Let's get to it:
MATTHEW COLDREN FROM SINKING SPRING, PA: I've noticed this since I was a kid: Why are the players' jersey numbers excluded from the front of the helmets during the preseason and then added for the regular season?
ANSWER: It's largely a symbolic gesture, a signal to the players that each one of them has to earn a spot on the team each year. Since that "making the team" process happens during training camp and the preseason, numbers are not put onto the front of the helmets until after the final cut-down. Hines Ward even took this message a step further when he had the equipment staff put a piece of tape with his surname written on it in black marker across the front of his helmet, as coaches often do in high school and college to be able to distinguish the newbies who are trying to make the team. It's a mind-set.
ANTHONY ADAMS FROM PHOENIX, AZ: In your honest opinion, does Hines Ward ever make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: He deserves it, and I think it will happen for him, but the way voters have been treating wide receivers in recent years it could take a while.
JEFF ZAVALA FROM ALTADENA, CA: I noticed that a few teams had joint practices with other NFL teams. I remember the Steelers having a few a some years back. How are these joint practices decided? Does Coach Mike Tomlin agree to joint practices, or are they dispersed to a few teams by league officials?
ANSWER: I asked Coach Mike Tomlin about joint practices last week, and here are his answers to the questions:
Q: For the anti-preseason game people, one of the solutions they often propose to take the place of those games are joint practices. Is that a good substitute?
Tomlin: "I like joint practices, but not necessarily as an exclusive substitute. We need to provide latitude for organizations and coaches to do what it is they see fit in terms of getting their group ready to perform and execute the season. If coaches want to get together and have a joint practice, they should be allowed to do that. I value preseason football games. Why does it have to be one or the other? I just believe these guys need time to grow and develop. These guys are chasing their dreams. There's a difference between the college game and the professional game. There are different rules. There are different unwritten rules. There are different nuances from an understanding standpoint. And I think if we really want to be inclusive and give guys an opportunity to live out their dreams and state a case for themselves, the more opportunities we give them to gain that learning and to display that learning, the better it is for all of us."
Q: Can joint practices actually be more dangerous, because of all the fighting, than preseason games in terms of keeping guys healthy?
Tomlin: "I think the fights in the joint practices are about mutual respect and the relationship between the coaches involved. And if the relationship between the coaches involved is solid, then it permeates down to the players. I have a good and close personal relationship with Doug Marrone; we worked together several years ago with little or no issues. I have a great relationship with Jim Caldwell, and we worked together with the Detroit Lions with little or no issues. I think that's something that can be handled between the coaches. I think unfortunately it does get too much press when it does occur from time to time. I just think that's how ESPN functions – they'd rather show you a fight than highlights from a scrimmage."
A.J. BAUMWELL FROM LAKEWOOD, OH: The offense, quarterbacked by Josh Dobbs at the time, was in the red zone at the end of the preseason game against Tennessee. There was plenty of time plus some timeouts to run some more plays. I am of the opinion that Dobbs and those players on offense fighting for a roster spot got shortchanged of an opportunity to put more game time action on video when Mike Tomlin decided to take a knee and run out the clock. I have a ton of respect for Tomlin but was wondering your opinion on this matter.
ANSWER: On a personal level, I was tickled with Coach Mike Tomlin's decision to run out the clock in that situation you described, because in my mind the very best part of any and every preseason game is when it's over. At the time, the Steelers held an 18-6 lead, and a primary concern during every preseason game is avoiding unnecessary injuries, and any injury sustained in that situation is the perfect example of "unnecessary." The Steelers players on the field at that time have had plenty of opportunities to make a case for themselves throughout this whole process, and Titans Coach Mike Vrabel indicated he was willing to concede the outcome because he didn't use any of his remaining timeouts after Dobbs took a knee the first time. That game was over, and the Steelers had another game in four days. And you can be sure the players on the field for the Steelers at that time are going to see plenty of playing time tonight vs. the Panthers.
JASON SAGER FROM GALLOWAY, OH: The only weakness I see so far in the preseason is the lack of a good tight end other than Vance McDonald. Do you agree we need to pick up one for the season?
ANSWER: I don't know if that's the Steelers' "only" weakness, but the lack of depth at tight end certainly is an issue on the eve of the roster cut-down to 53 players. Here is what Coach Mike Tomlin said after Tuesday's practice when asked about what he had seen from the backup tight ends: "Not enough, and some of that has been due to the lack of availability," said Tomlin. "Time missed is critical in terms of opportunity, and a lot of those guys are getting the opportunity to lean in on it here at the end, so there is big-time urgency there." I believe the Steelers will try to add a tight end via a trade or a waiver wire transaction.
TOBY WEISEND FROM WILLIAMSTOWN, WV: When a team combs through the previous game's video for analysis and direction, do they have access to video other than what has been recorded by whatever network broadcasted the game?
ANSWER: Every NFL team videotapes every one of its team's games, both home and on the road, from two angles high atop the stadium – the 50-yard line and the end zone – and those angles are shot so that all 22 players on the field are visible through the entire play. That view often is referred to as "all-22." Teams are required to send a copy of those videos to NFL Films, so that they are available to all of the teams in the league.
RAY MARSHALL FROM LANCASTER, PA: Kudos to Patricia Rooney. I watched the ESPN special, "Lifetime of Sundays," which examined the history of the NFL through the eyes of four iconic female owners: Virginia McCaskey, Martha Firestone Ford, Norma Hunt and Patricia Rooney. When told by the other fine ladies that the Steelers had won "plenty of trophies," her immediate response was, "There is always room for more." When the Steelers organization says it starts at the top, that being the only goal each year is a title, Patricia Rooney certainly made me proud to be a fan.
ANSWER: Shortly after the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII, that Lombardi Trophy was installed in the library at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex along with the other five. One visitor remarked to Dan Rooney at the time, "It looks like you're running out of room." To which the Ambassador replied, "We'll bust down a wall if we have to."
TIM HOOTS FROM LEWISTOWN, PA: This is a long-shot I know, but Devlin Hodges seems to be capable of playing at a level higher than practice squad. Its no secret we are thin at tight end. Is there any chance he could work out as a tight end to make the roster?
ANSWER: Devlin Hodges is listed as 6-foot-1, 210 pounds. That's undersized for a high school tight end.
JAMES PHEASANT FROM ENFIELD, CT: Thanks again for a job well done. I wonder how you keep your sanity at times.
ANSWER: You must have seen the previous question before I did.