Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: April 21

Let's get to it:

SHAUN CHALMER FROM MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: Besides Devin Bush and Diontae Johnson, is there a second-year player you're really looking forward to seeing make a bigger jump and potentially be a decent player for the team?
ANSWER: There are a few players entering their second pro seasons who fall into this category, but to pick just one I would go with Justin Layne, the cornerback from Michigan State. Listed at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, Layne was the team's second pick in the third round, the 83rd overall selection, and he turned 22 years old in January. Over the course of his rookie season, Layne sent former No. 1 pick Artie Burns to the inactive list by taking his job as a gunner on the punt team, and he finished the season having played 93 snaps on special teams. When he was drafted, the Steelers described Layne as a developmental cornerback because he began his college career as a wide receiver. There is no such thing in the NFL as having too many good cornerbacks, and the possibility exists that both Cam Sutton and Mike Hilton become unrestricted free agents in March 2021. If Layne makes the kind of jump Coach Mike Tomlin expects from second-year players, maybe he turns out to be an answer to some of the team's potential questions at the cornerback position.

KAYLA DUERR FROM NAPERVILLE, IL: Which quarterbacks have won the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award?
ANSWER: The Associated Press began giving out the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award in 1957, and there have been eight quarterbacks recognized since that time. It did take a while for quarterbacks to be recognized, because the first one to win the award was Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, which means the first 47 times the award was given it went to 35 running backs, 11 wide receivers, and tight end Mike Ditka in 1961. Besides Roethlisberger, the other quarterbacks to be voted Offensive Rookie of the Year were Vince Young in 2006, Matt Ryan in 2008, Sam Bradford in 2010, Cam Newton in 2011, Robert Griffin III in 2012, Dak Prescott in 2016, and Kyler Murray in 2019.

RAY WATSON FROM BROMLEY, UK: Unfortunately I missed the Steelers' last visit to the UK. Do you know if they will be visiting these shores in the not too distant future?
ANSWER: The decisions on the participating teams for the international games are made on a year-by-year basis, and all we know at the present time is the Steelers are not scheduled for an international game in 2020. Maybe when the regular season expands to 17 games – likely in 2021 – that will open things up for the Steelers to make more appearances overseas. But right now, that's nothing but pure speculation.

JIM MAGOWSKI FROM HARDIN, MT: After watching Kenny Robinson Jr. play in both college and the XFL, I came away impressed with his athleticism, playmaking, and ball skills. Has there be any interest by the Steelers to add him to the team in the upcoming draft?
ANSWER: Kenny Robinson Jr. was born and raised in Wilkinsburg, Pa., which is part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. After graduating from Omani Christian Academy, Robinson received a football scholarship at West Virginia University. In 23 games with the Mountaineers during the 2017-18 seasons, he had seven interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns, seven passes defensed, and one fumble recovery. Expelled from WVU for an incident that was termed academic fraud, Robinson chose the XFL to help provide for his mother who had been diagnosed with cancer. Robinson is draft eligible because he was only two years removed from high school when he signed with the XFL. Listed as 6-foot-2, 198 pounds by the XFL, Robinson turned 21 in January, and in his five XFL games he had 21 tackles, two interceptions, and one sack. The projections for where Robinson might be drafted run the gamut from being linked to Seattle with the 27th overall selection of the first round to being called a third-day prospect by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. As for a potential career with the Steelers, Robinson would have to last into the third day of the draft, because the team has no first-round pick and there are other areas besides a backup safety to be addressed with their second and third-round selections.

KENNETH YOKEM II FROM SPRINGFIELD, IL: What is your overall opinion on Diontae Johnson? How optimistic are you in his upcoming development next season?
ANSWER: The best thing to happen to Diontae Johnson as he heads into his second NFL season is that Ben Roethlisberger will be back at quarterback, and I believe he will become recognized as the best receiver on the roster in the near future.

CLARENCE JONES FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: If the Steelers had their first-round pick in this draft, what position/player do you think they'd select?
ANSWER: If they had a first-round pick in this draft, they wouldn't have a first-team All-Pro safety who personally had a hand in contributing eight takeaways to the Steelers' NFL-leading total while also scoring two defensive touchdowns. So to answer, if the Steelers had a first-round pick in this draft, then what they would need most is exactly that: a future first-team All-Pro safety who would contribute significantly to a league-leading takeaway total while also scoring defensive touchdowns.

FRED REED FROM PARIS, TX: Why wouldn't the Steelers just draft Kentucky's quarterback/wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr.?
ANSWER: I cannot say that they won't, but I believe the kind of receiver they're interested in adding to their arsenal is a guy who can threaten defenses with speed and create big plays in that way. Bowden got unlucky because after declining to run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, the global pandemic swept through the United States and resulted in the cancellation of college Pro Days, and so there is not a sanctioned 40-time for him as he enters the final days before the NFL Draft.

