Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Feb. 10

Let's get to it:

MARTIN STERN FROM SAN DIEGO, CA:
Casey Conner, who suggested this in the Feb. 5 Asked and Answered, was totally correct. Donnie Shell and Carnell Lake were linebackers in college who made the transition to safety in the NFL, and both were outstanding. Since we have plenty of linebackers, and have a need in the "back end of the defense," why aren't they considering doing this with Ryan Shazier?

**

OK, I'm going to give a bit of an explanation to this question this time, and then the issue is closed because the Steelers are not considering this. Donnie Shell and Carnell Lake both played linebacker in college, yes, but they also were undersized linebackers in college, guys who either were going to have to transition to the defensive backfield or find another profession, guys who were used more as rovers by their college coaches. Lake never weighed more than 210 pounds; Shell came into the NFL at 190 back in 1974. Shazier entered the NFL at close to 240 pounds, which makes him a regular-sized linebacker, and his speed allows him to play the position in an NFL that has evolved tremendously even since Lake retired after the 2001 season. Inside linebackers in today's NFL have to be able to cover tight ends who have evolved into de facto wide receivers and running backs who can run patterns down the field and make plays on the ball like wide receivers. A safety has to do some of those things as well, but an NFL safety also has to cover guys like Antonio Brown and A.J. Green, an NFL safety has to cover the deep middle when it's being attacked by a guy like DeSean Jackson. When it comes to straight-line speed, some linebackers might run like some safeties, but playing in an NFL secondary requires more than straight line speed. The work the Steelers need to do with Shazier is to develop him into the kind of LINEBACKER they envisioned when they drafted him. Moving him to safety, a position he never played, a position to which he is not athletically suited, is not going to happen.**

DYLAN STRUBLE FROM COLUMBUS, OH:
Who do you think the Steelers will target in free agency? I think we need to take care of our own first in Jason Worilds. Letting him go now would be silly, but I would love for them to bring in someone like CB Byron Maxwell from Seattle. Maxwell, in my opinion, would be a great fit and a player who would have immediate impact.

The Steelers primary focus of this upcoming free agency period should be to find a way to keep Jason Worilds and to sign Ben Roethlisberger to a contract extension, not necessarily in that order. The Seahawks are still a young team that isn't paying big money to its starting quarterback, and so they should have the financial wherewithal to keep Maxwell, either by re-signing him before free agency begins or by slapping the franchise player tag on him. The Steelers need cornerbacks, no question, but they need to draft and develop their own, because trying to buy them on the open market is way too expensive.

BILLY FENIMORE FROM TROY, MT:
Who will be the breakout player of 2015: Shamarko Thomas, Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones, Dri Archer, Martavis Bryant, or somebody else?

For the Steelers to be contenders in 2015, every one of those you mention is going to have to author the kind of statistical/production improvement that would deserve consideration as a "breakout season."

JAMES WIGGS FROM DALLAS, TX:
Since Casey Hampton's career ended, this defense has not been the same. I know many in the media and on the team like Steve McLendon and Daniel McCullers, but neither are as good as Hampton and have not filled in at nose tackle the way Steelers need for their 3-4 to be successful. Why not trade up for Washington DT Danny Shelton in the draft to solve the problem? When you have a stud NT the rest of defense plays better and that is a fact. Look at the Ravens.

I believe the Steelers have too many needs to trade away premium-round choices to go from No. 22 overall to a spot high enough in the first round to pick Danny Shelton, who's being projected right now as a top-10 pick. I also believe the NFL today is a league where a run-stuffing nose tackle is not worth a first-round pick. Stopping the run is important, but what opponents have been doing of late is to put multiple receivers on the field and then run the ball against the Steelers' nickel, an alignment that more closely resembles a 4-3. That said, I would have no objection to using the 22nd overall pick on a defensive lineman, but the guy has to be more than just a run-stuffing nose tackle.

MIKE NEWCOMB FROM LUFKIN, TX:
Our Steelers have played in eight Super Bowls and only lost two of them. Which one of the Super Bowl losses seems to be the most disappointing to most Steelers fans? Being from Texas, I can tell you I sure wish we would have defeated Dallas in Super Bowl XXX.

The loss in Super Bowl XXX was tough because the Steelers had taken control of the lines of scrimmage by the time they got the football after a Dallas punt with 4:32 remaining in the fourth quarter of a game in which the Cowboys held a 20-17 lead, but instead of pressing this advantage the offense came out throwing and Neil O'Donnell's pass on second down was intercepted by Larry Brown and returned to the Pittsburgh 6-yard line. The loss in Super Bowl XLV was frustrating because of the way the NFL had changed the rules for the way defense could be played six weeks into that 2010 regular season. All of a sudden, the way the Steelers had played defense to go 3-1 over the season's first four games while Ben Roethlisberger was serving a suspension was drawing penalty flags and fines. Without fear of big hits on their receivers down the middle of the field, the Packers offense was able to be more aggressive in Super Bowl XLV than it could have been had the game been played before the start of the "player safety initiative." Now, the safety of players is a worthwhile endeavor, but they changed the rules in the middle of a season. I was more personally disappointed by the loss to the Packers.

JOEL ZOOK FROM WYTHEVILLE, VA:
Has there been any thought of finding a better second-string quarterback, one who could take over when Ben Roethlisberger retires?

It's too early for that. I believe Ben Roethlisberger has close to five more very good years left in his career, and so the idea right now is to have a veteran backup capable of getting the team through a short stretch in case of an injury to its franchise quarterback.

GERARD GRABLER FROM BELEN, NM:
What's in store for Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount as a result of getting stopped by police with marijuana in the car? I got a feeling it's all been swept under the rug.

Just because the court system has a timetable that's a bit more deliberate than the average football fan's attention span doesn't mean anything is being "swept under the rug." Blount has had his record expunged because he completed the court-mandated 50 hours of community service, and Bell was admitted into a court program that, if completed successfully, will lead to the marijuana charges filed against him last summer being dismissed. Bell was admitted into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program, which is for first-time offenders of nonviolent crimes, where charges can be dismissed and expunged if the defendant fulfills certain requirements. The 15-month probationary program will require Bell to abstain from drugs and alcohol, complete all recommended treatment, pay a $100 fee and court costs and complete a safe driving class. In addition, his driver's license will be suspended for 60 days. Bell now faces possible league sanctions, which under the new substance-abuse policy calls for a two-game suspension for players found legally responsible for driving under the influence.

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