Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 14

Let's get to it:

RAYNE KNIGHT FROM SHERIDAN, WY: Does the NFL plan to bring the new helmets being used during training camp into the regular season?
ANSWER: The league just began taking some exploratory steps to implement the Guardian Cap helmet covers during the period from the start of minicamp through the second preseason game, and I would imagine there would need to be much more research done before the step of using them during regular season games would be mandated. For example, the caps don't deflect off each other as easily as hard helmets that can result in a glancing blow, and it's not yet known whether that might increase the likelihood of neck injuries during collisions. Bottom line, it's still way, way, way too early in the process to go from using the Guardian Cap helmet covers in the controlled environment of minicamps and training camps to using them in regular season games where the on-field action can be much more chaotic.

JOHN ROEBUCK FROM ALTOONA, PA: After Joe Greene, where would you rate Cam Heyward as far as the best defensive linemen in franchise history?
ANSWER: In one measurement, Cam Heyward and Joe Greene stand alone among the franchise's best interior defensive linemen, because they are the only two to be voted Associated Press first-team All-Pro more than once. I believe that before his career is over – and likely as some point during the 2022 regular season – Heyward will have more career sacks than any defensive lineman in franchise history, which would be another notch on his resume. I typically lean toward deferring career achievement ratings until careers are over, but I am comfortable in making the point that Heyward is on the way to establishing himself as the No. 2 defensive lineman in Steelers history.

CHRISTOPHER GALLOWAY FROM DALLAS, TX: I have been looking at videos and pictures of practice during minicamp and noticed that the only one of Minkah Fitzpatrick is of him standing by himself. Is he doing what T.J. Watt did last year?
ANSWER: Minkah Fitzpatrick did not participate in team drills during the recently concluded minicamp, but he wasn't only doing a lot of standing around, just to be clear.

WALTER PORTER FROM SACRAMENTO, CA: Have there been any talks about how long the Steelers will employ Brian Flores?
ANSWER: One thing to understand is that there is a significant difference between NFL contracts for players vs. coaches. As an example, the Steelers could sign Brian Flores to a 10-year contract, but if a team wanted to hire him to be its head coach in 2023, he would not necessarily be bound by his signed contract. So, there is no way for me to give you an accurate answer to your question other than to write that I believe Flores will be employed by the Steelers until he accepts an offer from another NFL team to be its head coach.

JASON CHALFANT FROM CLIO, MI: Do you believe that Mitch Trubisky will get a true opportunity to be the Steelers franchise guy over Kenny Pickett? Doesn't Mitch have the same intangibles as Pickett. Maybe a bigger arm?
ANSWER: Mitch Trubisky, to my untrained eye, looked better than any of the other quarterbacks during the recently completed minicamp, but the meat of the competition to be the starter in 2022 won't happen until training camp opens on July 26. And maybe I'm naïve, but I really believe the starting quarterback in 2022 will be the guy who wins the summer's competition. Then it's going to be up to that individual to hold onto the job, and the way that will happen is by his play and the team's success with him as the starting quarterback. In the NFL, jobs are lost as often as they are won.

SHAWN FRANKLIN FROM URBANDALE, IA: What is the one NFL rule you would propose be changed?
ANSWER: This is an easy one for me. I would abolish all use of instant replay as an officiating tool.

DENNIS WASNESKY FROM CINCINNATI, OH: What's the ideal scenario for the Steelers moving forward at quarterback? Start Mitch Trubisky and hope he lives up to being a second overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, and rookie Kenny Pickett never sees the field? Or get Pickett on the field right away and start the next Steelers quarterback dynasty? I am excited about both options.
ANSWER: For me, this seems to be very clear. The best "plan" is to have no plan. Hold a competition, let it unfold over the weeks of training camp and at least a couple of the three preseason games, then pick the best guy, and he starts. He starts and holds onto the job as long as his performance is up to the level of a quality NFL starting quarterback. I'm not suggesting the guy who wins the initial competition and is picked to be the starter has to perform "on a short leash," but if and when the time comes when it's determined that quarterback play is holding the team back, then a change should be made, and the change should be to elevate the No. 2 guy into the starter's role. No preconceived notions.

JEFF WELLER FROM COLUMBUS, OH: Any idea of when the Salute to Service game will be or when they plan to announce it?
ANSWER: No, to both of your questions. But I do believe there is enough information at hand currently to make an educated guess. Salute to Service games in the NFL typically are held between weeks 9-through-11 of the regular season, and the Steelers have two home games during that period: at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 13 vs. New Orleans; and at 8:20 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 20 vs. Cincinnati. Since the Hall of Honor Recognition is expected to take place at halftime of the Nov. 13 game, I would surmise the Salute to Service Game would be on Nov. 20 vs. the Bengals. Again, only an educated guess.

BRUNO CONTORCHICK FROM YORK, PA: You mentioned Guardian Cap helmet covers in your June 9 Asked and Answered. I recall someone from the Bills who wore an oversize helmet, maybe a wide receiver. Do you recall that?
ANSWER: The player's name was Mark Kelso, and he was a safety. After sustaining a couple of concussions during his college career at William & Mary and early in his NFL career, Kelso began wearing what is known as a "Pro Cap" on his helmet The Bills helmet with the Pro Cap that Kelso wore during his career in Buffalo is an artifact at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: You mentioned contract extensions in a previous installment of Asked and Answered regarding players entering the final years of their current contracts. Devin Bush is entering the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie in 2019, so what is the timeline for the Steelers to exercise the fifth-year option should they choose to go that route?
ANSWER: The deadline for teams to exercise the fifth-year options on the contracts of players picked in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft has come and gone, and the Steelers' decision was to decline to exercise that option on Devin Bush's contract.

