Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: April 2

Let's get to it:

KEVIN STAHLER FROM CHARLOTTE, NC:
Leadership seems to be a big problem for the Steelers teams since the loss of Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, James Farrior, etc. Do you see anyone on the current roster who can step up in terms of leadership? Or do you see any of the recent high picks – Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Jarvis Jones – being capable of filling that leadership void?

I'll allow Mike Tomlin to answer this one. "Cam Heyward is the core central leader to our defense, and he's a good one. He's a good player. He's got good football character. He's hard-working. He's a good communicator, and he's vocal. It's been fun to watch him ascend over his years with us to that role. I look forward to him continuing to grow in that role."

ANDRE ARTIS FROM SOUTH CHESTERFIELD, VA:
Much has been said about the lack of a consistent pass rush being an issue. I would agree. How would you assess the progress of Stephon Tuitt, and do you expect him to start this year?

By the end of 2014 – which was his rookie season – Stephon Tuitt was making plays for the Steelers as a defensive end. One that immediately comes to mind is from the game vs. Kansas City where Jamaal Charles caught a short pass and just as he was about to turn upfield, a pursuing Tuitt came from behind and delivered a big hit that forced a fumble the Steelers recovered. Tuitt is an athletic defensive lineman who is capable of making plays in areas of the field where defensive linemen typically can't make plays because they don't run well enough. Tuitt will start in 2015, and because he won't be 22 until May 23, there is the potential for him to man the position for a long time.

RICK BROWN FROM ROCHESTER, NY:
I have been following the Troy Polamalu situation closely. As much as I appreciate everything he has done for this organization, I believe it is time to move on. Just when does a final decision have to be made by either him, or the organization, to have the least effect on the salary cap?

The Steelers are in good shape with respect to the salary cap, and so there is no urgency with regards to that. Based on the offseason calendar, some decision could be expected to be reached before the beginning of OTAs, and certainly before the start of mandatory minicamp.

JOSH SPOSARO FROM MCDONOUGH, GA:
Although we just snatched DeAngelo Williams, which I think was a steal, and seeing as how our worst nightmares were realized in January when Le'Veon Bell was injured, do the Steelers look for a solid runner in the draft as backup to the backup? Let's get a Michigan State reunion going for Bell and Jeremy Langford? If he is still available.

Jeremy Langford is a good player, but picking him would require at least a third-round pick, and maybe even a second-round pick. In my opinion, that's too high a price to pay in the form of a draft pick for a team with so many needs on defense. I wouldn't even consider a running back until Saturday afternoon, which is when the late rounds of the draft unfold, and maybe not even then, depending upon how Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning go.

MARK PACE FROM WICHITA, KS:
Do you feel as I do, that Bill Cowher would be a great general manager if he was given the opportunity?

I do not. Since resigning as the Steelers coach following the 2006 season, Bill Cowher has received overtures to return to coaching in the NFL. For whatever reasons, Cowher has declined, and right now he's got himself a very nice job on "The NFL Today" on CBS. Because of that, I don't think Cowher would make a great NFL general manager, because I don't believe he's interested in being an NFL general manager.

GIANNIS AKTYPIS FROM ATHENS, GREECE:
Having watched Tajh Boyd extensively in college, I'm a big fan of his, and if I'm not mistaken the Steelers were in attendance for at least a couple of his games during his last college season at Clemson. What are the chances of him beating Landry Jones for the third-string job? Landry doesn't seem to have progressed at all, unfortunately.

The Steelers attended Clemson's football games in 2013 in preparation for the 2014 draft because the Tigers had a number of prospects. Granted, one of those prospects was Tajh Boyd, but the Steelers weren't there because of him. In fact, they drafted a Clemson player, but it was Martavis Bryant, not Boyd. Anyway, beating out Landry Jones for the No. 3 quarterback job is the best outcome Boyd could hope for this summer, but I have no way of handicapping that competition.

GUSTAVO ZAPIAIN FROM GATINEAU, QC, CANADA
What is your opinion on the last two versions of the Pro Bowl? Do you think it still has a future?

Full disclosure: I didn't watch a snap of either one. But the reality is that a lot of people are watching, and the television ratings justify continuing the game. Case in point: the 2014 Pro Bowl drew 11.7 million viewers, which was actually a significant decrease from 2013's 12.2 million viewers, but 11.7 million is still a big number. In 2015, the game drew 8.8 million viewers, another drop, but still a big enough number to keep the networks interested. The continual drop-off indicates viewers might not be so excited about the schoolyard pick-em aspect of forming the teams, and so maybe that's adjusted, but the game has a future if that many people keep watching.

KEITH WARREN FROM CANDLER, NC:
How many defensive backs do you see the Steelers taking in the upcoming draft?

At least two. Could be more depending upon how the players start coming off the board once the drafting actually begins.

FRANK McINTYRE FROM ONTARIO, NY:
Do you know if the practice sessions the Bills did with the Steelers will be reciprocated now that the Bills have a new head coach?

No, the Steelers will not be visiting the Bills training camp for joint practice sessions this summer.

MICHAEL RICKLEY FROM GERMANTOWN, MD:
What is the normal protocol for offensive plays to be added or subtracted from the playbook? One play that comes to mind is where the quarterback takes the snap and immediately spins and throws the ball to a wide receiver at the sideline.

It's not so much that plays are added or subtracted from the playbook, as much as they are either included or omitted from a particular week's game plan. The plays to which you refer – typically called bubble-screens – are popular in the NFL because they force opponents to defend the entire width of the field. Often considered run-game alternatives, a bubble-screen can be successful even if it gains as few as 4 yards.

ROY PATRICK FROM LAKE CHARLES, LA:
In a previous Asked and Answered, you mentioned the positive aspects of playing a game in London. Of course, it was especially nice when the other team gives up the home game. How do you think the organization is going to take on the PR problems that will arise when the Steelers are asked to give up the home game? I have a friend who is a Kansas City Chief fan. He just learned the Chiefs are being asked to give up a home game this year. The fan base there is livid.

What I do know about the Steelers' situation is that their Heinz Field lease includes a clause requiring the team to play 10 games at the facility each season. That number comes from the normal total of preseason (two) plus regular season games (eight), because playoff games at home cannot ever be assumed. I don't believe the NFL can require the Steelers to break their lease, so until something changes at the league level or at the legal level here in Pittsburgh, I don't see how the Steelers will be able to give up a home game to play in London.

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