Let's get to it:
ALLEN CORNELIUS FROM COLORADO SPRINGS, CO: When veterans like Ben Roethlisberger get Wednesday off, what do they actually do? Are they in the facility working out, watching video, preparing for the upcoming game, or getting treatment, but just not physically practicing? Or do they stay home and just have a day off? And when Ben has his typical Wednesday off, does Joshua Dobbs practice with the starters? One would have hoped he would have been better prepared to come in after having a day each week all season long to practice with the starters.
ANSWER: Getting a "Wednesday off" only pertains to taking part in the physical aspect of the on-field practice. You can rest assured that the veterans not taking part in a Wednesday practice are not at home on the sofa eating Oreos and watching "Dr. Phil" re-runs. They report to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex for the morning meeting along with everyone else, and they participate in all of the meetings and classroom sessions, along with getting whatever treatment might be indicated based on their specific physical ailments at the time. Getting a Wednesday off is designed to protect the bodies of the older players as they navigate through an NFL season that, for them, began when they reported to training camp in late July. It's a physically demanding process, and it's been shown that fatigue can contribute to soft-tissue injuries.
When Roethlisberger is given a day off, Joshua Dobbs takes the first-team reps during practice, but try to keep that in perspective. A practice might encompass two hours on the field, with half of that devoted to the offense. One hour a week – in practice, remember – for a guy playing the most difficult position in all of professional sports – in practice – who's in his second season after a rookie season of doing virtually nothing as the No. 3 quarterback. Dobbs still has very little actual playing experience, and it's going to take time for him to learn the nuances of being able to come off the bench cold, with little on-field practice time, and with little in-helmet exposure to how opponents choose to attack the Steelers' offense. These factors are why it takes years to develop a guy who becomes a quality backup in the NFL, which is why keeping a veteran such as Landry Jones on the roster seemed to make so much sense. There were advantages to keeping a young player like Dobbs on the roster, but there also were practical disadvantages, too. Like so much in the NFL, it's pick your poison.
WALTER BLACK FROM RIVERTON, WY: Your recent article about the impact of college football on the NFL was spot on, and it was seamlessly exemplified in the Chargers vs. Chiefs game on Thursday night. How do the Steelers make adjustments on both sides of the ball to take better advantage of the new NFL?
ANSWER: The Steelers' issues, I believe, primarily land on the defensive side, and what they're trying to do is what Army defensive coordinator Jay Bateman was talking about in terms of players being position-flexible.
• In the Sports Illustrated story I used as a source, Bateman told writer Conor Orr, "Everyone is a blitzer. A kid is a defensive end – well, now he's a linebacker, or a strong safety. How does a quarterback declare him? (Their offense will) start blocking guys who aren't even rushing and not block guys who are. The days of a defensive player dropping back into a spot, the quarterback throwing it, and (the defender) breaking on the ball are over."
The difficulty in the NFL is that a limited number of players can be added in a draft, and a limited number of players are available via free agency. And because the players with the multiple skill-set that allows them to be dynamic hybrid players are so few, the transformation of a defense into this kind of a unit can takes years to put together.
RAY DINTINO FROM MILLERSVILLE, PA: What is the difference between these defensive penalties: encroachment, offside, unabated to the quarterback, and neutral zone infraction? I believe they are all 5-yard penalties, and they all seem to net basically the same result. So what is the difference and why does it matter?
ANSWER: Encroachment is a defensive player crossing the line of scrimmage and touching an offensive player before the ball is snapped. The play is whistled dead immediately and a 5-yard penalty is enforced.
Offside is a defensive player crossing the line of scrimmage but not touching an offensive player. The play usually is allowed to continue and becomes a free play for the offense, and at the conclusion of the play, the offense can accept or decline the penalty.
Unabated to the quarterback looks exactly like an offside penalty, except the defensive player in question ends up with a clear path to the quarterback. In this instance, the play is whistled dead immediately as a player-safety issue for obvious reasons.
A neutral zone infraction involves the invisible plane between the areas where the offensive players and defensive players line up for the snap of the ball. If a player is determined to be in the neutral zone at the time of the snap, it is a neutral zone infraction. A more recent kind of neutral zone infraction occurs when a defensive player crosses the line of scrimmage before the snap and causes an offensive lineman to "false start." Before this was instituted, the home team's defense could take advantage of crowd noise and fake the snap of the ball in situations where the offensive player couldn't hear the cadence and force a "false start" by jumping across the line of scrimmage and then getting back before the snap of the ball.
The only practical difference in the scenarios you ask about is to offer a specific explanation of why the flag was thrown, because as you mention, the outcome for each is a 5-yard penalty.
FRANK BIGLER FROM SWEET VALLEY, PA: Any chance the Steelers could have Alejandro Villanueva play against Rob Gronkowski, because we need someone who can compete against this guy. Alejandro was a receiver before, he runs like Gronk, he's bigger than Gronk. Gotta figure this out quick or its gonna be The Gronk Show all over again.
ANSWER: I have no words.
HAL TROLLER FROM NORFOLK, VA: It seems like the Steelers have tried to cover tight ends with everyone. What do you think of giving Brian Allen a shot, because he seems to match up best being 6-foot-3?
ANSWER: There is more to covering Rob Gronkowski than height. You do understand that, right?