RICH BACH FROM WICHITA, KS: What is the skinny with Devlin Hodges? I have seen Mason Rudolph and the other two quarterbacks mentioned here, but have not heard a word about "Duck." Is he still in the mix for the No. 3 spot or not?
ANSWER: Absolutely. I fully expect him to get to compete for a roster spot during the training camp/preseason phase.

PAT FLYNN FROM OAKDALE, PA: When Minkah Fitzpatrick was with Miami, apparently there was some dissatisfaction over how he was being used in the defense. Was that accurate, and has Minkah voiced any concerns with how he is being used in the Steelers defense?
ANSWER: There were reports that Minkah Fitzpatrick wasn't thrilled with the Dolphins' plan to utilize him as an in-the-box safety, but there also is the theory that he wasn't thrilled with Miami seemingly most interested in compiling draft picks for a rebuild instead of trying to win games. Before the trade was finalized, Coach Mike Tomlin spoke with Fitzpatrick and explained how the Steelers planned to use him. If there had been any issues after that conversation, my belief is the trade never would've happened.

DAVID WAYNE FROM JOHNS CREEK, GA: What's the latest with Ryan Shazier? Any talk of starting his comeback this year? T.J. Watt, Devin Bush, Bud Dupree, and Shazier would be a dream set of linebackers.
ANSWER: As with so many things having to do with the NFL during this global pandemic, there is no "latest." But here are some things we know: the team placed Ryan Shazier on the reserve/retired list, and Steelers President Art Rooney II said about this on Jan. 15: "We have to sit down with Ryan and look through what the next step will be. We haven't quite done that yet. Definitely more to come in terms of sitting down with Ryan and deciding what the next steps will be. We'd love to have Ryan back in some capacity. I don't want to get ahead of Ryan. I don't want to say that he's given up the idea of being a player … He's a remarkable young man, determined young man, and so, I don't want to speak for him in terms of where he wants to go from here."

RANDY AGAPITO FROM RALEIGH, NC: I'm really excited about the hiring of Matt Canada as the quarterbacks coach and that he'll be working with Mason Rudolph. How would you rate the hire? Will we expect his offensive ideas and crazy shifts to be in the offense going forward?
ANSWER: I believed all along that the Steelers needed a quarterbacks coach to work with Mason Rudolph and the other young players at the position, and Canada has nice variety of experience at several prominent college programs. But I want to remind you and other Steelers fans that Randy Fichtner is the offensive coordinator, and Canada is the quarterbacks coach. Coach Mike Tomlin always preaches, "I don't care where good ideas come from," and so I'm confident Canada will be free to offer opinions and suggestions when the game plans are being devised. But Fichtner is the offensive coordinator, and Canada is the quarterbacks coach.

JACK LEWIS FROM BRIDGEVILLE, PA: I have seen on several websites that Jarron Jones was signed by the Steelers but does not show up on the Steelers site. Is it a case of him not having signed a contract yet or more likely that those sites just got it wrong again?
ANSWER: The lag time on these kinds of transactions has been extended, sometimes significantly, by the global pandemic. The Steelers have an agreement with Jarron Jones, and my belief is that there will be a signed contract once world events allow it to happen.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The signing of Jarron Jones is now official and was reported Monday, April 20 on Steelers.com.

DAVID SIMPSON FROM BELFAST, UK: Assuming that training camp goes ahead, will Latrobe be in a lockdown situation, i.e., no fans allowed? If so is Latrobe necessary at all as the Steelers could use their own facility?
ANSWER: There are so many of these kinds of issues that are up in the air at this time, and I'm not going to add my voice to the glut of speculation about this and other things related to the global pandemic. When there is concrete information, we will pass it along. Until then, be patient and hope for the best.

DAVID ZIPPARO FROM ROCHELLE IL: Back in the day the draft was 17 rounds. Now, it's seven rounds. Can you tell us when it changed to seven rounds and why?
ANSWER: If you really want to go back in time, the NFL Draft began as a nine-round exercise when it was instituted in 1936, then was 10 rounds for two years, then it became 20 rounds from 1940-42, then 30 rounds from 1943-59 with the exception of 1949 when it was 25 rounds. Starting in 1960, it was back to 20 rounds, and it stayed that way until 1967 when it became 17 rounds. Starting in 1977, the draft became a 12-round exercise, and it stayed under that format until 1993 when it became the seven-round lottery it remains to this day. The changes from 17 rounds to 12, and then from 12 rounds to seven were collectively bargained with the NFL Players Association.

DANIEL MAYFIELD FROM ST ALBERT, AB, CANADA: What is the earliest the first pick of the draft can be made? If the Bengals were sold on Joe Burrow could they take him today, last week, etc.? Also if someone was drafted early, could they participate in any team meetings or in this year's case zoom meetings before the draft take place?
ANSWER: As soon as the draft order is finalized and the deadline has passed for underclassmen to declare for the draft, the team holding the first overall pick could select their guy and sign him to a contract. There were years in the past when a team owning the first overall pick might sign its choice before the actual draft began, but that was in the days before it became a television show. Now that it's a television show, the NFL frowns on anything detracting from the "suspense" of the broadcast.

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