Let's get to it:
KIM OWENS FROM FREDERICK, MD:
For the Pro Bowl, do players bring their own pads, etc. I know they bring helmets, but I didn't know if other things are provided by the league.
ANSWER: When a player from a particular team is voted to the Pro Bowl, and it's determined that player actually will participate in the game, the equipment staff from that team will gather all of the player's game-day equipment – helmet, shoulder pads, etc. – and send it to the site of the game, where it's arranged and placed in his locker the same way it would be done for a typical in-season game.
JULIO CRUZ FROM ROCHESTER, NY:
I saw in a recent Asked and Answered, when a fan suggested that we should be looking at an inside linebacker in the draft, you responded that we also should invest in a safety. If you were a scout and you saw how our last season went, what exactly would you need to see in a safety?
ANSWER: Ball skills. An ability to create takeaways, particularly interceptions. Last season, the Steelers finished the regular season with 16 interceptions among their 22 takeaways; in 2016 those numbers were 13 interceptions among 23 total takeaways; in 2015, it was 17 interceptions among 30 total takeaways; and in 2014 it was 11 interceptions among 21 total takeaways.
In 1992, the Steelers used an eighth-round draft pick on a free safety from Penn State named Darren Perry. Based on today's draft format, Perry would have to enter the NFL as an undrafted rookie, because there is no longer an eighth round. Said to be too slow and nothing special at 5-foot-11, Perry got a chance at a starting job as a rookie because of an injury to Gary Jones in training camp, and he was a fixture there for seven full seasons. In 110 games with the Steelers – all starts – Perry intercepted 32 passes and recovered eight fumbles. Forty takeaways, which worked out to an average of a little bit more than five per season. That's what I would like in a safety.
MATHEW TORRES FROM PANORAMA CITY, CA
I have seen mock drafts that have the Steelers getting a free safety, another running back, a linebacker, and even a quarterback. With Mike Mitchell being 31 years old, plus the contract talks with Le'Veon Bell, plus and the need for depth at linebacker, plus Ben Roethlisberger only being around for maybe three more years, what position is most likely to be addressed in the first round? I even saw Lamar Jackson being predicted by one mock draft as our first-round pick.
ANSWER: I believe you can liken mock drafts to the weather in Denver. If you don't like it today, there's a good chance it'll be completely different tomorrow. Most of these guys doing mock drafts will have up to 15 versions by the time April 15 rolls around, and the draft doesn't begin until 11 days after that. The Steelers have the No. 28 overall pick in the first round, and it's an absolute guess as to which players might be available at that point – even if you're doing your mock draft at 4 p.m. on April 26.
BOB BRILL FROM CALABASAS, CA:
What is James Conner's status, rehab situation, and future? And are the Steelers thinking about drafting another running back due to his injury?
ANSWER: James Conner injured an MCL and already has had surgery. There really are no injury updates at this stage of the offseason, not with no on-field activity scheduled for many months. But his injury wasn't major and the surgery was routine, given the context of the injury. There should be no need to respond to this injury specifically by drafting another running back.
JACK JAMES FROM STATE COLLEGE, PA:
Is it fair to say that the overturn of the clear touchdown catch by Jesse James cost us a Super Bowl? The Steelers win that game, get the No. 1 seed in the AFC, then play the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional Round (a team we dominated a month and a half before on a Thursday night). Then, play the Patriots at home again where we already beat them. Once in the Super Bowl, it's smooth sailing against Nick Foles.
ANSWER: You can go that way if it helps you get to sleep at night, but let me warn you, that similar logic has been used by Bengals fans every year since the 2005 AFC Wild Card Game when Carson Palmer was injured early in the first quarter of what turned into a 31-17 victory by the Steelers. I don't believe those Bengals fans, and I don't believe your scenario, either.
RUSS PALLONE FROM TRINIDAD
Since we are in "salary cap" season, I was wondering if that refers to players' salaries only?
JADON JONES FROM INDIANAPOLIS, IN:
Was the offense that Randy Fichtner ran in the Pro Bowl similar to what the Steelers will run next season?
ANSWER: Only the plays that worked, and Ben Roethlisberger called all of those himself.
JONATHAN MANZ FROM LAFAYETTE, IN:
Jan. 29 is the annual anniversary of the greatest NFL draft class ever: the Steelers' 1974 draft with Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster. When was the draft moved from happening as soon as the season ended to what we know now with it happening in the spring?
ANSWER: The history of the NFL Draft is a long one, and there are a lot of twists and turns in the journey from where it all began in 1936 to where it is today. For example, during the height of the NFL-AFL war for players, the NFL held its draft before the previous season even ended. For example, the 1966 NFL Draft was held on Nov. 27, 1965 to give teams a head-start on signing players before the AFL could get around to it.
Generally, in the early days the draft was held in January, shortly after the season ended, but that practice changed in 1976. As you noted, the date of the 1974 NFL Draft was Jan. 29-30, and the date of the 1975 Draft was Jan. 28-29. But then in 1976, the dates of the draft were April 8-9, and basically from then on the draft was held in April or May.
One last note on the Steelers' 1974 draft class that, as you noted, yielded four Hall of Fame players:
It's unanimously accepted that the best draft in NFL history was the Steelers' in 1974, in which they drafted four Hall of Fame players – Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster – on the first five rounds. Back in those days, the draft included 17 rounds, with the first five being conducted on one day with the final 12 rounds the next day.
The following passage was written by a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports columnist and appeared in the Jan. 30, 1974 edition of the newspaper. Again, this is a columnist's critique of the first five rounds of the 1974 NFL Draft, after the Steelers had picked Swann, Lambert, Stallworth, cornerback Jimmy Allen, and Webster:
"The Steelers seem to have come out of the first five rounds of the draft appreciably strengthened at wide receiver but nowhere else. They didn't get a tight end, and the ones remaining are more suspect than prospect. They didn't get a punter, although none of the nation's best collegiate punters went in the first five rounds. They didn't get an offensive tackle who might've shored up what could well become a weakness. What they did get was Swann, who seems to be a sure-pop to help; Lambert, who figures to be the No. 5 linebacker if he pans out; and three question marks."
So, when shopping for instant draft analysis … Let the buyer beware.