Let’s get to it:
TOM WILLOUGHBY FROM RIPLEY, WV: We all know that the work done during the offseason can have a huge impact on the success achieved during the season. Who do you think will have a break-out season this year based on what you’re seeing from them in the offseason?
ANSWER: When the owners and the NFLPA negotiated the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, one of the provisions won by the players was having their offseason responsibilities to their teams curtailed significantly. So as things stand today, players are not permitted to report to their teams until April 1 if those teams have a new head coach, and on April 15 if those teams have a returning head coach. So there will be nothing happening at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex involving players until April 15, and those activities don’t really even resemble football in shorts until OTAs begin, which usually is just after Memorial Day. Here is the specific language explaining and governing the offseason program:
“As per Article 21 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, each club’s official, voluntary nine-week offseason program is conducted in three phases:
“Phase One consists of the first two weeks of the program with activities limited to strength and conditioning and physical rehabilitation only. Phase Two consists of the next three weeks of the program. On-field workouts may include individual player instruction and drills as well as team practice conducted on a ‘separates’ basis. No live contact or team offense vs. team defense drills are permitted. Phase Three consists of the next four weeks of the program. Teams may conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity, or ‘OTAs.’ No live contact is permitted, but 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills are permitted.
“Article 22 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that clubs may hold one mandatory minicamp for veteran players. This minicamp must occur during Phase Three of the offseason program.”
For the Steelers, the first day players are allowed to report for Phase One is Monday, April 15; and their 10 OTAs will be held on May 21-23, May 28-30, and June 3-6. Minicamp will be held on June 11-13.
The bottom line with all of this is that even though the Steelers final game of 2018 was three full months ago, it’s going to be close to another two full months before we’re able to see much from their returning players on a football field, and even then it will be with them wearing only helmets and shorts.
JOHN ROEBUCK FROM ALTOONA, PA: How did the Steelers rate Sean Davis’ season? I’ve read articles that go in both directions.
ANSWER: I believe those articles you reference are a fair representation of the quality of Sean Davis’ performance in 2018, in that it contained some good and some not-so-good. For the 2018 season, Davis was moved from strong safety to free safety, and what the coaches emphasized to him was that as the free safety he was the last line of defense with his primary job being to help the defense cut down on the number of big plays allowed. To that end, Davis did a good job, because after allowing 13 pass plays of 40-or-more yards in 2017, that number was reduced to eight such plays in 2018. But the area in which Davis came up short is the same area in which the entire Steelers defense came up short: creating takeaways. In terms of interceptions, the Steelers tied a franchise low with eight in 2018, and Davis accounted for one of those. Expecting a free safety to be more ball aware, to make more plays on the ball, is not a ridiculous expectation.
RICK FRICK FROM ALBUQUERQUE, NM: Will Mark Barron line up at safety?
ANSWER: Some sub-packages aside, no. Mark Barron was signed to play inside linebacker. And maybe Barron won’t align as a safety even in sub-packages, but that figures to be determined as training camp and the preseason progress, and it also figures to be based on which players the Steelers are able to add during the draft and what position those guys play. But the vast majority of the time, the answer to your question is going to be “no.”
JEFFREY MAURER FROM FAIRLAWN, VA: I am a Virginia Tech fan, and I wonder what chance you think Bucky Hodges has of making the 53-man roster this year? What do you think his potential is?
ANSWER: Bucky Hodges’ chance to make the 53-man roster in 2019 is going to depend upon a number of factors, and some of those have yet to reveal themselves. It’s going to be based in part on if the Steelers draft a tight end, in which round they draft that tight end, if they sign any post-draft unrestricted free agents at the position. Then, can Hodges stay healthy through the offseason program, training camp, and the preseason so that he can stay on the practice field and continue to work to improve? All I can tell you right now is that the Steelers believe he has some potential and that there is a need at the position he plays.
BRANDON LATTANZI FROM STRATFORD, CT: Just to be clear about the new rule that makes offensive and defensive pass interference reviewable: This still would not have helped the Saints in the NFC Championship Game because there was no call made on the play, correct?
ANSWER: Incorrect. The new rule will allow coaches to use a challenge on a play in which offensive or defensive pass interference was not called on the field.
DENNIS NEVINSKY FROM ERIE, PA: According to the Ourlads draft value chart, it would take our No. 1, No. 2, both No. 3s, and our No. 4 pick to move into the top five of the first round in the draft. That is way too steep for a team that has so many needs. Do you think we would give up our No. 2 pick to move?
ANSWER: If I was making the decision, I would not be trading the second-round pick, because in the first two rounds, I would be looking to add playmakers at two of these three defensive positions – inside linebacker, outside linebacker, and cornerback, and based on recent history those kinds of players at those positions get picked early. If moving up in the first round can be done without parting with that No. 2 pick, I would consider it, but in doing it that way I would understand that the move up would not be a dramatic one.
RANDY KERS FROM WINTERSVILLE, OH: With all the speculation swirling around the inside linebacker position, where do you see Tyler Matakevich ending up?
ANSWER: I believe the Steelers see Tyler Matakevich as a combination backup/special teams player.
MIKE WHALEY FROM CLARKSBURG, WV: You're sort of dodging the issue on a lot of questions about the draft, so let me ask it a different way: Who do you believe are the top three to five “defensive playmakers,” available in this draft class, and do we have a shot to pick any of them?
ANSWER: I am not a scout, nor do I pretend to be one on the internet. I don’t DVR college games, or college all-star games, or the NFL Combine, or the telecasts of college Pro Days and then pretend to know what I’m watching to the degree where I feel comfortable offering an opinion to readers who are looking for accurate information. There are plenty of people polluting cyberspace with that drivel, and my experience is that you can believe it or not at your own peril. I choose to pass along information I have gleaned from the people who are paid to scout players and rate players and ultimately draft players, and at this time of the year I am not about to reveal proprietary information in this type of forum, because that would be tantamount to giving away team secrets. So the bottom line is this: Even if I had somebody tell me, as an example, who the Steelers see as the top playmaking cornerbacks, I wouldn’t reveal that information. And anyone who tells you which players are going to be available at No. 20 overall is just guessing. I save my guesses for the Powerball, and I haven't been doing very well with them there lately, either.