Let’s get to it:
MIKE BROWN FROM PHILADELPHIA, PA: With the top three running backs – James Conner, Jaylen Samuels, and Bennie Snell – expected to share playing time, and with Trey Edmunds likely to be part of the 53-man roster, should Travon McMillian begin looking for a new team? While he had a decent college career, his blocking ability has been noted as a weakness. Which team do you believe has the room to help bring out his talent?
ANSWER: Whoa, whoa, whoa. You might have just set a new Asked and Answered record for assumptions right there. If Joshua Dobbs viewed his chances last summer the way you’re portraying Travon McMillian’s chances this summer, he wouldn’t have unseated Landry Jones and taken over the backup quarterback job for 2018. There are a lot of things that can happen during a training camp to upend the conventional wisdom, and the summer of 2004 is an excellent example of that. First-round pick Ben Roethlisberger was supposed to spend the summer learning behind veterans Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch before setting in for 17 weeks worth of No. 3 quarterback duty. But shortly into training camp that summer, Batch sustained a knee injury that eventually would land him on injured reserve, and so Roethlisberger found himself getting a lot more repetitions in practice as the presumptive backup to Maddox. Then in the season’s second game, Maddox was injured, and the rest is Steelers history.
But let’s take a look at the running back position that very same summer. Let me take your submission and adapt it to the pertinent people in the summer of 2004. “With the top three running backs – Duce Staley, Jerome Bettis, and Verron Haynes – expected to share playing time, and with Dan Kreider likely to be part of the 53-man roster, should Willie Parker begin looking for a new team?” Imagine if Parker had allowed himself to get overly caught up in the same numbers game you seem to be playing with this year’s crop of running backs. McMillian plays a position where injuries are not an unusual occurrence, and he can make himself as valuable on special teams as Trey Edmunds must to secure a roster spot. Dial back your assumptions and allow things to play out once the team reports to Saint Vincent College. That’s the prudent, and fair, way to approach things at this time of the NFL calendar.
CRAIG MOXON FROM OMAHA, NE: What are the prospects for Mike Hilton and his contract? I’ve been a fan of his and would like to see him continue to develop as a slot corner with the Steelers.
ANSWER: As an exclusive rights free agent, Mike Hilton’s options are to play for the Steelers at what they’re willing to pay him or not play at all for any NFL team in 2019. The Steelers currently don’t have the kind of salary cap space to do anything for Hilton contractually, and Hilton himself has said he will not hold out. I see this scenario ending with Hilton reporting to Saint Vincent College and playing the 2019 season for the $645,000 mandated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement for a player of his experience.
JEFFREY MAURER FROM FAIRLAWN, OH: Do you think the Steelers could find a partner to trade for a tight end by offering Artie Burns or a wide receiver?
ANSWER: This preoccupation within the fan base with the depth chart at tight end is something I cannot understand. It’s not as though there’s a hole at the top of the depth chart, because the Steelers have a starting tight in Vance McDonald, and so when you propose trading for a tight end the reality is that the trade would be for a No. 2 player at the position. All due respect to Jesse James, and big congratulations to him for the lucrative contract he signed with the Detroit Lions, but fans have been reacting to his loss as if he was Heath Miller. James was limited, especially in the physical demands of the position, and I believe Xavier Grimble is more than capable of handling the role of being an extra blocker. And remember, the Steelers used a fifth-round pick on tight end Zach Gentry, and since James himself entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick it’s not as though the team ignored his loss during free agency. Unless there are a rash of injuries at tight end during training camp, and they’re the kinds of injuries that are going to sideline players for considerable lengths of time, I believe the depth chart at tight end provides the team with enough options to get the job done.
GLAUCIO CAFALCHIO FROM TAUBATÉ, BRAZIL: The Steelers either tied for the lead or led the NFL in sacks in each of last two seasons. Cameron Heyward and Joe Haden are really good players, and the team added real value on defense this offseason by drafting Devin Bush and signing unrestricted free agent Steven Nelson. Moreover, guys like Terrell Edmunds and T.J. Watt are expected to contribute (even) more than last year. Do you believe this defensive unit can become one of the NFL’s best this season?
ANSWER: For the Steelers defense to be good enough to be capable of helping the team contend for a championship, let alone rank among the NFL’s best, the unit is going to have to do much better than the eight interceptions and 15 total takeaways it managed in 2018. That, to me, is the most critical statistic for this defense in 2019.
JC CHUTA FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: We once had a quarterback by the name of Pete Gonzalez. I recall that during the preseason, he brought the Steelers back from some big deficits, and he reminded me a lot of the 49ers’ Jeff Garcia. He fizzled out after a couple of years with Steelers and I couldn't understand why. He was very athletic and had those natural instincts for comebacks. Can you update us on what happened with him?
ANSWER: After completing his college career at Pitt, Pete Gonzalez signed with the Steelers after the 1998 NFL Draft as an undrafted rookie. In his two seasons with the Steelers, Gonzalez attempted just one pass in the regular season, which he completed for an 8-yard gain during garbage time of the team’s 43-0 win in Cleveland during the 1999 season opener in which the Browns returned to the NFL after Art Modell moved the original franchise to Baltimore in 1996 to become the Ravens. To be kind, Gonzalez wasn’t an NFL caliber quarterback and didn’t show the ability to develop into one; those preseason heroics to which you refer came at the end of games when few, if any, of the players on the field at the time had futures as NFL players. After spending the 2000 season on the Buffalo Bills practice squad, Gonzalez was out of the NFL. He did spend 2002-03 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
EDITOR’S NOTE: In response to the many questions from readers of Asked and Answered about the Steelers alumni who will be appearing at the meet-and-greet autograph sessions during training camp, here is a list of the dates and which players will appear. Each session will be from 2-3 p.m. and will take place inside the FedEx Air and Ground activation area on campus. The only exceptions will be on Friday, Aug. 2, which is the date of the team’s annual night practice at Latrobe Stadium. Those two Aug. 2 sessions will be inside LatrobeFest, which will be located in the parking lot adjacent to Latrobe Stadium.
Friday, July 26: Merril Hoge
Saturday, July 27: Donnie Shell
Sunday, July 28: Charlie Batch
Monday, July 29: Rocky Bleier
Wednesday, July 31: Santonio Holmes
Thursday, Aug. 1: Greg Warren
Friday, Aug. 2 at 4 p.m.: Jon Kolb
Friday, Aug. 2 at 5 p.m.: Arthur Moats
Saturday, Aug. 3: Jason Gildon
Tuesday, Aug. 6: Mike Wagner
Wednesday, Aug. 7: Chris Hoke
Sunday, Aug. 11: Shaun Suisham
Monday, Aug. 12: John Banaszak
Wednesday, 14: Matt Spaeth
Thursday, Aug. 15: Robin Cole