Let's get to it:
ROB MCMILLIN FROM KATY, TX: The question about Aaron Smith in the May 26 installment of Asked and Answered made me think about Brett Keisel. How important was he to the Steelers defense, and it what ways?
ANSWER: To put a little chronological context into this answer, I believe that it's important to point out that before he was a full-time starting defensive end, Brett Keisel was a dominant special teams player. What made him dominant on special teams was his combination of size (6-foot-5, 290 pounds), speed, athleticism, and team-first attitude, which are the exact qualities he then brought to his defensive end spot in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme. During the 2005 season, which ended with a victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XL, Keisel was an intimidating force on the Steelers' kickoff coverage, and then once Kimo von Oelhoffen left via free agency he took over that spot on the defensive line. With his speed and athleticism, Keisel quickly became the perfect complement to Aaron Smith's strength, and I offer these career statistics in an effort to illustrate how Keisel played the game: he had 33 tackles for loss, which refer to running plays; 36 passes defensed; and nine fumble recoveries. Those numbers reflect a 3-4 defensive end who played the game with speed and athleticism.
RONALD MITCHELL FROM TALLMADGE, OH: An article in the Akron Beacon-Journal provided a rundown on Browns' first-round draft choices who no longer are with the team but who still are in the NFL. Those included Corey Coleman (2016), Alex Mack (2009), Cameron Erving (2015), Danny Shelton (2015), Barkevious Mingo (2013), Joe Haden (2010), and Jabrill Peppers (2017). How do the Steelers stack up in keeping their first-round draft choices?
ANSWER: Let's go back to 2004, and chart the Steelers' history with first-round picks: Ben Roethlisberger is still the team's starting quarterback; Heath Miller retired after 11 NFL seasons with the Steelers; Santonio Holmes was traded after four seasons that included a Super Bowl MVP Award and went on to play five more years in the NFL; Lawrence Timmons played 10 of his 11 NFL seasons for the Steelers; Rashard Mendenhall played five of his six NFL seasons with the Steelers; Ziggy Hood played five of his nine NFL seasons for the Steelers; Maurkice Pouncey is a multiple first-team All-Pro and is the team's starting center; Cam Heyward is a multiple first-team All-Pro and is the team's starting defensive tackle; David DeCastro is a multiple first-team All-Pro and is the team's starting right guard; Jarvis Jones played four seasons with the Steelers and was out of football before playing a fifth with Arizona; Ryan Shazier was voted to two Pro Bowls in his four seasons with the Steelers and then sustained a catastrophic spinal injury; Bud Dupree is the team's starting right outside linebacker; Artie Burns played four seasons with the Steelers and signed a one-year contract with the Bears this offseason; T.J. Watt was voted first-team All-Pro in his third NFL season, and the Steelers already announced they will pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract; Terrell Edmunds has been a starting safety since his rookie season; Devin Bush is a starting inside linebacker; and the Steelers' 2020 first-round pick – Minkah Fitzpatrick – was voted first-team All-Pro in 2019.
DEREK LAKE FROM BUSHNELL, FL: You have nailed the Steelers' drafts for as long as I can remember, and you do this months leading up to the draft. I know it's your knowledge of the Steelers' needs, but have you ever seen a draft board either before or after the draft?
ANSWER: I have not ever seen the Steelers draft board, and I deliberately distance myself from the Bill Nunn Draft Room because I never would want to divulge any proprietary information, even by accident.
MARTIN ABELSON FROM MECHANICSBURG, PA: With social distancing becoming the new normal, have the Steelers ruled out training camp in Latrobe this year? I understand the health issues that could arise for everyone associated with the team and everyone associated with the college. I also understand because of the articles and videos you have provided in the past, that going to Latrobe is a big deal. Keeping us informed and entertained is also a big deal. My sincere thanks to you and your staff.
ANSWER: Training camp at Saint Vincent College has not been ruled out, but neither is there a confirmed starting date. There still is far too much uncertainty for there to be plans to carry on at Saint Vincent College as the Steelers have for the last 50-plus summers, but it's also important to note that nothing has been cancelled at this point either. The only thing I can tell you is that as soon as there is something definitive about training camp, it will be reported on Steelers.com. We're all hoping for the best.
DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: Aaron Smith is a player who may be a household name in Pittsburgh but often is overlooked as a top defensive end. How important was he to the Steelers defense?
ANSWER: During the bulk of Aaron Smith's 13 seasons with the Steelers (1999-2011), running the football still was a significant part of NFL offenses and stopping the run was the primary responsibility of the defensive linemen in the team's 3-4 alignment. Smith never really put up eye-popping statistics, either in terms of tackles or sacks, but his strength allowed him to control blockers on his side of the line of scrimmage and his selflessness made him a valuable component of the unit because he freed up the linebackers and safeties to make plays at or around the line of scrimmage. Maybe the best way to make the case of Smith's value to those Steelers defenses is to highlight what happened to the units when he was injured an unable to play. In both 2007 and 2009, Smith missed some significant time because of injuries, and the 2007 team faded down the stretch once he was out of the lineup, and the 2009 team failed to make the playoffs one season after winning Super Bowl XLIII. And during the championship run of 2008, Smith was a significant part of that record-setting defense with 60 tackles, including eight for loss, plus 5.5 sacks.
DAVE STARCHER FROM BUTLER, PA: Why did the Steelers put up with the kicking woes in the 1970s? I have watched Roy Gerela and Bobby Walden have some horrible kicks? No offense to either guy, but was the bar much lower back then for specialists? Also many times I heard announcers say that the Cowboys got such a tremendous bargain from the Steelers by getting Preston Pearson for $100. Can you explain why we let Pearson go and how that $100 happened?
ANSWER: On your first question, I'll allow statistics to provide the answer. In 1975, when both Bobby Walden and Roy Gerela were part of the Steelers team that won Super Bowl X, the NFL's No. 10 placekicker in terms of accuracy was Joe Danelo with a field goal success percentage of 68.8. Garo Yepremian led the NFL at 81.3 percent, and Gerela finished No. 2 at 81.0 percent. In 2019, Josh Lambo led the NFL with a 97.1 field goal accuracy percentage, and in 2018 when fans were calling for Chris Boswell's head he was successful on 65 percent of his field goal attempts. When it comes to punting, in 1975, Ray Guy (who is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame by the way) led the NFL with a 43.8-yard average; in 2019, Tress Way led the NFL with an average of 49.6 yards per punt. To emphasize even further, Jordan Berry frequently is identified by fans as a punter the Steelers should replace, and in his five NFL seasons, he has bettered Guy's league-leading average from 1975 twice and posted a 43.7 average in a third.
The Steelers waived Preston Pearson after the 1974 season because they had this guy named Franco Harris who had taken over the job and most recently was coming off setting a single-game Super Bowl rushing record. In those days, claiming a player off waivers cost the claiming team $100. During his six seasons in Dallas, Pearson averaged 3.7 yards per carry while catching 189 passes for 2,274 yards and 11 touchdowns. As a running back, Pearson was a better receiver.