LATROBE, Pa. – Let's get to it:
MARTIN STERN FROM SAN DIEGO, CA:
Would you explain the difference in how the defensive line is going to play this year as opposed to last year? I keep hearing that there are differences, that players will be shooting gaps as opposed to the linemen somehow taking on multiple offensive blockers and letting the linebackers run free. Am I hearing this right? How does this work?
It's a highlight of Steelers Training Camp, when the running backs and linebackers square off.
I'm not an expert in the Xs and Os of football, but I'm going to give this a shot. Actually, I'm going to relay a story Merril Hoge told me on Monday at Saint Vincent College while he was here as part of ESPN's NFL Live broadcast. During the days when the Steelers had Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Kimo von Oelhoffen and then Brett Keisel, those three defensive linemen were able to occupy five offensive blockers. Think of the arithmetic. That's five offensive players neutralized by three, and then there's the quarterback, which means the defense had eight guys to deal with the other five offensive players. Sometimes blitz. Sometimes cover. Sometimes do something completely different than the offense expects because you have players who can do either on any particular snap. That cannot happen anymore, because Aaron Smiths and Casey Hamptons and von Oelhoffens/Keisels don't exist anymore because that's not the style of football played at the college level. So you have to adapt. Based on the talents of Cam Heyward and Steve McLendon and Stephon Tuitt, it didn't make sense to ask them to try to do nothing except occupy blockers. That wasn't their instinct, nor was it their training before the Steelers acquired them. So this season – and coordinator Keith Butler made this point at the end of OTAs – the defensive linemen are going to be expected to penetrate and make plays. His quote was, "We can't let them always take up for the linebackers or try to take people on for the linebackers. We have to let them play football, too."**
DERREK PURTEE FROM FAIRMOUNT, IN:
With Martavis Bryant getting a lot of hype this offseason, is he a lock to be an every-down receiver opposite Antonio Brown? Or are Markus Wheaton and rookie Sammie Coates pushing for that No. 2 receiver role?
The Pittsburgh Steelers participated in their first practice in pads at 2015 Steelers Training Camp.
I think you're too caught up in the notion of labeling someone the No. 2 receiver. Those labels mean little when teams routinely deploy multiple receivers as a regular part of their offenses. I believe coaches will use combinations of quality receivers based more on what guys can execute well rather than basing it on some pecking order allegedly established in August. Eventually, playing time among Bryant, Wheaton, and Coates is going to evolve, and the way it ends up is going to be based on production. Brown is the only lock.**
BOB GIBSON FROM KNOXVILLE, TN:
I've enjoyed the articles on Steelers.com on the franchise's Hall of Fame players and the video clips of their acceptance speeches. I know Dan Rooney chose Joe Greene to present him, and Jerome Bettis has asked his brother, John, to present him. Who were the other presenters, and has there always been an individual presenter for each inductee?
Yes, there always has been an individual presenter for each inductee. Here is a list of Steelers' Hall of Famers and the name of each man's presenter: ART ROONEY SR.: David L. Lawrence, former Governor of Pennsylvania; DAN ROONEY: Joe Greene; ERNIE STAUTNER: Art Rooney Sr.; BOBBY LAYNE: Buddy Parker; JOE GREENE: Chuck Noll; JOHN HENRY JOHNSON: Art Rooney Sr.: JACK HAM: Joe Paterno; MEL BLOUNT: Dan Rooney; TERRY BRADSHAW: Vern Lundquist, CBS play-by-play announcer; FRANCO HARRIS: Lynn Swann; JACK LAMBERT: Dennis Fitzgerald, Kent State assistant football coach; CHUCK NOLL: Dan Rooney: MIKE WEBSTER: Terry Bradshaw; LYNN SWANN: John Stallworth; JOHN STALLWORTH: John Stallworth Jr.; ROD WOODSON: Tracy Foster, friend and business associate; JACK BUTLER: Son John Butler; JEROME BETTIS: Brother John Bettis.
ULYSSES EVANS FROM CHARLOTTE, NC:
Will we see more of a down-the-field passing game this year since Martavis Bryant will be lining up opposite Antonio Brown?
Again, with the receivers I really think it's going to evolve, and with Ben Roethlisberger it's foolish to limit it or try to force it. One of the things that was happening when Bruce Arians was the coordinator was that he liked to take shots down the field three-to-four times a game regardless. That can allow a defense to take that away in coverage and then get some shots on the quarterback. The Steelers need big plays from their passing game, and while some of them can come on deep balls down the field to Martavis Bryant, others can come from dumping the ball to Le'Veon Bell and having him run 50-plus yards with it. Both of those happened last year.**
EMERICO VESPUCCI FROM SUCCASUNNA, NJ:
So much has been made of the infusion of youth in the Steelers defense. Isn't it a bit presumptuous to assume a rookie, e.g. Bud Dupree, will start, let alone be an impact player in his first year?
I don't know who exactly is presuming that Bud Dupree is going to start this season, but I can assure you it's no one cashing a Steelers paycheck. But there also are no red-shirt seasons in the NFL. Dupree isn't a presumed starter but he is an expected contributor, and that can come as a rusher in situational football or on special teams. One presumption is that Dupree, as a No. 1 pick, will work hard enough to improve sufficiently enough to earn playing time as the year progresses – or whenever an injury might dictate.
ALBERT JOHNSTON FROM DOVER, NH:
Now that it appears that Tom Brady will not be the quarterback for the New England Patriots against the Steelers in the first game of the upcoming season, do you agree with me that the pressure will be even greater on the Steelers to win that game since they will be going against an inexperienced quarterback? Also, what are the rules if Tom Brady's appeal is not heard and acted upon before the game with the Steelers is played? Can Brady still play in that game?
An NFL regular season is a marathon more than a sprint, and that's why I'm reluctant to say there's "pressure" to win an opener. Certainly, without Tom Brady the New England Patriots are a lesser version of themselves, but I don't believe the outcome of that opening game should serve as a label for either team. Ever since the NFL has gone to the practice of having the defending Super Bowl champion open at home on the Thursday before the rest of the league, the game has been heavily weighted in favor of the defending champs. If the Steelers lose in New England, that doesn't critically wound their playoff chances, just as a win doesn't assure them of anything, either. As for your other question, Brady's suspension will begin whenever the court case is resolved. If he is determined to fight until the bitter end, there is a chance the ruling could come down sometime during the season. In that event, I would fully expect Brady to be allowed to play until the ruling is made.
JACK McCORMICK FROM SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, CA:
Not a question, but a compliment: Asked and Answered has been a terrific column, and I never miss this good read. It is especially difficult for a Steelers fan on the left coast to stay in the loop, and this has been a great help. Keep up the good work.
Thanks for the kind words. I'll try to live up to them.