Let's get to it:
STEVE OPRITZA FROM GAHANNA, OH: In a recent edition of Asked and Answered you said that your favorite catch was the Santonio Holmes catch that won Super Bowl XLIII for which he was named MVP of the game. Indeed it was a great catch, but it followed a Holmes drop that would have accomplished the same result. I've always believed that Ben should have received the MVP for that game because he not only drove the team into position to win, but he threw not one but two touchdown passes to Holmes, who caught the second to give us the victory. Your thoughts?
ANSWER: My thoughts begin with disagreeing with your characterization of Santonio Holmes "dropping" the pass that came before the one he caught for the deciding touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII. It's true Holmes didn't complete the play, but in my opinion it was not the kind of routine play that would deserve to have the word "drop" associated with an incomplete pass. But I happen to agree with you about the media's voting for the Super Bowl XLIII MVP Award. While I never would intentionally disrespect Holmes' performance in that game – nine catches for 131 yards overall, and four catches for 73 yards and the 6-yard deciding touchdown on that last drive – I always have believed Ben Roethlisberger should have won that award. I remember saying to some of the national writers who had voted for the MVP award that day, "If Tom Brady or Peyton Manning had just done what Roethlisberger did and won the Super Bowl for his team by throwing the game-winning touchdown pass, who among you would have voted for the guy who caught the pass?" But now that it's over and nothing can be done about it, I'm almost happy that things worked out as they did, because I believe winning a Super Bowl MVP Award is something Roethlisberger certainly wants to add to his football resume, and he comes across to me as someone motivated by real and perceived slights.
DILLON GLASS FROM DES MOINES, IA: With the drafting of Anthony McFarland and the signing of Wendell Smallwood, do you see any threat to Jaylen Samuels' job? Also do you think Diontae Johnson could emerge as a bonafide No. 1 receiver in this league?
ANSWER: This is the NFL, and players' jobs are going to be threatened by competition from younger, cheaper, and possibly better players every year. No disrespect to Samuels, but the only running back whose job could be described as secure is James Conner, and even he is in a situation where if he doesn't produce he could lose playing time to someone who is. As for Diontae Johnson, my opinion is that he has the skill-set to become a quality NFL starter and possibly a Pro Bowl-caliber receiver, and whether that makes him a "bonafide No. 1" is up to the plethora of talking heads whose opinions really don't matter all that much. What I was told about Johnson last year – by someone whose opinion certainly does matter – is that he is sufficiently talented to be able to line up on the weak side of the offensive formation and consistently win the one-on-one matchup with the cornerback typically assigned to cover him. As it was described to me, that ability was one that Antonio Brown possessed and it helped allow him to become the kind of player he would become. I'm not implying that Johnson will be putting up similar statistics, but I'm only making the point that he has the skill-set to become special.
CHUCK MAKRUCKI FROM HINCKLEY, OH: In Tuesday's Asked and Answered, there was a question about keeping a punter and/or placekicker on the practice squad in case a specialist has to be placed on the reserve/Covid-19 list. What about long-snapper? Do the Steelers have someone practice as a backup long-snapper?
ANSWER: The Steelers have an emergency long-snapper on game days, but that individual's identity is protected because it's believed that revealing his identity and exposing him to questions from the media would add to the pressure of the situation should one arise where he has to be called upon to perform. That individual gets his work done in that area during times when his identity can be protected.
TONY ADAIR FROM ROCK HILL, SC: My question is about Jack Lambert, in my view one of the best players ever. I really regret that the NFL Ticket was not around then. Whatever happened to Lambert after his Steelers career? I never see him interviewed, or in the press box during any of these recent games.
ANSWER: Jack Lambert is a family man. He is a private man. He gave everything he had to Steelers fans during his career, and he's entitled to live his post-football life as he sees fit.
SARAH EODICE FROM NASHVILLE, TN: Do you still see James Conner as our No. 1 running back? List our running backs how you would on the depth chart.
