Let's get to it:
JAMES HEDSPETH FROM LOS ANGELES, CA: I'm a big Hines Ward fan. Do you think with his numbers he is Hall of Fame bound? I think he is worthy. What's your opinion?
ANSWER: I believe Hines Ward is worthy of being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but instead of wasting time with why I am of that opinion, I'm going to let you and the other readers know why Coach Mike Tomlin, who both coached Ward once he was hired by the Steelers in 2007 and coached against Ward as a defensive assistant/coordinator with Tampa Bay and Minnesota from 2001-06, believes the same thing.
Q: There were eight wide receivers among the 26 semifinalists for induction into the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2022. Those wide receivers were Hines Ward, Anquan Boldin, Devin Hester, Torry Holt, Andre Johnson, Steve Smith, Steve Tasker, and Reggie Wayne. What makes Ward worthy of the Hall of Fame? (EDITOR'S NOTE: None of those eight wide receivers were elected.)
Tomlin: He's got the hardware on his finger. He's a multiple time world champion. That's a component of it, but also everybody who witnessed him play understand that his style of play is above and beyond the statistical analysis, the nature in which he played and the way he redefined the position. He did things differently than others. His point-of-attack blocking was a weapon. He was a true weapon in that space, and there's not a lot of stats that really measure that. I make that argument all the time. Several years ago, when I was stumping for (safety) John Lynch, who I coached down in Tampa, stats didn't really give an indication of John Lynch's impact on the game because of the physicality with which he played. Hines is the offense's counterpart to that. You can ask John Lynch about Hines Ward, and I'm sure the first thing that's coming out of his mouth won't be stat related. It will be the nature in which Hines played the game, and I think that's something that always has to be quantified. And while it's debatable, those of us who were close to it, those of us who saw it, it is not debatable. It is crystal clear. It was unique. It was different. It was position defining, and those are the characteristics that exemplify a gold jacket guy.
Q: When you were a defensive backs coach in the NFL and coached against Hines Ward, what did you tell your guys about him?
Tomlin: The reason I mentioned John Lynch is because John Lynch was that box safety that I'd be telling to watch out for No. 86, because that's what Hines did. He went in there and mixed it up against the likes of John Lynch and Donovin Darious and the other box safeties who were really physical in his generation, and Hines should be recognized for that. And so, stats are a component of (getting elected to the Hall of Fame), but let's be real – Hines' stats tell a Hall of Fame worthy story as well. But relative to some of the other receivers that you mentioned (as being semifinalists) who have comparable stats, I just wanted to draw a distinction.
STEPHEN KEISTER FROM KINNELON, NJ: I saw that John Mitchell, the Steelers' assistant head coach, was honored over the weekend by the University of Alabama, the university for which he played football and broke the color barrier. Can you let us know how long he's been with the Steelers, his responsibilities, and any biographical details that might be interesting?
ANSWER: Teresa Varley did an excellent job of profiling John Mitchell for Steelers.com, and I suggest you read her stories. The link will take you to the page with the story about Mitchell being recognized by Alabama during last weekend's unveiling, and within that story is a link to another piece that profiles him. Read them both. It will be worth your time and should provide insight into the man.
AUSTIN GLICK FROM REEDSVILLE, PA: Being a Penn State fan, I absolutely loved what Jaquan Brisker did for that team. Assuming that the Steelers do not add a strong safety before the draft, what do you think of him as a potential first-round pick?
ANSWER: I have seen evaluations of safety prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft, and Jaquan Brisker is rated as high as No. 2 on some lists behind Notre Dame's Kyle Hamilton. Here is how NFL analyst Lance Zierlein profiled him for NFL.com: "Athletic safety prospect whose versatility and toughness will endear him to coaches during the evaluation process. Brisker continued to pick up elements of the defensive scheme and his play has steadily transformed from hesitant in 2019 to downright instinctive in 2021. He has the versatility to become a moving chess piece in a variety of coverages and has the size and talent to match up with tight ends. He played with a banged-up shoulder in 2021, and so his 2020 tape is a clearer indicator of his run support acumen. Brisker is an ascending talent with the NFL traits to become a long-time starter as a Day 2 draft pick." A Day 2 draft pick means Brisker would be a good value in the second round or the third round.
VINCENT CIANNI FROM HOBOKEN, NJ: If you were the Steelers GM how would you strategize the draft? Would you take a defensive lineman in the first round and a wide receiver in the second round, or something different?
