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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Aug. 8

LATROBE, Pa. – Let's get to it:

The offensive line faired very well in 2016, and a big part of that was avoiding injuries. In case of injuries this year, do you feel the Steelers have quality backups on the offensive line? In case of injury, what offensive line position do you feel is the weakest in terms of depth?

ANSWER: Beyond the starting five – Alejandro Villanueva, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert – I do believe the Steelers have some solid depth. At tackle behind the starters are Jerald Hawkins and Chris Hubbard, and Hubbard also can play guard. Along the interior, the top backup is B.J. Finney, primarily because he can play both center and guard. That's eight, and even though there is no such thing as too much offensive line depth, if the Steelers dress seven offensive linemen on game day, Coach Mike Tomlin might have to make Hawkins or Hubbard or Finney inactive. For the Steelers to have issues along the offensive line in 2017, the unit would have to sustain multiple injuries at a particular position before it would turn into a real problem.

Take an in-depth look at the Steelers' running backs as they go through a training camp practice.

Given the importance of Ben Roethlisberger, and the fact that when he does decide it's time to hang them up, we all know what an overwhelming loss it will be to the team. I am not going to ask you how do we replace him, without an act of God, but do the Steelers have any current plan, or strategy to deal with this eventuality?

ANSWER: Making a specific plan at this point is impossible because there are so many unknown variables. When will Ben Roethlisberger decide to retire? What is the status of the depth chart there at that time? I don't believe signing a veteran free agent is a realistic option, and so the question becomes one of which college quarterbacks might be eligible to be drafted? Where are the Steelers drafting when the times comes?

The Steelers now are doing the only thing they really can at this point, which is to evaluate every quarterback class before each draft and keep their options open if they believe a prospect is a good value for their pick in a particular round. That's how Joshua Dobbs came to be the team's No. 4 draft pick in April. Then you try to develop them and see how things turn out.

Assuming the positive, how many touches a game do you anticipate James Conner getting? What situations?

ANSWER: That largely is going to be up to James Conner. I don't believe there will be any advance planning done to get Conner the ball unless he first shows he deserves it, and the way a rookie shows he deserves touches is by what he does in practice and in preseason games. After injuring a shoulder during the first day in pads, Conner has not practiced, and that means it's unlikely he will play in the preseason opener. In the meantime, Fitz Toussaint and Knile Davis have had their moments in practice, and both should get some carries against the Giants on Friday. This isn't to mean that Conner has fallen too far behind to catch up, but in terms of your question, he's not yet in that conversation.

MIKE BOBRICK FROM NEWPORT NEWS, VA: How is the defense looking in terms of depth for the inside linebackers? If Ryan Shazier or Vince Williams sustains an injury that keeps him out for a few games, will the "next man up" be sufficient, or should we expect to see the Steelers look to bolster their bench when other teams make cuts? Or perhaps trade a wide receiver for a linebacker?

ANSWER: Tyler Matakevich looks like a completely different player this summer. Often during the live tackling portion of an afternoon practice, his ability to find the ball and get the guy on the ground has been showcased, and I think he wouldn't be a liability this season if he had to play. Two other guys I believe are in the mix for backup spots at inside linebacker are veterans L.J. Fort and Steven Johnson. I would identify those three guys as the leading candidates right now, but the preseason games haven't even begun yet.

What is the timetable on Sammie Coates return?

ANSWER: There really isn't one. It's just daily rehab and then see how the knee responds.

Are there certain days the players' families are allowed to visit them at training camp, or is it open door for them?

ANSWER: Players' families can visit any day, watch practice from the field, have dinner in the cafeteria on campus. But the players also are subject to adhering to the day's schedule of meetings and curfew on those days. Each summer, the Steelers will host a Family Day during camp, where it's more of a festive atmosphere and Coach Mike Tomlin then typically cancels evening meetings to allow everyone to spend more time with their loved ones.

I am a SOCAL guy and want to know how JuJu Smith-Schuster is doing? He is a special player, and I am wondering how he is competing?

ANSWER: JuJu Smith-Schuster missed some practices early in the process because of an injury, but he has been participating regularly for several days and would appear to be on track to see his first game action when the Steelers open their preseason against the New York Giants. Hines Ward visited Saint Vincent College for a few days over the weekend of Aug. 4-6 and helped with the wide receivers, and Smith-Schuster took advantage.

Is there a battle for the No. 1 tight end spot between Jesse James and Xavier Grimble? I would assume James currently has the upper hand, but Grimble really did impress me.

ANSWER: Jesse James is the team's No. 1 tight end, and I don't see that changing between now and the start of the regular season.

I hate the current practice squad setup because other teams can poach someone from your practice squad easily, although they have to put him on their 53-man roster. Some practice squad players have been with the team and know the scheme and the culture well. These men are valuable backups. Why don't they make a rule change so that at least five practice squad players are protected throughout the year. What is your thought?

ANSWER: I don't believe the NFLPA would think much of your idea, because it would prevent practice squad players from finding full-time jobs with other teams, and those full-time jobs pay a lot more than being on the practice squad.

I was watching the video of the Steelers players giving a tour of their dorm rooms during training camp. Two of the three rooms (maybe all three, couldn't tell) had black trash bags taped to the windows. Why is that? Is that simply to keep the sunlight out or is it (ridiculous as it may seem) mandated by the coaching staff for some reason?

ANSWER: Black garbage bags covering windows has been a Saint Vincent College tradition for decades. Keeps the early-morning sun out, so guys can sleep until they have to wake up, and darker rooms usually are cooler rooms.

With these dumb questions you get, I'm surprised we haven't seen you on Celebrity Rehab, or at least Dirty Jobs. Make Bell sit out the season for missing some training camp? That's like not letting your son the firefighter put out a fire in your burning home because he skipped Thanksgiving dinner. "No son, you will sit there and watch all of our earthly possessions burn while you think about what you did."

ANSWER: Mic drop.

How tall are you? I saw you standing next to Missi Matthews, and you two are about the same height.

ANSWER: I'm actually 6-foot-1. This isn't known by too many people, so keep it just between us: Missi Matthews actually turned down an offer from a WNBA team when she heard there was an opportunity to appear on Steelers Live with me.

Who is the snarkiest, you or Ed Bouchette?

ANSWER: I can out-snark Ed Bouchette with one hand tied behind my keyboard. At this stage of his career, he's just snarking out the string until retirement.

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