ANSWER: Still? I'll allow General Manager Kevin Colbert's words to address James Conner's role on the team: "I think the challenge for James and the challenge for us is James is always going to come in in great physical shape. It has never been an issue after his rookie year. His Pro Bowl season (of 2018), he was able to stay healthy. Last year he wasn't, and that wasn't from a lack of preparation. It wasn't from an overuse situation. James got hurt oftentimes last year early in the game. What we talked about with James when those injuries were occurring, we said this is an acute injury, it happened, we know you're going to get through it, and that's how we're looking at this coming season. James is a Pro Bowl player who had an injury-type season last year, and we're confident that he will be prepared physically to face that challenge. That's not going to be a question. But again, it's our job to make sure we have options and alternatives and competition ready to go, and that'll be what we're working on."
I'll take a stab at the depth chart, as long as you understand I'm guessing at this point: Conner, Benny Snell, and then I would put those in this group – Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels, Wendell Smallwood, Trey Edmunds, and Kerrith Whyte – as players who aren't really three-down players if they manage to make the team. If they make the team, they likely would fall into the category of role players, which would mean their playing time would depend upon what the offense was trying to accomplish at the time.
RAYMOND CHASON FROM CONNEAUTVILLE, PA: Who was our coach in the era after Chuck Noll and before Bill Cowher?
ANSWER: Chuck Noll retired from the Steelers and the NFL on Dec. 26, 1991, and Bill Cowher was hired by Dan Rooney on Jan. 22, 1992. There was nobody in between them.
BEN FIELY FROM MEADVILLE, PA: Who do you believe was better in their prime: Jerome Bettis or Le'Veon Bell?
ANSWER: I don't know what years define a player's prime, but I'm going to take a stab at it. Le'Veon Bell is 28 years old, and he has 6,125 yards rushing, three 1,000-yard seasons, a 4.2 average, and 38 touchdowns to go along with 378 receptions for another eight touchdowns. And while there is a rampant misconception that Bell's receiving skills are such that he could play wide receiver in the NFL, his 8.3 yards per catch average indicate he is nothing more than an excellent receiver for a running back. So far Bell has played in 77 of a possible 96 regular season games, and that doesn't count the 16 he missed while sitting out a season in a contract dispute.
By the time he was 28, Bettis played in 120 of a possible 128 regular season games, he had rushed for 9,804 yards, posted seven 1,000-yard seasons, including three over 1,300 yards, with 49 rushing touchdowns, which is three more than Bell's combined number of touchdowns from rushing and receiving. Both players were voted first-team Associated Press All-Pro twice during those times in their careers. In this case of either/or, I'm going with Bettis, who was a better teammate and more a productive player for a longer period of time.
DAVID HORCHAK FROM CHERRY TREE, PA: I keep reading stories about Steelers players loving Coach Mike Tomlin because he's real with them and tells them how it is. Do you think more fans would like him if he treated us the same way?
ANSWER: Please don't take this as being disrespectful, because that is not my intent, but there may be some parts of this answer you or some other fans might not like. It's a coach's job to be real with his players and speak the raw truth to them, because that's conducive to winning and team success. Telling the unvarnished truth to fans is not conducive to winning and team success, and no successful coaches have taken that approach with fans. You mention Mike Tomlin, and I'll add Chuck Noll, Bill Belichick, and Bill Cowher who handled disseminating information to the public in a similar way. A coach being honest with his players, in terms of accountability and calling out mistakes and demanding an appropriate level of professionalism help the team improve and quite possibly lead to more wins. But a coach being honest with the public when it comes to who wasn't accountable, who was responsible for mistakes, who didn't live up to the required level of professionalism might satisfy fans' curiosity and allow them to direct their ire at specific individuals, but it does nothing to further the only cause that matters in professional sports, which is winning.
CHRIS LAMONT FROM LEWISTON, ID: In Tecmo Super Bowl, I was able to return a kickoff for a touchdown in roughly half the games using Tim Worley. With Rod Woodson? Zero return touchdowns. Is the wrong man in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: Clearly. It should be you enshrined in Canton.