Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 15

Let's get to it:

WILLIAM HELMS FROM FAYETTEVILLE, NC: Sometimes it feels like I'm the only one who thinks Mason Rudolph has a chance at being the starter after Ben Roethlisberger. I don't think judging him on 2019 is fair given the circumstances he was put in. The media pushes him aside and say the Steelers need to draft Ben's replacement. Why do you think they're so down on Rudolph as a potential starter? What do the Steelers like about him? Do they see him as a potential starter or a career backup?
ANSWER: I cannot speak for the media when it comes to why Mason Rudolph is discounted as a viable option to be a starting quarterback for the Steelers, and you should realize not everyone in the media has a dim view of his qualifications. One of the things I do believe is at play, however, is that there isn't a true appreciation for how rare it was to have a rookie quarterback come into the NFL and go 13-0 as a starter and do it by displaying the physical skill-set and intangibles that Ben Roethlisberger did in 2004. And Rudolph is suffering by comparison.

The Steelers liked Rudolph when he was coming out for the 2018 NFL Draft, and they believed getting him in the third round was a good value. Also, Rudolph has improved since coming to the team, and don't forget that it wasn't until 2020 that he had the benefit of a dedicated quarterbacks coach working with him. As for Rudolph's future with the Steelers, I don't believe it's something that is pre-determined. His continued progress and future performances will determine whether he can become a competent NFL starter or if his future as a professional is as a career backup, but I do believe he will get an opportunity to prove himself as a starter.

JOHN SUSKO FROM NAPLES, FL: Looking at pictures and videos of Najee Harris, it doesn't look like he is any way near 230 pounds. Do you think that he will be able to take the beating of a 17-game schedule?
ANSWER: "Looking at pictures and videos?" I wouldn't base too much on what you're seeing in photos and videos on the internet, and as someone who has seen Najee Harris in person I can tell you that he is not a slightly-built individual. Finally, muscle weighs more than fat.

CHRIS SAQQAL FROM ALLENTOWN, PA: In your opinion, what would you say was the Steelers best draft class and what players came out of it? For me, because I am younger, I would say it's the 2017 draft class. T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner were all voted to at least one Pro Bowl, and Cam Sutton looks like a solid cornerback who could become a Pro Bowl player this year.
ANSWER: You describe yourself as "younger," and I will guess if you're young enough to still be in school that your strongest subject is not history. In 1974, the Steelers picked four Hall of Fame players in the first five rounds – Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, and Mike Webster – and they added a fifth Hall of Fame player – Donnie Shell – as an undrafted rookie. That is not only the best draft in Steelers history, but it's the best draft in NFL history, and without doing a bit of research I'm going to label it here as the best draft in the history of professional sports.

ROSS PARSONS FROM DEVIZES, ENGLAND: Is there any rhyme or reason as to how the preseason games are selected? I note that we often play the Panthers in the preseason, as is the case for this year.
ANSWER: It used to be that teams were responsible for making their own preseason schedules, but the NFL has taken over that job. In making preseason schedules, the NFL usually considers things such as travel, but the league also considers its broadcast partners by arranging some attractive matchups for the nationally televised preseason games. Also, since taking over the making of the preseason schedule the NFL has allowed two teams to "partner," which means by mutual agreement the teams are constants on each other's preseason schedule with the games played on an alternating home-and-home basis. The Steelers and Carolina Panthers are preseason "partners," and they have agreed to play their annual game in the preseason finale.

JULIUS PRANTIL FROM HUMBLE, TX: I was wondering if you might know when the nominees for the 2021 Hall of Honor would be announced?
ANSWER: The Hall of Honor Class of 2021 will be announced on July 31. Stay tuned to for additional details.

STEVEN LINDSEY FROM MATTESON, IL: I just finished the latest issue of Steelers Digest. It was awesome. Craig Wolfley's article on Mike Tomlin from a player's perspective was really good, sharing aspects of the coach's character and methodology we fans wouldn't otherwise see or know. Is anyone besides me impressed by retired Steelers linebacker Arthur Moats' football knowledge and insight? Arthur strikes me as a guy who would do well coaching players. Can you comment?
ANSWER: Craig Wolfley is an excellent writer, and his background as an NFL offensive lineman gives him a unique perspective on the sport while allowing him to convey it to the reader through the eyes of a man who has first-hand experience about the subject. Arthur Moats is as engaging on the radio as he is in person, but I'm just not sure he has an interest in coaching.

