Let's get to it:
KEVIN STRAKA FROM WILKES-BARRE, PA: I've become a huge T.J. Watt fan, especially after his 2019 season in which he displayed an unparalleled motor, amazing versatility, and eye-popping stats. When I heard he came in third in the voting for Defensive Player of the Year, I was shocked. Do you think Watt was deserving of Defensive Player of the Year honors? What more could he have done to convince the voters?
ANSWER: T.J. Watt ended the 2019 season as a first-team All-Pro, and his stats line included 55 tackles, 14.5 sacks, two interceptions, eight passes defensed, an NFL-leading eight forced fumbles, and four fumble recoveries. As for being voted the Defensive Player of the Year Award, it often comes down to how the team performs in support of the player. As examples, the Steelers' two most recent winners of that award – James Harrison in 2008 and Troy Polamalu in 2010 – benefitted from the team winning the AFC Championship in each of those seasons to advance to the Super Bowl. Along the way to that team success, both Harrison and Polamalu were showcased in significant regular season games and had opportunities to make big plays in important games, which they were able to do. I believe team success was an important factor in New England's Stephon Gilmore being voted the winner of the Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2019, because he not only led the NFL in both interceptions and passes defensed, but the New England defense was a contributing factor in the Patriots winning another AFC East Division title and advancing to the playoffs. In a vacuum, Watt's statistics certainly were worthy of supporting a successful candidacy for the Defensive Player of the Year Award, but voters also put those statistics into the context of the team's success. Now, had the Steelers earned a spot in the playoffs despite playing without Ben Roethlisberger for all but six quarters of the regular season, the defense would've gotten a lot of credit for leading the NFL in both sacks and takeaways to support that cause. And I believe that would've enhanced Watt's chances at more postseason individual recognition.
MATT ECKERT FROM BEAVER, PA: We are spoiled here to have had two franchise quarterbacks play for so many years and win multiple Super Bowls. Signing free agent quarterbacks never seemed to be a viable option, even during the "in-between" period of the end of Terry Bradshaw's career and the start of Ben Roethlisberger's (I don't count Kent Graham). I seem to remember Jeff Hostetler being available after his days with the New York Giants. Do you recall any serious discussions between the Steelers and Hostetler? No one knows what could have been, but a guy who cut his teeth under Bill Parcells, won a Super Bowl, and went to a Pro Bowl in 1994 seems like a better option than Neil O'Donnell.
ANSWER: Wow. I have dealt with a number of examples of Steelers fans exercising "the other man's grass is always greener" approach, and this is similar to so many of those in that it's a stretch. When Jeff Hostetler's Giants career was coming to an end, he was a 31-year-old career backup, and therefore hardly the kind of quarterback a team might want to add and then build its offense around. And as for Super Bowl XXV, the Giants defeated the Bills that day thanks to a great job by the defense and an offense that controlled the ball for 40 minutes with a rushing attack led by Ottis Anderson. And then don't forget that the Giants caught a break when Scott Norwood missed a 47-yard field goal as time expired. So crediting Hostetler for the outcome of that Super Bowl is a misrepresentation.
LARRY MORRISON FROM PENSACOLA, FL: Running the ball and playing great defense used to be a recipe for winning. With Ben Roethlisberger up there in age is it worth taking a chance on Leonard Fournette for one year?
ANSWER: You know what also is a recipe for winning in the NFL? Scoring touchdowns. In 2019, Leonard Fournette finished the season with 341 touches – 265 rushing attempts and 76 catches on 100 targets – and he scored a total of five touchdowns. An all-star defense made up of players from the 1976 Steelers, 1985 Bears, and 2000 Ravens couldn't win with that kind of production from the main guy on offense.
DIABLO SAYAYIN FROM CDMX, MEXICO: What do you think about Ryan Shazier? Will he have a place on the roster?
ANSWER: Ryan Shazier was placed on the reserve/retired list back in January.
AARON AMBROSE FROM DELAWARE, OH: I know the Steelers signed Eric Ebron during free agency to bolster the tight position, but I question what the strategy is at this position? I'm left scratching my head when the team drafted Zach Gentry, who had little experience at the position, and then Chase Claypool with his tight end size?
ANSWER: I'm left scratching my head at this question. Are you implying that because the Steelers spent a fifth-round pick on a developmental prospect that they shouldn't have made a move to add a tight end who has shown himself to be an offensive weapon with the Indianapolis Colts? And what in the world does the selection of Chase Claypool, a wide receiver, have to do with the depth chart at tight end?
NICHOLAS PELCHAR FROM PURCELLVILLE, VA: When the subject is the worst first-round draft picks in NFL history, pundits often list players like Ryan Leaf. I remember the Steelers had the first pick in the draft once and took Dick Leftridge. Did the Steelers pass on any Hall of Fame players in making that blunder?
