Let's get to it:
BILL AULT FROM BELLAIRE, OH:
What do the Steelers plan on changing about their defense? Can it be accomplished in one season?
Keith Butler may be new to the job of defensive coordinator, but he's not new to the Steelers or to their style of defense. There are bound to be some tweaks in scheme, and other changes will come naturally simply because Keith Butler is not Dick LeBeau. But overall, there will be more that stays the same with the Steelers defense than what is changed dramatically. The switch at coordinator alone isn't enough to elevate the Steelers defense to the level it must reach for the team to compete for another championship, because scheme only can take you so far. Then the players have to take over and win those one-on-one matchups on the field.
RICHARD SABLE FROM TAMPA, FL:
Bob, you said it would be foolish to look five-six years out for Ben's replacement. It sure worked out for Green Bay. Tom Brady seemed to work out pretty well, also.
When the Packers made Aaron Rodgers their first-round pick in 2005, Brett Favre was not coming off his best NFL regular season, as is the case with Ben Roethlisberger. Just to refresh your memory, in 2014 Roethlisberger put together a season in which he finished No. 4 in attempts, No. 3 in completions, No. 3 in completion percentage, tied-for-No. 1 in yards, No. 3 in average gain, No. 7 in touchdowns, No. 4 in interception percentage, and No. 3 in passer rating, and no other quarterback in the league ranked in the top 10 in each of those categories. In the three seasons from 2002-04, Favre threw 54 interceptions, which indicated to Packers management that he was in rapid decline, and that's why they made the move to pick Rodgers. The Patriots didn't pick Tom Brady on the sixth-round in 2000 thinking he was their quarterback of the future, because if Bill Belichick had ANY IDEA Tom Brady was going to turn out the way he did, there's no way he waits until the sixth round to pick him. That was luck, pure and simple, and understand that there's nothing wrong with being lucky. And even with all that, Rodgers was in the starting lineup three years after being drafted, and Brady two years after being drafted. That's hardly five-six years out, as you yourself state. If you want to waste a draft pick looking for Roethlisberger's successor now, go ahead. I'm using the pick on a player I hope can help him win me another trophy.
SHAWN SMITH FROM CONNEAUTVILLE, PA:
Do you think the media, outside of Pittsburgh, will ever consider Ben the elite quarterback he is? Or will they go on ignoring the records he makes?
I cannot answer for those in the national media, but in my mind Ben Roethlisberger ranks in the top three in the NFL right now, along with Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Peyton Manning is in serious decline; Eli Manning throws way too many interceptions; Andrew Luck hasn't done enough for long enough yet; Drew Brees is very good, but I'd still rather have Roethlisberger; and I don't even want to hear about Tony Romo, or Philip Rivers, or Joe Flacco. And who cares what the talking heads on ESPN think, anyway.
FRED ZANG FROM GREENE, NY:
As well as Kelvin Beachum has performed at left tackle, he is more "guard-sized." There are supposedly a good number of tackles in the upcoming draft. Any thoughts to drafting a tackle with the idea of moving Beachum to guard (where I'm sure he would excel, given his work ethic). In suggesting this, I also realize defense is a bigger need, and the offensive line has improved tremendously over the last season.
General Manager Kevin Colbert was asked a question along these lines at the NFL Combine last week. The question was: 'Is Kelvin Beachum a player that you see as a 10-year guy?' And this was Colbert's response: "Yes. Kelvin did a nice job establishing himself as a starting left tackle in this league and particularly because he doesn't have the measurables that you ideally look for in a left tackle. But his intelligence, competitiveness, his toughness all factored into him being a good player. We think Kelvin did a nice job for us. We hope he continues to grow. We hope he plays even better. He's done a nice job solidifying that position for us, and again, we hope there's more to come from Kelvin."
ELI BAUMWELL FROM CHARLESTON, WV:
It seems like Dick LeBeau's zone-blitz scheme was hurt by three things: spread offenses that could find holes in the zone; zone-blocking schemes that made the mystery rusher less of a factor; and protecting wide receivers, which meant you couldn't count on a defender lighting up a receiver to cause an incompletion. How do you expect Keith Butler to address these issues?
The most recent editions of the Steelers defense under Dick LeBeau were hurt by one thing: great players getting old all at once. There was no mystery to the pass rush when James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were in their primes and putting up double-digit sack seasons together – those guys were simply beating blocks and getting to the quarterback. Give me Troy Polamalu in his prime, and Aaron Smith, and Casey Hampton, and James Farrior to hold it all together. There's nothing wrong with the scheme if you have those kinds of players in their primes. The player-safety situation has forced all defensive players to adjust; my beef with this is only that the NFL decided to implement it in the middle of a season (2010), and in Week 6 started calling penalties and fining players for things that weren't illegal three weeks earlier. Fans make the mistake of believing that schemes and play-calls and such are the difference in winning and losing, when it's really execution and winning the one-on-one matchups on the field that decide the outcomes of games. Except, of course, in a situation like Super Bowl XLIX when the offensive coordinator suffers a brain cramp on second-and-goal from the 1-yard line and turns likely victory into certain defeat.