Let’s get to it:
JOE CHATMAN FROM DAVISBURG, MI: Over the first two preseason games, I've noticed that Mason Rudolph has received significantly more playing time than Josh Dobbs. Will playing time even out over the next two preseason games, or will this continue to play out this way? It appears to the novice that the coaching staff is trying to give Rudolph as many opportunities as possible to be the No. 2 quarterback while at the same time giving Dobbs just enough time as the No. 2. Is this a reasonable observation on my part?
ANSWER: Actually, the statistics prove you incorrect. So far this preseason, Joshua Dobbs has played 44 offensive snaps (21 against Tampa Bay and 23 against Kansas City), while Mason Rudolph has played 46 offensive snaps (16 against Tampa Bay and 30 against Kansas City). Two snaps over two games hardly qualifies as “significantly more,” and it also should be noted that Rudolph was the quarterback for a 14-play drive vs. the Chiefs. When it comes to possessions, Dobbs has played in six offensive series over two games, and Rudolph has played in nine. But again, how the games unfolded were a factor, because one of Dobbs’ series lasted 14 plays and one of Rudolph’s lasted only three plays following a Tyler Matakevich fumble recovery that led to a quick field goal at the end of the half. Whatever the outcome of the competition to be Ben Roethlisberger’s backup in 2019, the distribution of playing time between the two guys fighting for the job has been largely even.
GREG FINDURA FROM NORTH ROYALTON, OH: Watching the preseason games, it looks like there will be some difficult choices to be made regarding which players to keep at several positions. What comes into play on making these decisions if both players are equally talented?
ANSWER: A couple of things to understand: In the NFL, it’s more about production than talent, because the waiver wire annually is filled with talented individuals who never were able to transfer their talent to the field in ways that helped their teams win games. The other thing to understand is that special teams is the great separator when it comes to formulating a 53-man roster, and then also in the makeup of the 46 players who are active on game day. If the Steelers face a situation where they’re choosing between two players for one spot, and the salary cap hits are equal and neither player is a significantly higher draft pick that the other, what will tip the balance 99 percent of the time will be contributions on special teams.
TAG WILSON FROM MCDONONGH, NY: Does Ryan Shazier play a formal role in the development of the linebackers, such as attend linebacker meetings?
ANSWER: Ryan Shazier’s specific contributions are known to the players and coaches only, but what I can tell you is that he comes to work every day along with the rest of the team, he attends all meetings, he is on the field for every practice, and he attends every game. During many training camp practices, fans in attendance could see Shazier standing next to Devin Bush, and Shazier was doing most of the talking.
MICHAEL TORSIELLO FROM SUMMIT, NJ: Can’t you suggest to Art Rooney II to bring back the gray facemasks and the block numbers on the jerseys?
ANSWER: The best I can do is tell you the version of the Steelers jerseys with the block numbers currently are being used as the team’s throwback and will make an appearance this season.
DAN KRONE FROM EAST BERLIN, PA: Do you think Ben Roethlisberger's successor is on the current roster?
ANSWER: That could depend upon how much longer Ben Roethlisberger wants to play before retiring. For example, should Roethlisberger play out his current contract, which runs through the 2021 season, that would mean that both Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph would have their rookie contracts expire and have the potential to take advantage of free agency. I just believe at this point, that question cannot be answered.
EDUARDO VEGA FROM CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO: In your opinion, who will be the starting quarterback for the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger retires based on what you have seen from Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph?
ANSWER: As explained in the previous answer, it might be neither of them depending upon when Ben Roethlisberger decides to retire. But if I have to choose today between Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph, I would go with Rudolph.
ROBERT ANAVIAN FROM REDONDO BEACH, CA: Which, if any, of the sixth or seventh round draft picks this year will make the team?
ANSWER: Let’s begin by listing those players. The team’s three sixth-round picks were (in order of selection) linebacker Sutton Smith, defensive end Isaiah Buggs, and linebacker Ulysees Gilbert, and the seventh-round pick was tackle Derwin Gray. If the Steelers keep six defensive linemen on their initial 53-man roster, Buggs certainly has a chance to be among the six; and Gilbert has made a good impression with his play on defense during the first two preseason games. If Gilbert can find a way to make a splash on special teams over the next two games, he would make himself very difficult to cut.
ROBERT KEALEY FROM PAXINOS, PA: When is “Agree to Disagree” coming back?
ANSWER: “Agree to Disagree” will return for the regular season. Look for the first episode of 2019 in the days leading up to the Steelers’ opener vs. the New England Patriots. And as always, “I’m right; he’s wrong.”
BUDDY POWELL FROM FT. MYERS, FL: Are the Steelers looking outside for someone to fill the large shoes and void left by the passing of wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, or will someone within the organization assume those responsibilities?
ANSWER: Coach Mike Tomlin has said that a plan is in place to replace Darryl Drake on his staff, but I believe there has been no official announcement so far out of respect for the Drake family. In terms of “looking outside,” it’s not possible to hire a coach currently employed by an NFL team at this stage of the season, and I don’t believe the Steelers would take a coach off a college staff at this stage because that would put that team in a tough spot with regular season openers right around the corner.
GARY SCOTTON FROM MANTUA, OH: With all the injuries at the cornerback position and guys getting opportunities, which guys are taking advantage? It sounds like Artie Burns is doing enough to stay on the team and might be the top backup. So with Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Burns, Cam Sutton, and rookie Justin Layne making the team, who will be the final cornerback on the 53-man roster?
ANSWER: The obvious name missing from your “make it” list is Mike Hilton, who also could help the team out at safety.
JOHN BRAGG FROM FAIRMONT, WV: I seem to remember that while Chuck Noll was coach, the starters would play all, or a majority, of the last preseason game. These days, the starters play a lot in the third preseason game and not at all in the last game. When did this change happen? Was it just a coaches preference? It seems all teams do it now.
ANSWER: I asked Coach Mike Tomlin that question last summer, and this was his answer: “It’s changed gradually over time. If something were to happen from a health standpoint in that dress rehearsal, making it that third game gives you more time for that significant player to be ready for the opener. I really think that is the origin of the shift. If something were to happen in that dress rehearsal, now that guy has an additional week or so to be ready for the opener. And they preserve and protect them in week four of the preseason.”