Let's get to it:
KEVIN LINTON FROM ONLEY, VA: Do see similarities between Pat Freiermuth and Heath Miller? And do you think he can be as great as Heath?
ANSWER: Heath Miller is the best tight end in franchise history, and I'm just not going to compare a rookie who hasn't even played in his first regular season game to a player of that caliber. It's not fair to Pat Freiermuth.
SRIRAM RAMAMOORTHY FROM PLAINSBORO, NJ: In watching the preseason games, I have noticed that Pat Freiermuth is fantastic at catching the ball, but his blocking skills seem poor. On a team that finished last in rushing the previous year, it's important that tight ends can block. How would you currently rate Pat Freiermuth's development as a blocker.
ANSWER: I wouldn't say Pat Freiermuth is a poor blocker as much as I believe he's inexperienced and came to the Steelers lacking the proper schooling in that phase of playing the tight end position. And to be fair, college offenses typically don't require a lot of blocking from the tight end these days. Freiermuth is coachable, and I have seen improvement in results from the first day of pads in training camp when he seemed to be completely over-matched in the first backs-on-backers drill. That's why I'm so hesitant to start the Heath Miller comparisons, or engage with fans about how Freiermuth resembles Heath Miller, etc. Baby steps.
BUTCH THOMAS FROM GURNEY, IL: I'm hoping the rumors of some kind of agreement with T.J. Watt are true, and he is around for a long time. Is there any particular financial advantage for teams and players to wait until after training camp and before the regular season to come to an agreement and sign an extension, or does it just work out that way sometimes because of the time it takes to negotiate?
ANSWER: There is no particular financial advantage to completing the process of a contract extension during the time period between the end of training camp and the start of the regular season.
ISRAEL PICKHOLTZ FROM ASHKELON, ISRAEL: You gave a fine answer to Paul Burek in making it sound like calling plays from the booth is the most natural thing in the world. So, why doesn't everyone do it?
ANSWER: Personal preference.
BILL CONFAIR FROM JERSEY SHORE, PA: What is the chance we sign T.J. Watt before the regular season starts?
ANSWER: I would say (guess) that it's likely T.J. Watt signs a contract extension before the start of the regular season.
GUILLERMO DIAZ FROM CERRO AZUL, VERACRUZ, MEXICO: Always interested in Steelers history concerning their last three head coaches. Was there any role for Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher in selecting their successors? Were both selections and hiring processes based upon similar principles/attributes?
ANSWER: Neither Chuck Noll nor Bill Cowher was involved in the hiring of the men who replaced them as the Steelers head coach. The hiring of Cowher and then Mike Tomlin came through a process developed by Dan Rooney, and without getting into detail about his method, one of the principles of that method was based on acknowledging the candidates knew football or they wouldn't be in the position of interviewing for an NFL head coaching job, and so what Dan Rooney wanted to learn was what kind of people they were and would they fit in with the Steelers and how the franchise did business.
NICHOLAS PELCHAR FROM PURCELLVILLE, VA: During the Steelers' first two seasons at Heinz Field, the facility had a lousy playing surface. Was it design flaws or was the turf rushed?
ANSWER: The playing surface when Heinz Field opened was DD GrassMaster, which was a combination of artificial turf with natural grass growing through the webbing of the artificial part. It's described this way on grassmastersolutions.com: "A GrassMaster pitch is composed of 100 percent natural grass reinforced with unique synthetic fibers, meticulously installed on the subbase." While this sounds good, the reality of the surface was that due to winters in Western Pennsylvania, grass doesn't grow 12 months a year, and there was no way to re-sod the surface because of the "synthetic fibers installed on the subbase." That was why the field looked so bad at the end of a football season, because Heinz Field not only hosted the Steelers, but also the Pitt Panthers, and the WPIAL Championship Games. That was why the decision ultimately was made to tear up the DD GrassMaster and replace it with regular grass. Now, the Steelers typically re-sod the area between the hashmarks once during the season, and then the whole surface is re-sodded at the conclusion of the WPIAL Championship Games. That change has improved the quality of the playing surface significantly and allows the players to play football as the Rooneys believe it was intended – on natural grass.
FRED WARD FROM WARREN, PA: I think I read where the Steelers averaged 3.6 rushing yards per attempt in 2020. What was our rushing yards per attempt average in each of our Super Bowl championship years?
ANSWER: In 1974, the Steelers averaged 4.4 yards per rush; in 1975, they averaged 4.5 yards per rush; in 1978, they averaged 3.6 yards per rush; in 1979, they averaged 4.6 yards per rush; in 2005, they averaged 4.0 yards per rush; and in 2008, they averaged 3.7 yards per rush. To summarize, in two of their six championship seasons, the Steelers averaged less than 4.0 yards per rush, and in 1978, their 3.6 average yards per rush matched their 2020 average.
CARLOS ARVIZU FROM MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: I guess it's useless to ask about various players' physical conditions, so could you please tell us when it's mandatory for the team to share an injury report?
ANSWER: Since the Steelers open the 2021 regular season on Sunday, Sept. 12 in Buffalo, the team is required to submit a practice report on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of that week, plus a status report on Friday. So, on Wednesday, Sept. 8, the Steelers will submit a practice report that must detail all injured players, whether they were full participants, limited participants, or did not participate in the day's practice and for what reason. That is then the same for Thursday and Friday. Also on Friday, players who are questionable, doubtful, or out for that Sunday's game must be listed under the appropriate category, along with the reason why they're included in that category.
DAVID MARCOU FROM DANVERS, MA: Do the Steelers think Cam Sutton is a lot better than James Pierre at this point? I guess my point is, if you trust Pierre to come onto the field and play on the outside in obvious passing downs, why wouldn't you just start him there? That way Sutton doesn't have to constantly flip-flop, but I guess if they want the better player on the field more often, then it makes some sense. Just seems James could get better by playing more often.
ANSWER: When you wrote, "… if they want the better player on the field more often …" you are answering your own question. The idea is to have the best players on the field. The time for developing guys is during training camp, the preseason, and during the week's practices. That's not something for the regular season. The regular season is for playing to win games.
MATTHEW JOHNSON FROM CASHIERS, NC: Wouldn't Donnie Shell be considered for a spot in the four greatest Steelers secondary members, since he is also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: Yes, he would. And shame on me for not including him. It was my oversight.
KEVIN DOYLE FROM SALINAS, CA: I haven't been back to Pittsburgh in years, so what a surprise to hear from an old high school buddy that the question of mine that you had in the Aug. 26 edition of Asked and Answered was discussed by pundits on a local Pittsburgh radio station. Your response to me in Asked and Answered was great, and I would hate to think that any of my future Steelers inquiries to you might be discarded due to a few whiny pundits with thin skin. Keep up the good work.
ANSWER: Don't give it a second thought. You're OK with me, and part of the fun of doing Asked and Answered so often over the course of a calendar year is the back-and-forth banter. And as for "whiny pundits," either local or national, I always refer to what Sister Raymond Marie, my second-grade teacher at Sacred Heart Elementary always said: "Empty barrels make the most noise."