PRESTON SPARKS FROM ACME, PA: If I were playing in a high stakes fantasy football league for the 2022 season, I would draft as many Steelers offensive skill players as possible. All of the offseason acquisitions, including the NFL draft, seem to have strengthened the Steelers offense. Add to that the inevitable sophomore improvements at running back and tight end and a massive upgrade at quarterback. and this should be a high-scoring team. Yet the NFL pundits have the Steelers destined for the AFC North basement. What am I missing?
ANSWER: Preston, Preston, Preston, you have combined two of my pet peeves in one submission: fantasy football and "NFL pundits." I happen to believe that fantasy football is one of the developments that has polluted people's understanding of the sport by boiling games down to the production of a few players, and by creating the illusion that multiple trades can be executed seamlessly with one player from one team and one system easily replacing a player from a different team and a different system, and by diluting fan loyalty by turning the ultimate team sport into a competition of individuals. In fact, the NFL frowns on people employed by its teams from being involved in "high stakes fantasy football." As for the issue of NFL pundits, I am of the opinion that you get what you pay for when it comes to these people. It's OK to be entertained, even amused, by them, but taking their pronouncements as gospel is a mistake. And finally, I believe it's inaccurate and disrespectful to Ben Roethlisberger and how he played in 2021 to assume an automatic "massive upgrade at quarterback" for the Steelers in 2022.

THOMAS HERMAN FROM WARR ACRES, OK: I was scanning the roster and noticed that Myles Jack and Tuzar Skipper both were assigned jersey No. 51. They're both linebackers, and I remember something being mentioned about this on a television broadcast that players sharing jersey numbers had to play on opposite sides of the ball. i.e., one on offense, the other on defense. Could you elaborate how this works?
ANSWER: You are absolutely correct about the sharing of jersey numbers. It was a simple typographical error that listed both Myles Jack and Tuzar Skipper as wearing No. 51. That has been corrected, and Skipper will wear No. 53, which he currently "shares" with offensive lineman Kendrick Green.

JIMMY J. KAWAMURA FROM TOKYO, JAPAN: If you look at recent practice photos, the Steelers quarterbacks are wearing the same white jerseys as the rest of the offense. What we often see and hear is that quarterbacks are special players, so we put them in colors that are neither offense nor defense, often red jerseys, to make sure they can avoid the risks of being tackled or hit. Is there any special reason why the Steelers don't put red jerseys on their quarterbacks?
ANSWER: I believe it's because players are expected to be aware of their surroundings during practice. Also, since they are told repeatedly not to hit the quarterback it shouldn't be necessary to supplement that directive with a different color jersey. Defensive players who are told not to hit the quarterback and who then cannot remember or be sufficiently aware to follow that order usually aren't on the roster very long anyway.

FRANK FOGGIA FROM SAULT STE. MARIE, ONTARIO, CANADA: Stephon Tuitt has decided to retire. All the best to him and grateful for his years with the Steelers. You have more awareness of the team's thinking. Might the Steelers be considering somebody like free agent Ndamukong Suh? His experience would do well with the mostly younger players we have at that position. Do you feel it would be worthwhile? At the right price of course.
ANSWER: It sounds good on the surface. But doing a little bit of a deeper dive leaves me a bit leery. Ndamukong Suh is 35 years old, and the 2022 season would be his 13th in the NFL. He has played 8,707 defensive snaps during that time, and while that sounds ominous, it should be noted Suh never has missed a game because of injury during his NFL career. Suh played the 2021 season for Tampa Bay on a one-year contract worth a total of $9 million. Enough of the past; now onto the present. Because Suh remains unsigned with minicamps all but completed around the NFL, it indicates he either cannot find a team willing to meet his salary demands, or find a team willing to use him in the type of role he believes he deserves at this stage of his career, or maybe Suh simply has lost the drive to put his body through an NFL season after earning a reported $166 million so far as a professional football player. And should Suh not play a 13th season for any of those reasons, that's his decision. Looking at this from the standpoint of a team looking to get value in return from signing Suh, what has he been doing since the Buccaneers were eliminated from the 2021 playoffs? Because a man his age needs time to prepare his body for the rigors of the NFL, and if he hasn't been working for three-to-four months as if he planned to play in 2022, he could be an injury waiting to happen. I don't know the answers to these questions, and that's why I would go to training camp with the defensive linemen currently on the roster and see what I had once the pads go on and the hitting begins. Maybe the issue is revisited in the wake of a serious injury.

JOE MINNECI FROM SAVANNAH, GA: Given Zach Gentry's large frame, have the Steelers considered moving him to offensive tackle? I'm thinking about Larry Brown who made a similar move and was a pro bowl tackle.
ANSWER: The motivating issue behind the move of Larry Brown from tight end to offensive tackle was a knee injury that Coach Chuck Noll believed had robbed him of the speed and mobility necessary to play the position in the NFL. Instead of being someone with diminishing skills as a tight end, as Noll perceived Brown to be, Zach Gentry is an ascending player at the position, with the 2021 season being his best so far. Leave Gentry where he is.