Monday, March 21, 2011

Ron Lippock Interviews Me for Pittsburgh Sports Business Daily

David Todd Interview (March 16,  2011):


Where can fans find you on the air and online?

The main place is my blog www.thehammerspeaks.blogspot.com. I also contribute to SteelersDepot.comSB Nation Pittsburgh and BucsDugout.com, all great sites with which I'm pleased to be associated. I have a few other things in the works  and that information will be published on my blog.

I do some radio work for ESPN 970 and we are currently working out my role going forward, so stay tuned for that.

And of course I co-host The Terrible Podcast which can be found on iTunes or my website with Dave Bryan of Steelers Depot. We do three 30-40 minute podcasts a week during the season and around the draft and two a week the rest of the year. People can't seem to get enough of Steelers football talk.

Readers can follow me on twitter @hammerspeaks.

Give us a short history of how your blog got started and what we can expect to see over the next few weeks?

Well the blog got "started" many times over the past couple of years, but about a year ago I committed to it more fully. As for what to except coming up, I have a piece on Sidney Crosby that I really like that I was going to publish just before he got injured. Now that he is back skating I plan on running it soon, probably around the time he actually starts practicing.
 
Baseball will be a big focus as we approach opening day and I'll have various articles on the NHL and NBA as we get closer to the playoffs. And, of course the NFL draft is always good for some material.

Tell us about the draft as it pertains to the Steelers' needs and schemes - is there depth and quality in this draft in this team's areas of need?

I have been strongly advocating the Steelers spend two of their early round picks on corners. In the NFL corners are more important than ever and the Steelers are lacking in quality and depth. There are two elite corners in this draft, but they will be off the board when the Steelers choose at #31. 

It is also likely that the top four offensive tackles and Maurkice Pouncey's brother Mike, the top interior lineman, will all be off the board when the Steelers make their pick. So, that will make for an interesting decision in round 1. There is good depth at corner it just becomes a question of whether the Steelers see value in a guy like Jimmy Smith of Colorado who may be the third best corner but has been red-flagged with some off the field issues.

I wouldn't be surprised if the Steelers moved up or down in round 1. I could see them targeting one guy and trading their first and second round picks to move up ten spots and grab him. At the same time, with the depth at corner and OL in this draft, they might also move back 10 spots in order to fill two needs, while still getting someone they really like.

As always it is a pretty inexact science guessing this early in the process, but it's also a lot of fun and something people love to read and speculate about. It's clear the Steelers needs are CB/DB, OL and DL, and they will always draft a LB or two because of the system they play and special team needs. 

If you want a complete off-the-wall, blue sky pick for round 1 it would be Leonard Hankerson WR, University of Miami. WR is not an urgent need for the Steelers, but with Hines Ward possibly in his last year, Hankerson at 6'3" 205 with great speed and the third best WR in this draft, could be the best player available when the Steelers pick. It would be a name to think about. I love the guy.

Give us the names of some players fans should watch out for as possible Steelers targets - in round one and further down the draft as well.

In round 1 I would look for CBs Jimmy Smith and Brandon Harris of Miami as two possibilities. OT Anthony Castonzo out of BC would be a steal at 31. He could go in the top 15. The second best interior lineman and second best DT are both out of Baylor, Danny Watkins and Phil Taylor, and are two other names that are possibilities.

Picking names at this point further down the draft would just be throwing darts but two corners I like a little off the radar are Johnny Patrick of Louisville and Davon House of New Mexico St. and an inside linebacker to watch is Kelvin Sheppard of LSU.

And just for the record I think Von Miller, the OLB from Texas A&M, will be the best player out of this draft.

What are your thoughts on this offense - what does it need to do to become more consistent next season? Is Arians capable in your opinion of achieving this?

The Steelers got to the Super Bowl, so let's keep that in mind when evaluating players and staff. Arians is fine. It's easy to attack the OC on any football team. While I don't always agree with his decision-making, I found myself much more in-line with his thinking this year than I did last year, particularly in that loss to Cleveland last year.

