Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 1

Let's get to it:

PHILIP SCARSELLA FROM STEPHENS CITY, VA: In your opinion, is the secondary better than last year going into training camp?
ANSWER: Going into training camp doesn't mean a whole lot when it comes to evaluating a player or a position group, because my recollection of 2022 was that the team's issues at cornerback really didn't reveal themselves until the season started. Among the cornerbacks listed on the first training camp depth chart included Cam Sutton, Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Arthur Maulet, and once the team got into the meat of the 2022 season it became apparent that the position was hardly a strength. Just looking at cornerback, the Steelers have added Patrick Peterson, Joey Porter Jr., and Cory Trice Jr., while Sutton, Witherspoon, and Maulet are no longer with the team. Labeling one configuration at the cornerback position better or worse than the other is pure speculation at this point, and the "going into training camp" time frame is meaningless. What I am comfortable in saying is that the Steelers weren't good enough at cornerback in 2022, and that they took steps during the offseason to make some changes in an attempt to rectify that. That's a plus. And quite possibly the biggest plus is that Minkah Fitzpatrick, for my money the best free safety in football, is back for his sixth NFL season as a 26-going-on-27-year-old, three-time first-team All-Pro. He is in his prime as a player right now, and I would anticipate him being a better version of himself in 2023, which by extension should make the entire defensive backfield better. Oh, and he's signed through the 2026 season, so there will be no distractions on that front.

SCOTT RANDALL FROM CONWAY, SC: After the draft, and on paper, it seems as though the Steelers added some amazing draft choices, but has the team done anything to upgrade our punter?
ANSWER: What I can tell you is that your assessment of Pressley Harvin III is not shared by the coaching staff. The Steelers emphasize directional punting as a means to support the coverage and to limit return yardage so as to avoid putting their defense is a bad situation following a big return. In 2022, the Steelers punt team ranked second in the NFL by allowing only 24 punts to be returned for an average of 5.7 yards per return. The Chargers led the NFL in that category by allowing only 19 punts to be returned for an average of 3.1 yards per return. Harvin will have to beat back the summer's competition presented by Braden Mann, but if he continues to work in tandem with the coverage as well as he did last season in addition to being the reliable holder he has been for Chris Boswell, he's going to keep his job.

ROSS HUNT FROM LISBURN, NORTHERN IRELAND: Recently on Ben Roethlisberger's podcast someone referred to this year's offensive line as "The Pickett Fence." I know there have been a number of defensive lines around the league that have earned nicknames over the years, and so I was wondering if there were any notable offensive lines that have earned a memorable nickname?
ANSWER: The most famous offensive line in terms of a nickname was the Hogs, a collection of players who made up the unit for Washington from the early 1980s into the 1990s as the team won three Super Bowls. The nickname was born during training camp in 1982 when offensive line coach Joe Bugel was conducting a drill and wanted to move the players to another location on the field. He supposedly said, "OK, you Hogs, let's get running down there." The players who made up the Hogs were center Jeff Bostic, left guard Russ Grimm, right guard Mark May, left tackle Joe Jacoby, right tackle George Starke, guard Fred Dean, and tight ends Don Warren and Rick Walker.

JOHN KNOX FROM NASHVILLE, TN: Do you think having Super Bowl rings adds to the weight of a person's candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Lynn Swann didn't have great numbers but made a lot of highlight reel catches and had four rings. Louis Lipps had slightly better numbers but no rings.
ANSWER: I have been told by more than one member of the Board of Selectors that winning championships is a factor when it comes to considering players for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and in Lynn Swann's case not only did he have four Super Bowl rings, but he also was the MVP of Super Bowl X.

MURRAY SHERMAN FROM CHICAGO, IL: Do you believe Cameron Heyward will make the Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: Election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a career achievement, and Cam Heyward's career is not over. It's possible for Heyward to retire with the second-most sacks in franchise history and maybe with more first-team All-Pro selections than any defensive lineman in franchise history not named Joe Greene. And maybe there still is a Super Bowl ring in Heyward's future. All of those accomplishments would look really nice on his resume.

SAM MIKHAIL FROM BETHESDA, MD: How important is the fullback to the Steelers running game? Do you think the team will keep a traditional fullback on the roster?
ANSWER: I'm going to use statistics to try to answer your question. During the 2022 season, the Steelers attempted 500 rushing plays, and as the only fullback on the roster Derek Watt was on the field for 77 offensive snaps. What I believe is going to happen is Connor Heyward is going to be utilized in a variety of ways on offense, and included will be some instances when he lines up in the backfield. But if your question pertains to the Steelers coming out in the I-formation or some other two-back set where one player is always the primary ball carrier and the other is always the blocker a bunch of times, I doubt that's going to happen.

KAWPORN SUSSANGKARN FROM CHIANGRAI, THAILAND: The Steelers traded up to draft Broderick Jones in the first round. If he performs well in the preseason games, should he not be the starter on opening day of the regular season?
ANSWER: Maybe, but in addition to how well Broderick Jones might perform during training camp and the preseason is the issue of how well Dan Moore Jr. performs during training camp and the preseason. For Jones to be the starter for the Steelers' opener on Sept. 10 vs. San Francisco, he not only will have had to perform well during training camp and the preseason, but he also will have had to perform better than Moore.

KENT HERBST FROM LAKE ST. LOUIS, MO: With J.J. Watt and T.J. both having great careers, with T.J.'s career still in progress, that might put them on a path to enshrinement in Canton. Are there any brothers enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: There are some examples of fathers and sons being enshrined in Canton – Art Rooney Sr. and Dan Rooney being included in that group – but as yet there are no sets of brothers who have been inducted as players in the Hall of Fame.

PAUL SOMERVILLE FROM HAMILTON, ONTARIO, CANADA: If the NFL is so worried about concussions on kickoffs, why have they not given consideration to the Canadian Football League rule where a returner must get a 5-yard cushion to catch the ball or have the kicking team be penalized?
ANSWER: Concussions on kickoffs are not limited to incidences of the returner catching the football and immediately taking a big hit. That cushion rule would not eliminate the problem the new kickoff rule is attempting to fix.

OTIS JOHNSON FROM GERMANTOWN, MD: I'm a big James Washington fan. Can you tell me if he has signed with any team yet?
ANSWER: In mid-May, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported that James Washington signed a 1-year contract with the New Orleans Saints.