Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: August 23

Let's get to it:

When the Steelers signed Stephon Tuitt last year, it seemed like much wasn't expected of him, what with him being a young player and just having been cut by the Bills. But I think he had a nice season last year and was a little surprised Steelers only re-signed him for one year. Do you think Cockrell is in the Steelers' long-term plans. and how do you feel he has performed?

ANSWER: Ross Cockrell was a fourth-round pick by the Bills in 2014, and he signed a four-year, $2.68 million contract back then that included a signing bonus of roughly $470,000. Standard rookie deal for a No. 4 pick. When the Steelers signed Cockrell, they did a one-year deal so both sides could get to know one another. Then when the 2015 season ended, and the Steelers assessed their secondary, they knew they wanted to bring Cockrell back, and with him only having two seasons toward free agency, he only qualified as an exclusive rights free agent. If a player's  current team wants to keep an exclusive rights free agent, it must submit a tender by a deadline set by the NFL, and the tender for guys in that category is only a one year non-guaranteed contract at the minimum salary level. At the end of the 2016 season, Cockrell will qualify for restricted free agency. As for how Cockrell has performed, my answer is that he's a starting cornerback for the Steelers right now, and that job wasn't given to him because he attended Duke University. If he's still a starter by the end of this season, I would imagine he undoubtedly would be in the Steelers' long-term plans.

I have noticed that for kickoff returns during preseason so far, the Steelers have used one wide receiver and one running back as the returners. I was wondering, traditionally, which of those positions is more common as a kick returner?

ANSWER: It's more about an individual's skill-set than it is the position he plays. It does stand to reason that a running back could translate well to kickoff returns, because seeing a hole and hitting it at top speed is what's required to excel at both. I'm going to predict that over the course of the final two preseason games, the Steelers will try others on kickoff returns, and they won't limit themselves to only wide receivers and running backs, necessarily.

Is there a reason why William Gay is drug tested so often? Is he in an offender program of some sort? I'll refrain from saying anything about being harassed by Roger Goodell.

ANSWER: James Harrison never has failed an NFL drug test for a PED. I also must admit I have no knowledge of how many times Harrison gets tested, and the league has the right to test an individual randomly for PEDs 10 times over each 30-day period. But it cannot be a failed test triggering the number of times Harrison gets tested, because he never has failed a test.

I am a big fan of the Steelers since 1989. That year, as a foreign exchange student from Spain, I completed a Junior grade in a high school in Claysville, Pennsylvania, and lived with a host family in West Alexander, Pennsylvania. I recall attending a Steelers game in Pittsburgh late in August, but I do not remember the team we played. (At the time I was not aware how important that moment would be for me). Could you please let me know who we played in 1989 at home during the preseason? My second question is obviously regarding Alejandro Villanueva. He is already 27 so based in your experience how many more years can we expect to enjoy having a Spanish player in the NFL?

ANSWER: In 1989, the Steelers played only one of their four preseason games at home – a 21-14 loss to the Washington Redskins. Al Villanueva will be 28 on Sept. 22, and barring injury, I could imagine him playing into his early-to-mid-30s. That's very difficult to predict, but I can tell you Villanueva is still scratching the surface of his abilities as a player.

Do you think the Steelers go after Keenan Lewis since he is familiar with the defense?

ANSWER: According to reports, Keenan Lewis injured a hip nearly one year ago and has had to endure multiple surgical procedures on that hip, and the byproduct was that he still isn't healthy enough to practice. Despite the hip issue, Lewis started six games in 2015, but he also was hampered by an MCL tear, a torn labrum, and a sports hernia. Sounds to me as though Lewis' body was breaking down, and that's probably why the Saints released him, although there figures to be some sort of settlement tied to the move. Lewis is 30 and has played seven seasons in the NFL, and he posted in social media that he has a visit scheduled with the Steelers. I imagine the purpose largely is to try to determine if his body could last through an eighth.

Let me be the first to throw this out there for you to feast on: Keenan Lewis is now available after being released by the Saints. From what I read this is as much a chemistry issue as it is an injury one. Any chance the Steelers pick him up on a one-year deal, especially since his salary for this year is guaranteed by the Saints, and they may be able to offer him less money? Might be a bargain.


Check out the best photos from the 2016 training camp.

ANSWER: As you can see, you're not even close to the first. Keenan Lewis had said he liked playing for defensive coordinator Rob Ryan more than he liked playing for Dennis Allen, but if he was healthy and as productive as he was for the Saints when he had 93 tackles, six interceptions, and 26 passes defensed over a couple of seasons, there would be no "chemistry" issues.**

With the injuries in the secondary, any chance of bringing Will Allen back?

ANSWER: I think it's possible Will Allen could be brought back in an emergency-type situation in which the Steelers are hit with a rash of serious injuries in their defensive backfield. I don't know that they're there yet.

I think the question about how to replace Bruce Gradkowski, if he is lost for the season, was poorly worded. I think what he might have intended to ask is simply, "Who would be a good candidate to replace Bruce Gradkowski? Michael Vick, or bring in another veteran quarterback?" Landry Jones, as you noted, is likely the back-up to Ben, so who will be No. 3?

ANSWER: You're assuming the No. 3 quarterback has to be a veteran. Why else would you word your question: "Who would be a good candidate to replace Bruce Gradkowski? Michael Vick, or bring in another veteran quarterback?" I don't agree with you that the Steelers No. 3 quarterback has to be a veteran. It could be a developmental guy, too.

Tyler Murphy? If Bruce Gradkowski cannot play at all this season, would Murphy be a candidate to compete with Vaughn? We would get a versatile athlete. If we get to our third-string quarterback, we probably need a versatile guy. A third-string quarterback isn't going to win relying on his arm alone. And, Murphy has some experience with the offense and could run Wildcat if that is desired.

ANSWER: Obviously a Tyler Murphy fan. OK, let's start with a little current information: Murphy had signed a futures contract with the Miami Dolphins in January to play wide receiver, but the Dolphins recently waived him injured, and his injury was to his knee. Your idea is to sign Murphy, and then if his knee is OK and he wins the No. 3 quarterback job, you go to a gadget offense if he actually has to play. No, no, 1,000 times no.

After the performance of the offense the last two weeks, including the awful game played against Philadelphia, wouldn't it be safe to say that an actual backup quarterback had become a priority? I realize without Ben Roethlisberger the team does not reach and/or win the Super Bowl, but a serviceable option to cover a four-game stretch isn't out of reach. A guy like Thad Lewis buried deep on San Francisco's depth chart, for instance. What is your take?

ANSWER: My take is that since Buffalo is only a 162-miles west on I-90 from Central Valley that you have a lot of Bills games televised in your area, and you had an extended look at Lewis during the 2013 season in which he started five games for the Bills. That season, Lewis completed 59.2 percent of his passes, with four touchdowns, three interceptions, three lost fumbles, and a rating of 81.0. My take is that if you want Thad Lewis now, you have to make a trade with the San Francisco 49ers; if you wait until cuts to 53 on Sept. 3, it's really too late for him to be ready to play if you need him early in the season. My take is that fans come up with some strange options is their never-ending quest to replace Landry Jones.

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