Let’s get to it:
DAVID SLEZAK FROM JAMISON, PA: L.J. Fort got a great deal of playing time at the end of the 2018 season, and from my 10,000-foot view, he looked decent. Do you think we will bring him back since he has some experience, good coverage skills, and special teams ability? He seems to be a solid reserve.
ANSWER: L.J. Fort can become an unrestricted free agent, and as the 2018 season unfolded he established himself as the best option at the hybrid inside linebacker position on the Steelers roster. That said, the Steelers have to do better there than Fort, who is, as you describe, a valuable part of the roster because he has some experience, some coverage skills, he’s smart, and he can help out on special teams. A team that ends up contending for a championship needs players on its roster like Fort, but I don’t see him as a full-time starter at that position on a contending team. He is more of a complementary piece, which is why it wouldn’t be a bad idea to re-sign him if it can be done for a reasonable amount, and then use a premium draft pick on a player who will beat him out for a starting job.
MARTIN STERN FROM SAN DIEGO, CA: Our 1974 draft class is widely considered the best ever in football because of the four men who became Hall of Famers. But who else was drafted by the Steelers that year? Anyone who became a major player with our team? By the way, wasn't Donnie Shell a walk-on with the team that year?
ANSWER: With their first five picks in the 1974 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected – in order – Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Jim Allen, and Mike Webster. The Steelers had no pick in the third round – that having been traded to Oakland before the 1973 season in exchange for veteran defensive lineman Tom Keating, and they had two picks in the fourth round as a result of a previous trade with the Chicago Bears. Besides the four Hall of Fame players, the Steelers made 17 other picks in that 1974 draft – drafts were made up of 17 rounds at that time – and only four of those other picks even made the team in 1974: Allen, a cornerback from UCLA, played in 14 games in 1974 mostly on special teams; both of the team’s picks in the sixth round – defensive end Jim Wolf and guard Rick Druschel – made the roster; and 9b pick Charles Davis, an offensive tackle, made it. There were two players who made the team in 1974 as undrafted rookies, not walk-ons, which is a term used in college football – Donnie Shell and tight end Randy Grossman – and both of them went on to be a part of four Super Bowl championship teams.
DAVID MORGAN FROM LEWISTON, ME: What is Ryan Switzer’s contract situation? I really enjoyed watching him this year.
ANSWER: Ryan Switzer is under contract through the 2020 NFL season. According to spotrac.com, he is due $645,000 in salary in 2019 and $735,000 in salary in 2020.
KEVIN NEWBY FROM EMIGRANT, MT: Can you give your opinion on how college football overtime might work in the NFL? Maybe start at the 45-yard line, and force the teams to start going for two-point conversions after the second touchdown?
ANSWER: I don’t know that I have the answer for how to make overtime in the NFL completely fair, but I definitely am not in favor of going to the system college football uses. Whatever ends up being the NFL procedure for overtime, I believe it has to resemble a real football game more closely than the college system.
DAMIAN GONZALEZ FROM BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA: It is speculated that in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft the Steelers will choose a defensive player, but many teams will do that, too. Is it because there is more talent available on defense than on offense? Or by necessity?
ANSWER: It’s the law of supply and demand. There just aren’t as many dynamic defensive players available in a typical draft than there are dynamic offensive players, and there really isn’t an NFL team that comes to mind that couldn’t use an additional pass rusher or defensive back capable of making plays on the ball. Because of that dynamic, the difference-making defensive players usually are picked in the top half of the first round.
DENNIS NEVINSKY FROM ERIE, PA: Can another team agree to pay a portion of a player’s signing bonus, thus lowering the trading team's salary cap hit?
MARTIN HAUSER FROM STEUBENVILLE, OH: I have watched a fair amount of postseason football, and the broadcasts have sickened me. I realize that I'm terribly biased, but I really don't think that any team in the postseason (including the Super Bowl participants) are better than the Steelers, even with our deficiencies. Would you concur?
ANSWER: Close to the end of the regular season Cam Heyward made the point that if the Steelers were able to get into the playoffs, there wouldn’t be a team they then would face that they couldn’t beat. I don’t disagree with that assessment, but the critical aspect of the whole issue is the Steelers failed to do enough during the regular season to get themselves into the tournament. Being capable of defeating playoff-caliber teams isn’t good enough, because the Steelers didn’t do what was necessary to win one more regular season game to qualify for the playoffs. That can be blamed on the turnovers in Denver, or the officiating vs. the Chargers, or the tie in Cleveland, or any of the other myriad factors that occurred in the seven regular season games the Steelers didn’t win. That’s what made the 2018 season so aggravating, at least for me.
G.W. LEWIS FROM SANDY LAKE, PA: When I was a boy growing up in Jeannette, Pa., my Dad introduced me to a football player by the name of Jack O'Brien who played for the Steelers. Can you provide any information on him?
ANSWER: Jack O’Brien was born in Jeannette on Oct. 21, 1932, and he attended the University of Florida. In the seventh round of the 1954 NFL Draft, the Steelers used the 79th overall pick on O’Brien, a 6-foot-2, 213 pound offensive end. In his three NFL seasons, all of which he played for the Steelers, O’Brien caught 16 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Those Steelers teams, coached by Walt Kiesling, finished a combined 14-22.
CHRISTOPHER TRIGILIO FROM CHICOPEE, MA: I know this is a crazy idea, but if the Steelers were to trade Antonio Brown what are your thoughts on re-signing Le’Veon Bell and converting him to wide receiver?
ANSWER: Le’Veon Bell is a dynamic receiver, but he’s only a dynamic receiver because he plays running back. Bell doesn’t have the speed to line up in the NFL as a player whose primary position is wide receiver and be an effective weapon. In other words, Bell is dynamic in the passing game when he’s being covered by linebackers or safeties, but if he had to line up on Joe Haden and cornerbacks of his ilk to earn a living, he would be marginal at best. At best.
KEITH MILLER FROM WAYNESVILLE, NC: Are the Steelers the only team with a quick, nimble backup quarterback to not use him at all? No quarterback runs, no trick plays. How do you spell booooring?
ANSWER: If you’re looking to support a team whose coach thinks it’s a good idea to take the ball out of a Hall of Fame quarterback’s hands in favor of some option running or trick plays in a critical situation, I suggest you try the New Orleans Saints, because Sean Payton showed a proclivity for doing that to Drew Brees with Taysom Hill. It was so creative that it helped the Saints lose the NFC Championship Game. One last thing: you definitely do not know how to spell ‘boring.’