LATROBE, Pa. – Let's get to it:
EDITOR'S NOTE: I always get submissions from fans asking about ways to watch Steelers games, and because the preseason opener is at 7 p.m. today against the Philadelphia Eagles, I thought it might be helpful to begin this installment of Asked and Answered with some information provided by the team's public relations department:
"Fans in Pittsburgh's local market(s) will be able to watch the team's preseason opener, and each of its four preseason games in 2018, locally on KDKA-TV. The Steelers' preseason affiliate TV network now spans six states – including Alaska and Hawaii. For the first time, in 2018, fans living in the Steelers TV affiliate marketplaces can watch the team's four preseason games on Steelers.com (NFL geographical restrictions do apply). Fans not in the Steelers TV affiliate marketplaces can sign up for the NFL Game Pass at NFL.com to watch Steelers preseason football on their device(s). Fans living in Mexico can now watch Steelers preseason games online with original Spanish commentary on Steelers.com."
ZACH SHUDER FROM CHANDLER, AZ: We keep hearing a ton about James Conner from camp so far. He's leaner, faster, more explosive, etc., and has a shot to get more playing time this year. In your opinion, do you see this happening? How much more of a workload does he get?
ANSWER: First of all, James Conner has been the best running back at Saint Vincent College. He is in premier condition; he looks explosive. He hasn't missed any practice. He was been a stud in backs-on-backers. All good. But offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner already is on record during camp as saying the Steelers are not interested in preparing for life after Le'Veon Bell, and so if fans believe the Steelers are going to "try some other guys" at running back just for the heck of it, it's not going to happen. Once Le'Veon Bell signs the franchise tag and reports to the team, he will be the starter, and he'll be the starter because he's their best running back. What I will say about Conner is that he's much more prepared and able to contribute if the team has to turn to him for some reason.
MARK O'MALLEY FROM MANTUA, NJ: I live across the river from Lincoln Financial Field, in an area where many Eagles players and coaches live. Philly people are going to be INSANE Thursday. Sold out game. The game is being touted by fans and media as the start of a second Super Bowl run, and they want the Steelers beaten senseless. I am scared they are right. It could be a very bad night for my Steelers.
ANSWER: This is the preseason opener. You understand that, right? Do you believe Eagles Coach Doug Pederson is going to treat this game as anything more than the first of four games that don't count in the standings? Do you think Pederson cares what Eagles fans want? If Pederson over-used his front-line players in an effort to beat the Steelers senseless and one or more of them were injured, what Eagles fans would want more than anything is Pederson's head on a stick. And in that event, they would have to get in line behind Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. I guarantee you that the Eagles players aren't looking at this as anything more than a preseason opener. To quote Aaron Rodgers, "R-E-L-A-X."
BRIAN VASILISIN FROM ORLANDO, FL: I was watching one of Mike Tomlin's press conferences and he mentioned the officials. It got me thinking, are officials able to be nominated for induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as contributors? If so, are any already in the hall?
ANSWER: Yes, they are. No, there are not. A number of officials have been nominated over the years, but none has made it to the final 25 cut. But being nominated is no big deal, because fans can nominate players, coaches, contributors, etc., by simply sending a letter to the Hall of Fame, which is why there are usually 100 or more individuals nominated each year.
RYAN BALDINGER FROM PARKER, CO: How do you think the fact that the Steelers play five of their six games against division opponents over the first eight games of the season (through Week 9) will impact our overall record and/or chance at repeating as division champs? All games are important, of course, but Weeks 10 through 16 look to be quite the tough stretch, and they are all non-division games.
ANSWER: My experience is that you can drive yourself crazy playing the schedule game, because of variables such as injuries, and whether a team happens to be playing well at the time or not. Teams cannot win a division championship by losing games against division opponents – it just doesn't happen that way. And so Job 1 for the Steelers if they want to defend their AFC North title is to beat Cleveland, Baltimore, and Cincinnati.
MATT MARTENS FROM NEW CASTLE, PA: What is the real possibility of bringing in a talented but troubled free agent?
DAVID DENSMORE FROM HIXSON, TN: Are the Steelers looking at Lawrence Timmons or Dez Bryant?
ANSWER: No, they're happy with the safeties they already have on the roster. Unless Tim Tebow becomes available.