Let's get to it:
JAY JOHNSON FROM JOPLIN, MO:
With Cleveland being the epitome of inept, and the Bengals cursed to lose in the first round of the playoffs, and the Ravens coming off what one can wishfully think is a sign of decline, I can't help but be optimistic the Steelers are poised to expose a talent advantage in the division, much in the way the Patriots' monopolize the AFC East. If the pass defense improves with quick production from our top two draft picks, would this team be complete enough to finish with the extra win or two within the division needed to clinch early as well as have a shot at a first-round bye in the playoffs?
ANSWER: I believe you are being too dismissive of the Steelers' competition in the AFC North, which in my mind is and has been the most competitive division in its conference for a long time. While the Tom Brady Patriots and the Peyton Manning Colts were cruising to seasons in the mid-2000s where they seemed to win a minimum of 12 games, the Steelers were fighting against the Ray Lewis Ravens and the Carson Palmer Bengals. Even the Browns made the playoffs this century (2002), but the Bills' last appearance was in 1999; Miami has been in two postseasons this century (2001, 2008). Unless the Tennessee Titans were good, the AFC South rarely offered the Colts much resistance; and the AFC West has sent more than one team into the playoffs just five times over the last 16 seasons.**
When it comes to the AFC North, the Ravens have a solid front office headed up by General Manager Ozzie Newsome and a quality head coach in John Harbaugh, while the Bengals' entire football operations have improved significantly and consistently since Marvin Lewis was hired to coach the team. We'll see how the latest new regime does in Cleveland. And so, because of Newsome and Harbaugh in Baltimore, and because of Lewis in Cincinnati, it's foolish to assume either of those teams will go through protracted slumps. The Steelers' biggest obstacles to a season in which they win from 12-to-14 games are four games against the Ravens and Bengals.
CHRIS WRISINGER FROM ST. JOSEPH, MO:
Just saw a race of some of the fastest guys on the team with Ryan Shazier being the winner. So my question is this. Are you ready for another round of questions about moving Shazier to safety?
ANSWER: Forget that. Let's enter him in the Olympics.
DILLON PALMER FROM WARREN, OH:
With Ryan Shazier being prone to injury thus far in his career (also looking very slim for a linebacker right now), why is it that we didn't re-sign Sean Spence or at least Terrance Garvin? Spence played above average, it seemed, as Shazier's backup. Though we do have Vince Williams, another player I like, there's a reason he saw limited action so far in his career. Quality linebacker depth may be a problem.
ANSWER: I disagree with so much about the assertions you make while getting around to asking a question about the depth at inside linebacker, but I'm in a charitable mood right now for some reason and so I'll just deal with the question. One thing Steelers fans sometimes have trouble understanding is that free agency is something that works both ways, and because a player can advance his career by leaving he sometimes will decide to do just that. Sean Spence was going to have a better chance to be a starting player if he left the Steelers, and the one-year deal he signed with Tennessee will allow him to prove himself and then hit the open market again while he's still relatively young. It's a similar situation with Terence Garvin. With the Steelers, he knew he was going to be in a fight every summer to win a roster spot as a special teams player, but leaving could allow him to have a different kind of career. It's not so much that "the Steelers let them leave" as it is that it was in the players' best interests to seek other, possibly better, opportunities elsewhere.
GINO LOPEZ FROM SUNNYVALE, CA:
I remember reading a post saying that Le'Veon Bell might not be ready for week one. Does this have any truth to it?
ANSWER: There are enough qualifiers in that statement for the answer to be anything you'd like it to be.
MITCH MILARDO FROM NEW HAVEN CT:
What do you think Steven Johnson's role will be this year?
ANSWER: Funny you should ask. As was explained in the previous question, there are times when players move on via free agency, and when that happens they must be replaced. When Sean Spence and Terence Garvin signed elsewhere this offseason, the Steelers needed replacements for the jobs they had filled – backup inside linebackers and core members of the special teams coverage units. That would be how Steven Johnson figures to contribute to the 2016 Steelers – provided he makes the team. Because he will have to show Mike Tomlin enough at training camp and through the preseason that he deserves to make the team.
BOB VAN BRUGGEN FROM SOMERSET, KY:
How is Bud Dupree progressing? I never seem to see much about him. Do you see his role expanding this year?
ANSWER: We're still in the phase of the NFL calendar where there isn't a whole lot of anything substantive to talk about with regard to players and their possible roles and level of contribution during the upcoming season. Bud Dupree is going to be a big part of whether the Steelers defense can become the kind of unit capable of helping the team contend for a championship. I believe we are all in agreement on that.
ROBERT FENTON FROM NESCOPECK, PA:
What do you think of undrafted rookie quarterback Dustin Vaughan and his prospects to make the team? From what I have read and seen on video, this young man has some good attributes, including size, mobility, and a rifle arm.
ANSWER: The Steelers will keep three quarterbacks on their season-opening 53-man roster, and they currently are carrying four of them on their 90-man roster. Dustin Vaughan originally was signed by the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted rookie in 2014, and he served as the team's No. 3 quarterback until Sept. 5, 2015, when he was waived to open a roster spot for a player at another position. A couple of weeks later, Vaughan was signed to Buffalo's practice squad, but the Bills waived him a month later. He signed a futures contract with the Steelers on Jan. 22. Vaughan looks to have the required arm strength to go along with being 6-foot-5, 220 pounds. It will take more than that for him to unseat Landry Jones or Bruce Gradkowski, but that's why they go to training camp.
MARK MCGUIRE FROM UNION, KY:
If I wanted to send a football card of a player to him with a self-addressed, stamped envelope to have it autographed, where would I send it?
ANSWER: Player mail can be sent to: 3400 S. Water Street, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15203.
JESSE ROBLES FROM FORT WAYNE, IN:
So far we've signed all our draft picks except Javon Hargrave. To my knowledge we didn't have enough cap space to sign most of our picks, and that we'd have to release/restructure some players and their contracts to do so. Am I wrong, or did I miss some transactions ?
ANSWER: Just a piece of advice: don't think you know the Steelers' salary cap situation, because 99 percent of what's out there is inaccurate in some way(s). Last Friday, Javon Hargrave signed a four-year contract, and the Steelers got it done with no salary cap manipulations necessary in terms of releasing anyone or restructuring anything.
KEVIN BLANKS FROM DALLAS, TX:
Why don't we (the Steelers) go after a No. 1 placekicker fresh out of college with a super-strong leg and accuracy? I know they are hard to find, but someone we could hold onto for some time like the Ravens have with Justin Tucker? I believe whomever the scouting department finds would be well worth a first- or a second-round pick and would give us a legitimate chance to win 90 percent of the time.
ANSWER: OK, sounds good. I'll just mark you down as being in favor of using a No. 1 or a No. 2 draft pick on a kicker. Got it. And not to ruin it for you, but Justin Tucker was signed by the Ravens as an undrafted rookie.
CHRIS BEZONI FROM INDIANAPOLIS, IN:
I've always been told the only stupid question is the one not asked. Then I read the one about signing Drew Brees as a backup.
ANSWER: Welcome to my world.
JUAN CARLOS SANTOS FROM MIAMI, FL:
Have the Steelers shown any interest in Ryan Fitzpatrick?
ANSWER: See what I mean?