the pine. Steelers coaches held Burnett out of practice for precautionary reasons. Terrell Edmunds snared significant starter reps in Burnett’s absence. Edmunds has taken full advantage and has had some strong practices. By accounts at camp, he has two interceptions (one was on a miscue on a route run by Antonio Brown) and several pass breakups.
I have been excited to read the daily reports and listen to the commentary on Steelers Nation Radio regarding Edmunds’ progress. Keep in mind, though, that this is only training camp. Seeing him in preseason games is what I’m waiting for. That’s where it’ll be seen whether Edmunds is the true first-rounder Steeler fans hope he’ll be and not the “reach” that draft experts labeled him.
Question: Why sign Eli Rodgers? He was never a standout and had huge fumbles in the playoffs. Why not give a young guy a shot to, at worst, be just another WR?
Bouchette: He doesn’t even count on the roster yet and he’s had a productive season under his belt. If a young guy shows he can do it better, they would consider that. Rosters are cut for another month.
Flip: Bouchette correctly points out that Pittsburgh placed Eli Rogers on the active players unable-to-perform list (active PUP). This means that, while he’s on the list, he doesn’t count against the team’s 90-man roster (he counts against the salary cap). There’s nothing in Rogers’ contract that’s guaranteed. So where is the downside? There isn’t any.
What is the upside to signing Rogers? Rogers has shown chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger during the postseason. In the four games Rogers has played, he has 18 receptions. The 154 total yards isn’t impressive but he’s definitely been a reliable outlet. Punt-return versatility also comes into play.
His salary is $150,000 more than an undrafted rookie but $50,000 cheaper than Hunter (accounting for Hunter’s dead money).
What I expect is for Rogers to stay on the PUP list and to also be placed on the regular-season PUP list. That would mean he’d miss the first six weeks of the regular season. After the first five weeks of the season, the Steelers would get an additional 21 days to determine if Rogers is healthy enough to be activated or remain on the PUP list for the entire season.
This is the route I expect the team to take. At this point, I expect Rogers to bump Hunter off the 53-man roster.
Question: With Foster hurting, does Matt Feiler get an extended look to start?
Bouchette: B.J. Finney takes over there
Flip: B.J. Finney is the direct backup to Ramon Foster and he may be called on if Foster’s hyperextended knee leads him to miss regular-season games. Finney is a quality backup at left guard who may be penciled-in as the left guard of the future with Foster heading to free agency in 2019.
What I’ve found interesting (and speculated on) is Matt Feiler being seen as a guard by Pittsburgh and not as on offensive tackle. Feiler has been running as the second-team left guard at training camp while seeing limited reps at either of the tackle positions. Instead, 2018 rookie tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, has been running as the backup left tackle. Nothing highlighted this more than Okorafor — not Feiler — subbing in for Alejandro Villanueva when AV left practice on Wednesday. Undrafted journeyman, Jake Rogers, having bounced around the league since 2015, has seen most of the snaps with the second team at right tackle. For me, this is a scary situation unfolding which I covered in a previous article.
Question: Should we be concerned about tight-end depth? McDonald staying healthy is a tough ask it seems and there’s not much behind him.
Bouchette: Jesse James caught 40-some passes last season. He’s a legit backup and, in fact, has been the starter the past two seasons .
Flip: The BTSC boards have been roasting Vance McDonald due to missing camp time with a minor foot injury. Like Burnett, they’ve held him out of practice to err on the side of caution. With McDonald’s lengthy injury history — fans are being pessimistic here. They have held numerous players out of training camp practices. This is nothing new and happens every year during camp and even into preseason games.
Jessie James will never be mistaken for Travis Kelce, but he’s a sure-handed 6-7 target and not a disaster blocking. James has 82 receptions over the past two regular seasons to go along with six touchdowns. James isn’t flashy but most NFL teams don’t have that luxury at tight end. Most second-string tight ends in the NFL are blocking specialists and pose zero threat on offense. Depth at tight end might be the area fans should be least worried about.
After a hiatus from making snarky comments during last week’s chat, Bouchette filled this chat session with one snarky comment after another. Choosing one with so many options was not an easy feat — but here goes:
Question: Matthew Thomas excites me. He’s the right size and speed. Rare combination. Is anything missing from this guy?
Bouchette: Well, he wasn’t drafted for reasons you’ll have to google
Flip: I shake my head on this one that Bouchette doesn’t share his vast knowledge and connections with the team but, instead, directs the commenter to Google. This is the reason the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette should replace him with someone considerate enough to answer fans’ questions.
By all reports, Mathew Thomas has been having a solid training camp. BTSC fans have even flirted with the possibility of him making the 53-man roster. Only L.J. Fort stands between Thomas making the roster — but it’s not a sure thing. Thomas has to make Fort expendable with superior special-teams play. The coaches also will evaluate his ability in coverage and run-stopping.
Thomas was labeled an underachiever at FSU with a lengthy injury history to go along with a suspension (failed drug test). The likely reasons he was left off of teams’ draft boards? Poor technique, suspect commitment to football and questionable instincts. Tackling high can be addressed by the coaching staff — but only Thomas can answer the other two. Thomas has huge upside as a former 5-star recruit who committed to Florida State. The athletic part has never been in question apart from injuries, as he measured in the 95th-percentile SPARQ at the Combine.
Do you think Thomas takes the roster spot from Fort or forces the Steelers to carry five inside linebackers? Or does he land on the practice squad and get a year of seasoning?
While Bouchette has covered the Steelers going on 45 years, fans would appreciate more valued information during these sessions. At the same time, fans need to remember that these answers are all off-the-cuff, which is a tougher style to undertake since the pundit has no time to prepare or gather information. So that 45 years of experience should prepare him for this simple task, right? Do you read or participate in the chat sessions? What is your opinion of the sessions?