Let’s get to it:
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
KELLY RENCK FROM MOUNT CARMEL, IL: Why do the Steelers go to Saint Vincent College for training camp?
ANSWER: There could be two ways to interpret this question: Why do the Steelers pack up and live on a college campus for their training camp instead of holding it at their practice facility? Or, why do the Steelers choose Saint Vincent College as the campus at which to hold their annual training camp? Since I don’t know which question you’re actually asking, I’ll attempt to answer both.
The Steelers’ first full summer at Saint Vincent College came in 1967, which was an era in the NFL when going to a place away from home for training camp was standard operating procedure. By the time Three Rivers Stadium was razed in 2000, and then Heinz Field and the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex were opened around the same time, the Steelers had improved and updated the facilities at Saint Vincent College to cater to their specific needs, and Dan Rooney had become convinced that there were advantages to going away to training camp as opposed to holding it “at home.” Mike Tomlin was of the same mind, and so when he was hired to replace Cowher in 2007, the Steelers’ tradition at Saint Vincent College continued.
Tomlin has spoken often about what he sees as some of the advantages of taking the entire team to another location for training camp when it comes to certain aspects of what he refers to as team-building. “There are some informal moments that make training camp valuable, and that’s why you come to settings such as this. This holds informal moments when you’re sitting outside at 10:30 at night, the day is done, and the guys are sitting on the stoop talking about football, talking about life issues and helping one another. That doesn’t happen as much when you leave the training camp setting, obviously, because when the day’s work is done, the guys go their separate ways. So there’s some intrinsic value to being here, some things that you can’t measure, and those are the things that I think about when I think about training camp. Those are the things that make me really excited about bringing a team to an environment like this.”
As for why the Steelers have continued their training camp relationship with Saint Vincent College for over half-a-century, I would cite the location of the campus and the improvements/updates the team has made to the facilities over the years as the primary reasons. Saint Vincent College allows the Steelers to get away, but it’s still just a 90-minute drive from Downtown Pittsburgh, which allows for an easy trip home should one be necessary. The Steelers also have re-done the practice fields, installed state-of-the-art sprinkler and drainage systems to keep the grass in top shape throughout the team’s stay; they built the dormitory (Rooney Hall) that currently houses the players and coaches during camp; and there also have been improvements made to the locker rooms, the weight room, the cafeteria, and the training room.
DOMINICK CASERTA FROM ROSEVILLE, CA: Do you think that the answer to the cornerback position opposite Joe Haden is on the team now, or will the Steelers look to free agency for that position as they did with Haden?
ANSWER: The answer to the cornerback job opposite Joe Haden is going to have to be on the Steelers 90-man roster when training camp opens, because there is nothing to look for in free agency at this stage of the NFL calendar. And in fact, the Steelers already mined the free agent market back in March when they signed Steven Nelson to a three-year contract worth a reported $25.5 million, which is starter-level money in the NFL.
THOMAS BRUNNER FROM LANGHORNE, PA: During training camp, what are the full equipment with full contact rules? Which days contain game-like hitting? My friend says that can happen every day, and I say the number is limited by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
ANSWER: Your friend is correct. During training camp, teams are permitted to have one padded practice each day, with the players getting one day off each week. The Steelers are one of the few NFL teams to have a live-tackling period as a part of every practice. Most others do not permit runners or receivers to be brought to the ground during drills.
AARON AMBROSE FROM COLUMBUS, OH: The Steelers drafted Zach Gentry to replace Jesse James. What do you think of Gentry’s talent level vs. James’, and what can we realistically expect to see in his first year?
ANSWER: What Zach Gentry is able to contribute as a rookie will be determined by his ability to stay healthy enough during training camp to be able to practice daily so that he can work on his craft as he’s being coached. At this point, that’s an unknown, but I have been told Gentry is a more physical player than Jesse James.
HARRY JIMICK from LITTLE RIVER, SC: Will the Steelers re-issue the jersey numbers worn by Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell this season?
ANSWER: Veteran Mark Barron chose No. 26, and No. 84 currently is out of circulation.
PAUL BUREK FROM SAVANNAH, GA: Does the NFL perform random drug tests throughout the offseason and summer vacation, or does that only happen during OTAs, training camps, and the regular season?
ANSWER: For performance enhancing drugs (PEDs), NFL players can be tested at any time of the year, all year long. For substances classified as recreational drugs, such as marijuana, players who are not in the NFL’s substance-abuse program are to be tested just one time between April 20 and Aug. 9. If a player is not in the NFL’s substance-abuse program, that means he never has tested positive for recreational drugs at any time during his NFL career, nor at the Scouting Combine he attended.