Let's get to it:
ROY PATRICK FROM LAKE CHARLES, LA:
First, thanks for the column. There have been very good questions and answers so far. While it's pretty clear all phases of the defense need to play better, I am of the opinion that the problems in rushing the passer are more due to lack of "push" from the defensive line rather than the performance of the edge rushers. Cam Heyward had a good year, but no one else on the defensive line stood out in pressuring the opposing quarterbacks. Do you feel that Stephon Tuitt can develop his pass rush skills to make a difference? Also, do you think defensive coordinator Keith Butler will have schemes for a better inside pass rush?
I'm not certain of your original contention concerning why the Steelers pass rush was lacking, but I'll skip over that for now. Cam Heyward had a very good year, and his 7.5 sacks was the highest total by a Steelers defensive lineman since Aaron Smith posted eight in 2004. Sacks aren't a big part of the job description for the typical 3-4 defensive lineman, but the changing emphasis of offensive football in the NFL is making it more of one. And pushing the pocket is important, no matter where and from whom it might originate. Tuitt is fast enough and athletic enough and relentless enough to make plays all over the field, and undoubtedly some of those will be in the backfield. When the Steelers go to their sub-package defense in 2015 and put Heyward and Tuitt as de facto defensive tackles in their four-man front, there should be fewer issues with inside pressure. As for schemes, only so much can be done with X's and O's – most often it comes down to winning the one-on-one matchups on the field.
PAUL REICKART FROM MIFFLINTOWN, PA:
Is Hines Ward's Super Bowl XL MVP award a big plus on his credentials for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
When the 2014 season began, Hines Ward was ninth on the NFL's all-time receiving list with 1,000 catches, and those accounted for 12,083 yards and 85 touchdowns. The guys ahead of him on that list not enshrined in Canton are Tony Gonzalez, who's not yet eligible, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Isaac Bruce, and Reggie Wayne, who's still an active player. Harrison had 1,102 catches for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns; Owens had 1,078 catches for 15,934 yards and 153 touchdowns; and Bruce had 1,024 catches for 15,208 yards and 91 touchdowns. Bruce played in two Super Bowls with one win; Harrison won one ring; and Owens was the best player on the field for the Eagles in their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. The point is that there is a difference between being qualified and getting elected, because my opinion on elections is the process often reveals more about the voters than the candidates. How will voters view receivers as the rules of the game and the way it's officiated make it easier for them to accumulate eye-popping statistics? Will Ward's overall game, i.e., special teams early in his career and his blocking throughout, compensate for lesser statistics in other areas? I cannot say whether Hines Ward will be enshrined into the Hall of Fame, but I will say he's better than some of the receivers who already are.
CHRIS RENNINGER FROM NAPLES, FL:
When it comes to the draft, how much input do the assistant coaches and coordinators have when it comes to building the draft board? Some fans seem to think Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert sit in an ivory tower and make executive decisions all by themselves. The head coach seems to get all the blame when popular players are skipped, for example in selecting Ryan Shazier over C.J. Mosley.
Late in the preparation for a draft is a process called the "readings," which ends with putting grades on the prospects, and it's done on a position-by-position basis. The assistant coaches in the room for the running backs reading, for example, would be James Saxon and Todd Haley, and their opinions are heard. When the picking is being done, however, the position coaches and the coordinators are in the back of the room. And when the picking is being done, don't forget Art Rooney II, because his opinion is heard, too.
PATRICK ALFORD FROM ASHLAND, VA:
Do you think that new coordinator Keith Butler will be more open to inserting younger players into the team's defensive scheme?
This is what I believe: coaching is a profession of alternatives. When the Steelers developed the reputation for being against playing young, inexperienced guys on defense to "see what they can do," the unit was a combination of veteran stars – Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton and James Farrior and James Harrison and Troy Polamalu – paired with quality veteran contributors who meshed nicely with those stars – Kimo von Oelhoffen and Brett Keisel and Deshea Townsend and Ike Taylor. Young guys couldn't crack that group. But today, just about all of those guys are gone, and so there is more urgency in getting young guys acclimated and onto the field because young guys are all you have. If those young guys mature into the kind of unit the Steelers had before this rebuilding project, then it again will be tough for the new young guys to get onto the field. NFL Darwinism.
GRANT MAESHIRO FROM HONOLULU, HI:
Will you consider doing this daily like Vic Ketchman? I wish I had access to as much insight into the Steelers' way as I have to the Packers' via his daily "Ask Vic" column.
In my opinion, Vic Ketchman invented this. Nobody does these website Q&A's as well as Vic. Knowledge, perspective, a sense and appreciation for history, occasional sarcasm. "Ask Vic" is simply the best of its kind. For now, Asked & Answered will appear on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
BEN EAKIN FROM LASCASSAS, TN:
I was born and raised in Western Pennsylvania and am now living in Tennessee. I would like to know the real story behind Dick LeBeau leaving Pittsburgh for the Tennessee Titans. I am tired of hearing how they stole our defensive coordinator.
Dick LeBeau's contract expired, and he was going to be 78 for the 2015 season. Mike Tomlin had Keith Butler waiting in the wings, and the decision was made to promote Butler. The Steelers would have been amenable to creating something else for LeBeau within the organization, but he expressed a desire to continue actively coaching. It was LeBeau who broke the news to the Urbana Daily Citizen that he had resigned. Then after deciding a job with the Arizona Cardinals was too far away from home, LeBeau accepted a job with the Titans. No actual theft involved.