LATROBE, Pa. – Let's get to it:
JOSHUA OSTEN FROM MECHANICSBURG, PA: I've heard great things about Devlin Hodges in camp and that Josh Dobbs has had a rough time of it. Is this significant?
ANSWER: I have not heard from anyone of significance with the Steelers that Joshua Dobbs has been having a rough time so far in this training camp, but undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges had has some moments. On Tuesday following the afternoon practice, Coach Mike Tomlin was asked, "Is Devlin Hodges showing you something, even as a fourth arm?" Tomlin answered, "He's getting some opportunities. He is going to get more opportunities, I think. You refer to him as a fourth arm, but every man here is a man who has a legitimate opportunity, particularly so when Ben is a quarterback because you know that there will be regularly scheduled days off (for him) and increased opportunity for others. So, we are not taking (Hodges') presence for granted, and neither is he."
JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: The NFL requires each team to produce a depth chart prior to its preseason opener. We all know most starters don't play or even dress for the first preseason game. Are teams required to submit a roster prior to the game of players who will be active and inactive such as is the case during the regular season?
ANSWER: No. There are no weekly practice reports leading up to preseason games as there are during the regular season, nor is a status report required listing whether players will be questionable, doubtful, or out of the upcoming game, and there is no inactive list that has to be submitted 90 minutes before kickoff.
RICARDO AVILES FROM CIUDAD DE MEXICO, MÉXICO: What's your opinion on all the hype surrounding the Cleveland Browns. Do you think they are for real?
ANSWER: The Browns are going to be an improved team, and we all got a glimpse of that last season when they finished 7-8-1. I believe the 2019 Browns deserve to be viewed as a contender for the AFC North Division title, and that's not really a radical statement considering the team had 15 first-round picks in the nine NFL Drafts from 2010-18, and seven of those 10 picks came in the top 10 of the first round. But as we have seen countless times, improvement in the NFL isn't necessary reflected in a consistent upward trajectory, and so assuming that going from 0-16 in 2017 to 7-8-1 in 2018 automatically means the Browns will win 11 or 12 games in 2019 is a stretch. There are a couple of factors the Browns are going to have to overcome this season that they've never faced before, and those factors are handling success, and not being able to sneak up on teams as they have in the past. The Browns won't be taken lightly in 2019 as they have been for most of the last decade, and handling success, along with all of the attention and praise that comes along with it, can be a tricky thing in professional sports for athletes who've never experienced that as a group before. The Browns will be better, but the prognosticators picking them to be in the AFC Championship Game and/or the Super Bowl are just looking for attention, in my opinion.
JEFF TRODDEN FROM YORK, PA: If Chris Boswell wins the kicking competition, does his $2 million roster bonus go against the $5 million salary cap buffer that General Manager Kevin Colbert is trying to create? Thanks for keeping all of us up to speed.
ANSWER: If Chris Boswell qualifies for that bonus by being on the roster on Aug. 29, which also happens to be the date of the preseason finale in Carolina, that money would come off the Steelers existing salary cap space at the time. So let's say on Aug. 28, the Steelers have $5 million in cap space. If Boswell qualifies for the bonus, the Steelers then would have $3 million in cap space.
CARLOS ARVIZU FROM MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: Does training camp include watching other teams' video to learn from them? Last night I watched Darius Leonard Film Session and thought the air-pocket concept is part of what Steelers defenders need to create more turnovers.
ANSWER: No, the time to study other teams and what they may be doing that's successful and could be incorporated into your program happens earlier in the offseason. Way earlier, as a matter of fact. By the time teams report to training camp, their focus is on evaluating their own roster to be able to cut it to the best 53-man version possible and then prepare it to go into the regular season. What you describe can be done, and it is done, but not during the training camp period.
ROY PERRIN FROM FUQUAY VARINA, NC: Could you explain what the coaches and players mean when they refer to "situational football?" I hear that term and I think of two-minute drills or goal-line stands, but is that all it is?
ANSWER: There are many, many, many varieties of situational football. There is two-minute offense, two-minute defense, goal-line offense, goal-line defense, red zone offense, red zone defense. There is four-minute, which refers to the situation where a team has a lead with four minutes to go in the fourth quarter and wants to control the ball to protect it. There is "backed up," which refers to the situation where the offense takes over the ball deep in its own territory and wants to punch it out to flip the field position. Third downs can be divided into third-and-long, third-and-medium, and third-and-short, and in each of those situations there are ways the coaching staff wants its offense or its defense to perform. The way football is played in the NFL is a specialized game, and there can be personnel groupings and different strategy employed in all of those situations.
KEVIN SALOPEK FROM FREEDOM, PA: With all the rule changes that favor the offense what could be considered a "dominant defense" these days? Is it takeaways? Sacks? Less than 17 points allowed per game?
ANSWER: Whether a defense is dominant in today's NFL is a judgment call, and excelling in any of the categories you list could result in a defense deserving to be seen as dominant. But I believe it goes beyond pure statistics. I would consider a defense to be dominant in today's NFL if it's capable of making the necessary plays at whatever point in the game is required to help its team win. It could be a goal-line stand in the first quarter. A three-and-out in a critical situation in the second half. A necessary takeaway, or a sack, or even forcing an opponent to settle for a field goal when it really needed to score a touchdown. I don't know that it's possible to come up with a universal standard that would make a defense dominant; it's much more about doing the necessary things at the big moments in a game. Even allowing only 17 points a game, as an example, might not be good enough in games when the offense only scores 14, and in that particular situation a dominant defense has to do something different to help its team secure a victory.