Let's get to it:
JIM CARNES FROM ATWOOD LAKE, OH:
I believe Ryan Shazier can have an All-Pro year. Who do you think has the best chance on defense to have a breakout season ?
The top photos of LB Jarvis Jones throughout 2014 season.
In my mind, there are four defensive players who must have significantly productive seasons in 2015 for the Steelers to be contenders. Those four – in no particular order – are Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, Cortez Allen, and Shamarko Thomas. None of them are rookies, and only Shazier is a second-year pro. Since you picked Shazier as your guy for a breakout season, I'll go with Jones. I had a suspicion that 2014 was going to be a breakout year for Jones if he hadn't dislocated his wrist in the season's third game – against the Panthers in Carolina. I'm looking for him to blossom in 2015.**
RYAN SPINNER FROM MALONE, NY:
Bud Dupree can jump high and Senquez Golson is short. So what? Darrell Green made the Hall of Fame, and he's the same height as Golson. Do you believe there is too much of an emphasis on measurables at the Scouting Combine?
Actually, the Combine is the place for measurables, the only place for measurables. The purpose of the Combine all along has been to get numbers and information on a big batch of players in a manner that's both economical and efficient. Guys are weighed and measured, timed, checked out medically, and interviewed to give NFL teams at least some idea as to what they're about as people. What's done at the Combine only becomes a negative if teams end up putting more emphasis on the things learned there at the expense of what scouts have learned by watching these guys practice and play in games. It's important to know exactly how tall Senquez Golson is, how tall Martavis Bryant is. The mistake comes when teams draft them – or don't draft them – because of how tall they are or aren't as opposed to what kind of football players they are. Darrell Green made the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a 5-foot-9, 184-pound cornerback because he could play. He didn't make it because of how tall he was, and his height didn't prevent him from becoming great. Scott Shields was a 6-foot-4, 228-pound safety drafted in the second round in 1999 by the Steelers, and when he got cut in 2001 and was out of football height had nothing to do with that, either.
CARROLL DEATON FROM ERWIN, TN:
Has Daniel McCullers improved enough to earn a starting job?
My answer to this question is, no, but the answer shouldn't be misconstrued as a knock on McCullers. Because the first practice in pads isn't until Wednesday, July 29 at Saint Vincent College, there's no way of quantifying how much McCullers has improved. What I can tell you is that he looks to be an in-shape 350-plus-pound man, but that's not the only factor in this scenario. What you are discounting – and what many Steelers fans are discounting, as well – is Steve McLendon. The team's run defense wasn't what it needed to be in 2014, and some part of that can be traced to the shoulder injury McLendon was dealing with throughout the season. Fans want to say he stinks, but he doesn't. What McLendon isn't is Casey Hampton. What I believe he's going to be at training camp is a motivated individual who's experienced, not only in the ways of the NFL but also with the Steelers' style of defense. Let's see what happens at camp and during the preseason. Who stays healthy, who improves, who plateaus. Once that process runs its course, maybe it will be true that McCullers has improved enough to earn a starting job. Right now, it's not.
RON WILLIAMS FROM ASTORIA, OR:
When a player or a coach is fined by the league office, is that considered tax deductible?
It should be. Or as I was told, "I don't see why not." According to nflcommunications.com, "All on-field fine money collected by the NFL is used for charitable purposes. These funds have been used to support retired player programs, including the NFL Player Care Foundation and NFLPA Players Assistance Trust; disaster relief initiatives; and health-related charities." In a 2001 interview with the Associated Press, NFL director of community affairs David Krichavsky said that some players even will request a particular charity to benefit from their money, but he said that the league prefers to "stay universal" in distributing the funds. Based on that information, I would think fines should be tax deductible, but before writing off a big number on my tax return, I'd be checking with a CPA. Just me. The IRS is the proverbial sleeping dog.
Jerome Bettis and his family visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
PATRICK ALFORD FROM ASHLAND, VA:
Love your column. Very informative. My question concerns the NFL Hall of Fame: exactly who does the voting and how long do they retain their voting privileges?
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's website, there are 46 members on the Selection Committee, which consists of one media representative from each pro football city – with two from New York because that city has two franchises in the NFL. A 33rd member is a representative of the Pro Football Writers of America, and there also are 13 at-large delegates. With the exception of the PFWA representative who is appointed for a two-year term, all appointments are of the open-end variety and can be terminated only by retirement or resignation, as long as the member continues to attend meetings regularly. The only official meeting of the Selection Committee is on the day before each Super Bowl in the host city. For a list of the 46 members on the Selection Committee, visit: http://www.profootballhof.com/hof/selectionprocess.aspx and scroll to the bottom of the page.
MICHAEL ROBERTS FROM CECILIA, KY:
When does the team have to cut down to 75 players, and then the final 53? And how many rookies do you think will make the 53 man roster?
The cut-down dates are as follows: 75 players by 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 25; 53 players by 4 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 4. How many rookies? Let me consult my Magic 8-Ball … "reply hazy, try again." I'm figuring Sept. 1 might be the time to try again.
DENNIS JONES FROM SPRINGFIELD, VA:
On a question about a botched PAT attempt, you explained that the offense may still attempt to get the ball in the end zone for two points. This sounds ripe for exploiting. Is there any provision for folks who will simply 'bobble' the ball in order to take advantage of this? It seems to me that no matter how they score, if it started as a one-point attempt, it should remain a one-point attempt regardless of how it succeeds.
Why would a team that really wants to go for a two-point conversion have the ball placed at the 15-yard line and then 'bobble' the ball on a placement attempt in order to create some alleged advantage? It's easier to just go for two from the 2-yard line. You're over-thinking this way, way, way too much.