VERNON FRANKLIN FROM GREER, SC: What is the Steelers' plan to address more depth in the secondary moving forward before training camp begins?
ANSWER: I have expressed this opinion before, and I'll do it again here. I believe the Steelers want to see whether the answers to their depth issues in the secondary are already on the roster during training camp, unless someone would fall into their lap. And by falling into their lap I mean a veteran player interested in accepting what the team can afford to pay while also understanding that his role might be nothing more than serving as a backup.

CARLSON CHILES FROM WHEATON, IL: In your opinion, are the Bengals, Browns, or Ravens most likely to stand in the way of the Steelers repeating as AFC North champions?
ANSWER: It's never wise to underestimate the Baltimore Ravens. As for the Cleveland Browns, I believe it's going to be interesting to see how that team responds to the success it enjoyed in 2020. After so many seasons of futility, the Browns made the playoffs and defeated the Steelers in an AFC Wild Card Game at Heinz Field. Do the Browns take that and build on it, or do they allow themselves to be satisfied? It's often said the final step toward become a contending team is the ability to handle success, and 2021 will be a test for the Browns in that respect, in my opinion.

MICHAEL TONY FROM MIAMI, FL: You may have already answered this in a previous Asked and Answered, but what does the Steelers depth at running back looks like?
ANSWER: At this stage of the process, Najee Harris is the clear-cut starter, and the rest of the depth chart will arrange itself once the pads go on for training camp.

BRANDON COFFEY FROM CLEVELAND, OH: How's Roland Rivers III doing, and was he invited to OTAs?
ANSWER: Roland Rivers III was not offered a contract by the Steelers following Rookie Minicamp. I believe he remains a free agent, able to sign with any NFL team.

JASON GODFREY FROM ENOREE, SC: With all the questions about signing this free agent or that one, do teams have to keep an insurance policy in their salary cap? Meaning if we lose a starter for an extended period and need to sign a replacement, how does that effect the salary cap?
ANSWER: General Manager Kevin Colbert has said that he likes to go into every regular season with at least a $5 million cushion on the salary cap for emergencies, such as adding guys to fill in or replace injured players, as the Steelers did in 2020 with Avery Williamson at inside linebacker and Jordan Berry at punter and Matthew Wright at placekicker. And because of a 17-game season in 2021, maybe Colbert will decide on a bigger cushion. If a team loses a starter during the season and needs to sign a replacement, the money to pay the replacement applies to the team's salary cap. If the team doesn't have the cap space, it either can create some or do without the player. That's why when a website lists a team's available cap space, that number is not necessarily an accurate portrait of what that team has available to spend on "this free agent or that one."

VÍCTOR BACA FROM EL PASO, TX: The "experts" are not giving the Steelers a chance to make the playoffs or even challenge in their division. I know games are not played on paper, but I like our starters, on both sides of the ball, to be able to challenge any team. Am I being biased? What do they see that I don't?
ANSWER: Please don't ask me to respond or justify reports/opinions from national media members. The fact that you put quotation marks around the word experts indicates you already understand what their opinion is worth.

KEITH MILLER FROM CANTON, NC: Some team members are referred to as primarily "special teams players." Since there are kickoffs, punts, receiving kickoffs and punts, do they usually play on all four? Are field goal and extra points considered?
ANSWER: There isn't necessarily a universal terminology related to your question, but typically players referred to as "core special teams players" will play on the punt, punt return, kickoff, and kickoff return units. Field goal and field goal block units typically are manned by bigger people, more offensive or defensive linemen, and so those units are different than the ones I previously listed.

MARY FARR FROM WILLIAMSPORT, PA: I have a theoretical question. Suppose a Steelers fan won $250 million in a lottery, and then contacts a free agent everyone wants – Richard Sherman as an example. So the fan tells Richard Sherman he will receive $30-$40 million in cash for his birthday if he is on the Steelers roster on his next birthday. Would that even be legal?
ANSWER: It would be certifiably insane, I am confident of that, and I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which the NFL would approve such a "contract." What might work better is if the lottery-winning fan offered the money to the Asked and Answered writer on his birthday, and I've got a strong belief he could be bought for only $1 million.

DEVIN MONTANA FROM SAINT PAUL, MN: What's your take on Maurkice Pouncey possibly coming out of retirement to play left tackle and become an immediate upgrade over Chuks Okorafor?
ANSWER: My take is that you're delusional, first about Maurkice Pouncey coming out of retirement, and secondly about him switching to left tackle as a soon-to-be 32-year-old man after 11 years in the NFL as a center.

DAVID MCCALL FROM APEX, NC: Not a question, but a thank-you for your support of the vaccines. I've got two close family members with compromised immune systems. I appreciate your support of their health, and your sense of humor.
ANSWER: The best to you and your family members.