Let's get to it:
JOEL HIGGINS FROM VANCOUVER, WA: This year's list of candidates for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award was announced on Dec. 6. Do you think this is the year Cam Heyward finally wins the award he so justly deserves?
ANSWER: I will begin with some general information about the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. Each year, the award is voted upon by a panel of judges that includes the current NFL Commissioner – in this case Roger Goodell – the previous year's winner – in this case Andrew Whitworth – and a number of former players. The Kansas City Chiefs and Chicago Bears have had more winners of the award than any other teams, with 5 winners each. The Steelers and Chargers are next with 4 winners each, and the Steelers' winners were Franco Harris in 1976, Joe Greene in 1979, Lynn Swann in 1981, and Jerome Bettis in 2001.
As for whether Cam Heyward will win the WPMOY Award in 2022, all I can say is that he deserves to win it. During his news conference on Dec. 6, Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about his candidacy, and I offer his perspective "Here's the thing for me: just the totality. I know it's an award that acknowledges the work that's done in 2022, but much like his playing career, man, his work in the community, whether it's Pittsburgh, or Atlanta where he's from, or Columbus, where he went to school, or any community that he cares about, this guy contributes in a positive way, in the way that he has as a player. The totality of his resume in that area is indisputable, like the totality of his resume as a player. It's over a decade of service. That's why I feel like he needs no endorsement for me. How he lives his life and how he conducts himself, how he cares about people and utilizes his platform in a positive way is all the endorsement that he needs."
JOSHUA LEWIS FROM WINCHESTER, IN: What is the timeline for Chris Boswell to return from the injured reserve list? It seems he has been out his required four games, so would he be eligible for the Ravens this week? Would the Steelers feel confident that he can wait longer due to Matthew Wright's success?
ANSWER: Chris Boswell could be activated off the injured reserve list this week and then would be eligible to kick on Sunday against the Ravens at Acrisure Stadium. But while there have been times in the recent past where the Steelers were left scouring the waiver wire or holding mid-week tryouts hoping to find a competent kicker in response to an injury, this time they are not in such a desperate situation, and that's because of Matthew Wright. The Steelers signed Wright off the Kansas City practice squad, and after he missed two field goals vs. the Saints on Nov. 13, he was 10-for-10 over the next three games. He hasn't missed any extra points at all, he has two tackles on kickoff returns, and his directional kickoffs were a factor in neutralizing Atlanta's Cordarelle Patterson. If Coach Mike Tomlin isn't 100 percent certain that Boswell is 100 percent, Wright is a quality option until he is.
GENE MORMILE FROM MAHOPAC, NY: I've noticed this year that there are times when one of the officials is standing behind the center and in front of the quarterback preventing the play from beginning. The ball has already been spotted. This seems to slow down hurry-up offenses and fast-paced playcalling. Any idea why this happens?
ANSWER: One of the main reasons when this happens is because one of the teams has substituted since the end of the previous play, and by rule the other team is given a certain amount of time to respond to those substitutions with its own substitutions. That's why you'll often see the offense keep the same personnel on the field and line up immediately at the line of scrimmage, and in that case the umpire will not prevent the ball from being snapped to allow the defense to substitute.
THOMAS BATTIN FROM ROANOKE, VA: What is the problem that the offense is not using Pat Freiermuth more often? He rarely drops a pass, and I've seen him open often.
ANSWER: While I agree that George Pickens should be targeted more often than he has been so far this season – 60 times through the Dec. 4 game in Atlanta – I don't believe Pat Freiermuth has been ignored to the degree that you seem to believe. Freiermuth has been targeted 74 times, and he has 49 catches for 540 yards (11.0 average) and 1 touchdown. Also, Freiermuth is second to Kansas City's Travis Kelce among tight ends with 70-plus yard receiving games in 2022. Kelce leads all tight ends with 7, and Freiermuth is second with 5. Also, Freiermuth currently has 15 catches on third downs, and only two tight ends in the NFL have more – Cincinnati's Hayden Hurst has 17, and Minnesota's T.J. Hockenson has 19. I don't understand your criticism of the use of Freiermuth, unless, of course, you have him on your fantasy team.
MATT WINDER FROM WILLIAMSPORT, IN: The Steelers activated DeMarvin Leal off injured reserve for the game against the Falcons, and he wasn't listed on the inactive list. But I don't see him on the stats sheet. Did he play vs. the Falcons?
ANSWER: DeMarvin Leal was on the field for 7 defensive snaps and 4 special teams snaps vs. the Falcons. He did not register any statistics.
EDWARD BONTRAGER FROM CORBIN, KY; I remember Craig "Ironhead" Heyward's playing career more with the Saints than the Falcons, so I was surprised to see how emotional Cam was when Connor scored in their "hometown." Were the Heyward brothers born and raised in Atlanta as the broadcasters said, or in Louisiana?
