LATROBE, Pa. – Let’s get to it:
NICHOLAS PITNER FROM RUSSELL, PA: I have been reading that other teams have joint practices during the exhibition season. Do the Steelers now or have they ever had joint practices? What would be a good reason not to have one if they don't?
ANSWER: During Mike Tomlin’s tenure as coach, the Steelers have had joint practices with both the Buffalo Bills (in 2014) and the Detroit Lions (in 2016). Both of those teams visited Saint Vincent College for joint practices leading up to a preseason game vs. the Steelers at Heinz Field. The issue with joint practices often comes down to finding a partner that will conduct practice in a professional manner instead of allowing the workout to devolve into a series of fights and cheap-shots. The other issue is proximity, because the travel and logistics of moving a team and equipment during training camp is not necessarily a simple and/or inexpensive proposition. Typically, for a joint practice to be scheduled and productive, the respective coaches should have a solid professional relationship and a mutual respect so that the time spent would be productive instead of detrimental to the health of the players. In general, it’s not as easy as it sounds to set up something like this, and while the idea of it is to get some quality work against an NFL opponent, so often what ends up happening on the field is too risky and not productive.
TIM LEBER FROM MYERSVILLE, MD: After the Steelers break training camp later this week, what is a typical day's schedule for the players for the remainder of the preseason?
ANSWER: When the Steelers leave Saint Vincent College and return to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, the schedule for the players will be the same schedule the team would follow during the regular season. Coach Mike Tomlin believes that’s the way to handle the second half of the preseason, because it allows the new guys to be evaluated while working in the way they would be asked to work if they made the 53-man roster.
PHURIOUS STYLEZ FROM ATLANTA, GA: Who do you see as a sleeper player to make the team on either offense or defense?
ANSWER: At this stage of the process, still with three preseason games to go, I would go with undrafted rookie guard Fred Johnson from the University of Florida.
DAN TANNACITO FROM GLENEDEN BEACH, OR: If Antonio Brown quits the Raiders over his helmet protest, will the Steelers still receive draft compensation?
ANSWER: The compensatory draft pick formula, which awards teams compensatory draft picks for losing players, only considers unrestricted free agent losses and signings. Antonio Brown was traded, and therefore he doesn’t fit into the formula.
JEFF JOHNSON FROM FREMONT, OH: Please explain the difference between the classification of rookie vs. first-year player?
ANSWER: Trying to keep this as simple as possible, without getting into all of the CBA verbiage: A rookie is a player who never has had any exposure to the NFL, which means he never has been in an NFL training camp, or taken part in an NFL tryout camp. A first-year player is one who has taken part in one of those things but not made the team and is giving it another try.
ERICK WAKEFIELD FROM WEST PALM BEACH, FL: Where will Marcus Allen be playing this year with all these safeties on the team?
ANSWER: That’s still to be determined, and I would caution you about assuming that Marcus Allen already has clinched a spot on the 53-man roster.
STEVE HVOZDIK FROM KINGSLAND, GA: I have read that Devlin Hodges has been having a very good camp so far. Do you see any scenario where the Steelers would be willing to trade Joshua Dobbs or Mason Rudolph and keep Hodges as the No. 3 quarterback? Or could they sneak Hodges onto the practice squad?
ANSWER: I’m going to start with this: I cannot imagine a realistic scenario where the Steelers trade Mason Rudolph. Not going to happen, certainly not without sedating General Manager Kevin Colbert. And having a “good camp so far” is a long, long, long way away from taking a roster spot from a third-year pro who is bigger, faster, and has a stronger arm. I apologize if this comes across as harsh toward Devlin Hodges, because he has done nothing except work hard and do whatever has been asked of him through this training camp, and he also deserves a lot of credit for beating out Brogan Roback, who had the advantage of having been through an NFL training camp with the Cleveland Browns, during rookie minicamp, which Hodges attended on a tryout basis. But a couple of media reports come out making the observation that Hodges has looked sharp in some early training camp practices doesn’t translate into trade scenarios for quarterbacks who were third-round (Rudolph) and fourth-round (Dobbs) draft picks. In the preseason opener, Dobbs completed five passes for 85 yards (17 yards per completion), had a 98.4 rating, and scrambled twice for 44 yards; Hodges completed eight passes for 79 yards (9.9 yards per completion), with an 8-yard touchdown to Tevin Jones, and a 97.0 rating. Hodges played well in his first taste of NFL action, no doubt about it, but what Dobbs did came as the Steelers’ starter against some of the Buccaneers front-line defenders, while Hodges was inserted into the game midway through the third quarter. It also should be noted that with Dobbs still on his rookie contract, the salary cap savings involved in replacing him on the roster would be so negligible as to be not worth discussing. Sure, there is a scenario where Hodges could win a spot on the 53-man roster, and that scenario would involve him continuing to play well while doing it earlier in preseason games against better NFL-caliber competition, while Dobbs would have to regress from the kind of performance he gave against Tampa Bay. As for keeping Hodges on the practice squad, Ben Roethlisberger is signed for three more seasons, while Dobbs and Rudolph are both 24 years old. I doubt the Steelers would see the need for keeping a fourth quarterback.
DARRELL MURPHY FROM LAKE RIDGE, VA: In this salary cap era, where quarterbacks take the greatest percentage of a team’s salary cap, why do you think Ben Roethlisberger doesn't give the Steelers more of a hometown discount? Easily Tom Brady could be the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, but he allows New England to get the hometown discount.
ANSWER: First of all, I want to make this point: Ben Roethlisberger is not overpaid, and he never has been a holdout or held the Steelers over a barrel in the quest for more money. There is nothing about his salary over the course of his career that can or should be characterized as unfair. Now onto the other issue: before Tom Brady is crowned as some shining example of a magnanimous team-first individual, I’m here to tell you he is as much a businessman as anyone else in the NFL. And because the NFL is a business, there is abolutely, positively nothing wrong with Tom Brady being a businessman. Brady’s wife is supermodel Gisele Bundchen, whose net worth recently was pegged by Forbes Magazine at $400 million. As recently as 2016, she earned $30.5 million, and in 2017, she earned $10 million. Good for her. Good for the Brady family, but spare me the notion of getting less money, because all he’s doing is getting the money in a different way. As Brady himself said while a guest on an episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live, “I think the thing I’ve always felt for me in my life, winning has been a priority. And my wife makes a lot of money. I’m a little smarter than you think.”