In terms of consistency, I actually thought Ben had a good year, but was surprisingly erratic with his throwing toward the end of the season. Working with the three young receivers from the beginning of camp, whenever that may be, and having some members of the OL back should help. 

Also, I think Rashard also has more room to develop. At times he's was tentative hitting the whole, but less so toward the end of the year. Those will be the two things I am watching most closely.

Which younger players that have had little or no contribution this season do you think will step up and contribute much more in 2011?

From a fans perspective let's hope it's last year's fifth-round pick Crezdon Butler. With Ike Taylor and William Gay having uncertain contract situations and Keenan Lewis now a big question mark the Steelers are desperate for help at corner. 

Stevenson Sylvester is another guy who I think has a big future at the inside linebacker position. He showed great instincts and while he may still be a year away, I think he is the heir-apparent when Farrior leaves. 

The off-the-board choice is Limas Sweed. He'll be back in camp after missing last year. He has size and speed, but clearly was an immature guy coming out of college and more importantly did not show he could consistently catch the ball. In his third year he'll be battling for his professional life in camp.

The guy who I expect to really contribute who did have a role this year is Manny Sanders. I can see him making a Mike Wallace-type leap this coming year.

Coach LeBeau signed a one-year contract. What's the succession plan there? Is Coach Butler the future defensive coordinator?

Yes, I think that is pretty clear. Whether it's one year or three would only be speculation on my part.  


Is Omar Kahn the team's secret weapon? It seems like this team is able to retain talent in ways few teams have been able to do.

Omar Kahn is not more important than Mike Tomlin or Kevin Colbert, but he's damn close. He has done a fantastic job and the Steelers are lucky to have him.  


What do you say to those fans that criticize the fact that the Steelers are not aggressive enough in free agency?

Fans are welcome to say whatever they want, they essentially pay the bills, but I think the Steelers track record speaks for itself. It is hard to find much fault with the way they do business.

What are your thoughts on the job Coach Tomlin did in keeping this team together? Any thoughts on him getting no votes for Coach of the Year despite a stellar coaching performance?

I was pretty outspoken on the Coach of the Year debate and probably not in the way most Steelers fans would assume. I found the outrage that Tomlin got no votes laughable. First of all, each voter only has one vote, not a list of three or five. So, for Tomlin to get a vote he has to be in first place on someone's ballot. And remember, the ballot was at the end of the regular season, not the playoffs. There isn't an argument that holds for Tomlin. Some said look at all the injuries. Steelers fans are often blind to other teams problems. Green Bay, among others, had many more injuries than the Steelers. Others said the 12 wins. Well, New England had 14 and they weren't expected to have that kind of season, especially with the youth they had on defense. Tampa and Kansas City also far exceeded expectations.

I had the Steelers with 11 wins and in the Super Bowl in my preseason predictions. I expected them to be a very good team. Tomlin is a great coach and did do a great job, but he wouldn't have been in the top 3 in my ballot. And, by the way, Mike Tomlin could care less. This is all for the media and the fans. But let me be very clear, I do think Mike Tomlin is one of the best coaches in the game and the Steelers management deserves all the credit in the world for seeing that five years ago and hiring the guy.

Where do you see this team's greatest potential area of improvement going into next season? How do they accomplish this?

Pass defense is the biggest area of weakness. While Troy was the team MVP and Defensive Player of the Year he had some bad games and was not particularly effective in the playoffs. With the lack of depth at corner the team needed a potent pass rush to keep other team's passing games under control. However, some of the better QBs like Brady, Brees and Rodgers were able to get the ball into open windows underneath and up the seams before the rush could get there.
 
If the Steelers are going to continue with that scheme--and there is no reason they shouldn't--then they need better cover corners who can run. They commit to stopping the run, so the corners need to be able to cover crossing routes and the like and tackle effectively.

I also expect the OL to improve as Pouncey gains experience and the team gets healthier at the position. And, as mentioned, I expect Manny Sanders to have the biggest impact as an improved individual. 


Any last thoughts for readers?

Feel free to email me hammerspeaks@gmail.com or twitter me with blog article suggestions or ideas. Thanks for having me Ron.  

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