ANSWER: Cam Heyward was born in Pittsburgh, and Connor Heyward was born in Duluth, Georgia. Both Cam and Connor attended Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee, Georgia, which is 33.3 miles down I-85 from Atlanta.
DAVID GIEHLER FROM MANASSAS PARK, VA: Back in the 1970s punters such as Bobby Walden and Ray Guy were known for successfully pinning teams in the "coffin corner" by kicking it out of bounds inside the 10-yard line. Why don't we see punters attempt that anymore, rather than keeping it in the field of play and hoping to down it before it bounces into the end zone? Are they not as talented or is this a modern strategy?
ANSWER: When contemporary punters are attempting to pin the opponent deep in its own territory, the technique often used is to drop the ball point down and kick it so that it flies end-over-end and then has a tendency to bounce back toward the line of scrimmage or sideways toward the sideline. And I'm going to challenge your memory about how 1970s punters had a greater success rate attempting "coffin corner" kicks. In 2021, the top four punters in the NFL at the end of the season posted touchback percentages (touchbacks divided by number of punts) of 11 percent, 10 percent, 10.2 percent, and 6.2 percent. Ray Guy is the only punter in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his career touchback percentage was 12.2 percent, and the only season in which he posted a touchback percentage that would've ranked him in the top four in 2021 was in 1982, a season that was shortened to 9 games by the NFL players' strike. Punters are MORE talented today than they were in the 1970s. By far.
DANIEL MAZENKO FROM LITITZ, PA: If Baker Mayfield were to be a free agent in the offseason, and the Steelers move on from Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky as backups, would you offer him a camp tryout for the backup quarterback position?
ANSWER: As I have written several times, Mason Rudolph can become an unrestricted free agent in March 2023, so it's not going to be an issue of the Steelers "moving on" from him after the season, and Mitch Trubisky is under contract to the team for the 2023 season. With that clarified, I would rather have Trubisky as the backup to Kenny Pickett than Baker Mayfield 100 times out of 100.
BOB MANZ FROM EVANS, GA: I had the pleasure of attending the Steelers game in Atlanta with my wife and one of my sons. We had lived in Pittsburgh during the 1970s and 1980s, when we became die-hard fans, and we now reside in the Augusta, Georgia, area. I had to double check to make sure that I hadn't somehow been teleported back to Acrisure Stadium, with the streams of fans clad in black-and-gold heading to the game. What a great experience. Do the Steelers keep track of away game attendance in any way?
ANSWER: Generally, the Steelers do not track attendance when they are the visiting team, but the NFL tracks the attendance of every game every week of the preseason, regular season, and postseason. But there is no accounting of attendance in the way I believe you are referring, which would be the number of the visiting team's fans.
CHRIS FACKLER FROM BENSALEM, PA: What are your thoughts on Devin Bush's play this season? Do you believe the Steelers will try to keep him around after declining his fifth-year option, or is it time to move on?
ANSWER: I believe Devin Bush has had a solid, if unspectacular season in 2022, much better than in 2021 but not what either he or the Steelers had in mind when the team made him the 10th overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. But there still are five games left in this season, and if Bush continues to improve, even incrementally, as he has over the course of 2022, I will be interested to see how the Steelers approach his status during the offseason. And it also will be interesting to see if Bush would be interested in staying or if he comes to believe a fresh start somewhere else is in his best interest. Too early to project how it all is going to turn out, in my opinion.
DAVID BOGNAR FROM GERMANTOWN, WI: How and when did the Immaculate Reception get its name, and who came up with it?
ANSWER: There are many who claim to have been in attendance at Three Rivers Stadium on Dec. 23, 1972, who weren't, but Myron Cope was there and had a hand in naming what now is recognized as the "Greatest Play in NFL History." Cope was the color analyst and Jack Fleming handled the play-by-play for the radio broadcast on WTAE-AM of the Divisional Round Game between the Steelers and the Raiders, and Cope wrote about how the play got its name in his book, "Double Yoi!"
Wrote Cope, "After the game, I dined with my wife, then drove to Pittsburgh's WTAE-TV studios to deliver a commentary on the game for the 11 o'clock news. Meanwhile, a Steelers fan in his late 20s, Michael Ord, was celebrating Franco's catch at a downtown bar fittingly named The Interlude. Boisterous fans toasted the victory. Ord climbed upon a chair and with a spoon tapped his glass for attention. 'This day,' he proclaimed, 'will forever be known as the Feast of the Immaculate Reception!'
"Then, to a friend, Sharon Levosky, Ord suggested, 'Call Myron Cope.' When my phone rang in the newsroom, I listened to Sharon's suggestion and said, 'That's fantastic. Let me give it some thought.' The Immaculate Reception? Tasteless? I pondered the matter for 15 seconds and cried out, 'Whoopee!' Having conferred upon Franco's touchdown its name for 11 o'clock news viewers to embrace, I accept neither credit nor, should you hold the moniker to be impious, blame."