ANSWER: Dick Leftridge was a running back from West Virginia University, and the Steelers selected him in the first round of the 1966 NFL Draft. Leftridge was the third overall pick in the first round, and after that draft was completed with 305 individuals being selected during the 20 rounds, the only Hall of Fame player to come from that draft was Rams' guard Tom Mack, who was the second overall pick. Even though the Steelers didn't pass on any future Hall of Fame players to select Leftridge, there also is no doubt he was a bust. He played just one season for the Steelers, 1966, and that also was his only season in the league. He appeared in four games and had eight carries for 17 yards and two touchdowns.
GEORGE HNARAS FROM UNIONTOWN, PA: Have Bill Cowher and Troy Polamalu made any comments on who will present them for induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: Since the induction ceremonies for the Class of 2020 officially have been postponed until 2021, I don't expect much news on that front until we get closer to next summer.
JOHN THOMPSON FROM CONNEAUT, OH: Why do most Steelers fans hate the backup quarterback so much? I happen to think that Mason Rudolph is going to be good, but he is as hated as Landry Jones was before him.
ANSWER: If Mason Rudolph or Landry Jones were the backups when Neil O'Donnell or Mike Tomczak or Mark Malone were the starters, they would have been loved because they weren't O'Donnell or Tomczak or Malone. But since they're the backups to Ben Roethlisberger, they're hated because they're not Roethlisberger.
CHARLIE HUNT FROM KILL DEVIL HILLS, NC: I have a follow-up question about your John Henry Johnson response in the July 7 installment of Asked and Answered. If the Steelers drafted Johnson but he went to the CFL, why didn't we own his rights when he came back to the NFL after a year playing for Calgary?
ANSWER: I don't know specifically, but I believe the answer to your question has something to do with the fact John Henry Johnson was drafted in 1953 and the NFLPA wasn't formed until 1956. Obviously, there were different rules about such things back then, if there were any rules at all.
JAMES DIBERT FROM FAIRBORN, OH: Do you know who was selected for the Steelers Hall of Honor Class of 2020? I think the selections were scheduled to be made in May, but I haven't seen any information or updates.
ANSWER: The voting for the Hall of Honor's Class of 2020 took place in mid-June, and the results will be announced in late July or possibly early August, depending upon when NFL training camps officially open.
MARK WESTRICK FROM SANFORD, NC: I know of a few current and former Steelers who have contributed a lot to the Pittsburgh community, such as Franco Harris and Brett Keisel. Can you share something about other Steelers who have made a significant difference in the community through their volunteer work, etc.?
ANSWER: Over the past few decades, there have been many, many Steelers involved in the community. In 1970, the NFL established its Man of the Year Award, which is presented annually by the league to honor a player's volunteer and charity work, as well as his excellence on the field. In 1999, it was renamed The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. The first winner of the award was Johnny Unitas in 1970, and there have been four Steelers to win it. They were Franco Harris in 1976, Joe Greene in 1979, Lynn Swann in 1981, and Jerome Bettis in 2001.
Among current players, I would point to Cam Heyward as one of the team leaders in this area of combining volunteer and charity work with excellence on the field. In 2015, Heyward established the Heyward House, a Foundation dedicated to impacting the lives of today's youth, including Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation, Smyrna Stars Basketball Club, and after school fitness programs. He has the Cameron Heyward Birthday Bash, where he hosts an annual party for often forgotten children on their birthdays. He has teamed up with Blessings in a Backpack, which provides backpacks filled with healthy food each weekend of the school year to those at Urban Pathways Charter School. Heyward is the driving force behind a T-shirt campaign that promotes cancer awareness, and the "Pittsburgh is Stronger than Cancer" shirts raise money for research and to aid families dealing with the hardships that cancer treatment can create. He launched "Craig's Closet" in conjunction with his foundation and Sports Clips to provide suits, shirts, ties and other accessories to young men in the Pittsburgh area who lack the means to own proper attire for important events, such as a job interview or even a special family occasion. Heyward has led an initiative with local police officers to work together to make an impact in and around Pittsburgh, including a Thanksgiving turkey distribution through the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, where his teammates and police officers come together to distribute the food to local families. He is working with the UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the UPMC Asthma Institute, to help children with asthma, a disease Heyward battles himself. Last Christmas Heyward gave all of the patients at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh one of his jerseys to help brighten their days, and he has plans for more involvement there moving forward.
Three times, Heyward has been the Steelers nominee for The Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. In my opinion, he would be a deserving winner to become the fifth player in Steelers history to do so.