ANSWER: My strategy would be to concentrate on players and not positions during the three days of the 2022 NFL Draft. The Steelers have enough needs/weaknesses in their roster that needs can be addressed successfully by picking the best player on the board in each round.
SCOTTE MARTIN FROM LAKESIDE, CA: Do you think the Steelers will address the giant hole behind Najee Harris on the depth chart at running back with the draft, or wait until after June 1?
ANSWER: I believe the Steelers will look to strengthen the running back depth behind Najee Harris before the end of this offseason. It could happen during the draft if the right opportunity presents itself, or in free agency. There is no need to wait until after June 1.
CAL STIENMAN FROM TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA: I'm a little concerned that if Najee Harris gets hurt, the running game is done. Do you think the Steelers should spend a bit to get a decent backup running back? It might also provide a bit of a 1-2 punch as well as giving Najee a break here and there. Melvin Gordon came to mind, although he looks to be talking to the Ravens.
ANSWER: The problem with signing veteran running backs to be backups is that those players have to buy into the reality that their role is going to be as a backup. Not necessarily even a complement, or part of a 1-2 punch, but a backup. DeAngelo Williams understood that, but LeGarrette Blount did not. That's why Williams was an asset to the Steelers and Blount was not.
KHARI CLEMMONS FROM MCALPIN, FL: You've explained many times that only player salaries count against the cap. Coach and staff salaries do not. Are there any restrictions on coach and staff salaries? Or are teams allowed to spend on their coaching staff whatever their owners' wallets can accommodate?
ANSWER: There are no NFL rules as far as restrictions on salaries paid to coaches, scouts, the general manager, the equipment manager, etc.
ED TEMPLE FROM JOHNSON CITY, TN: I remember as a boy my uncle taking me to my first Steelers game at Three Rivers Stadium in 1978. Other than the Steelers and Pirates, did any other teams play in that stadium?
ANSWER: During its life from 1970 through the close of the Steelers' 2000 season, Three Rivers Stadium hosted some high school football games, some Pitt football games, the home games for the one unsuccessful season of the USFL's Pittsburgh Maulers, and the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. And there may have been some others, too.
CHUCK MAKRUCKI FROM HINCKLEY, CA: It is difficult to keep track of free agents and whether they signed with another team, re-signed with the Steelers, or are still on the market. Can you give us a recap of the status of all the Steelers' free agents?
ANSWER: When it comes to the Steelers' 17 unrestricted free agents, they re-signed five (Montravius Adams, Miles Killebrew, Arthur Maulet, Chuks Okorafor, and Ahkello Witherspoon); five signed with other teams (Taco Charlton with New Orleans, Joshua Dobbs with Cleveland, Ray-Ray McCloud with San Francisco, JuJu Smith -Schuster with Kansas City, and James Washington with Dallas); six remain unsigned (Kalen Ballage, Eric Ebron, Terrell Edmunds, B.J. Finney, Joe Haden, and Trai Turner); and Ben Roethlisberger retired.
MARK VALENZIA FROM BARTLETT, TN: Who are the top five all-time sack leaders for the Steelers?
ANSWER: Even though you asked for the top five, here are the top 10: James Harrison with 80.5; Jason Gildon with 77; L.C. Greenwood with 73.5; T.J. Watt with 72; Cam Heyward with 68; Joe Greene with 66; Joey Porter with 60; Keith Willis with 59; LaMarr Woodley with 57; and Greg Lloyd with 53.5.
TONY BELLAMY FROM CHICAGO, IL: Do players pay for their uniforms and any additions, or is everything provided by the team, and whatever a player wants, he gets?
ANSWER: In the National Football League, players do not pay for their own uniforms. As for the "whatever a player wants, he gets" aspect of your uniform question, there are league rules governing what is and is not acceptable/permitted when it comes to a player's uniform. In that respect, it's not "whatever a player wants, he gets."
LAMAR BLALOCK FROM LITTLE ROCK, MS: Do you think the Steelers have a realistic chance of drafting Jordan Davis from Georgia? Davis reminds me of Joe Greene. I truly feel that just like Mean Joe, Jordan Davis can be the cornerstone to putting the steel back in our vaunted Steel Curtain Defense like Mean Joe accomplished in the past.
ANSWER: Just stop it. You are disrespecting Joe Greene, putting WAY TOO MUCH pressure on Jordan Davis, and embarrassing yourself by comparing Davis to Greene. Be better than that.