Let’s get to it:
STEVE MARSHALL FROM ENFIELD, CT: I might be in the minority on this, but I'm truly rooting for Artie Burns. His raw skills, size, and speed are there, and off the field, his family values are humbling. I hope he can get his confidence back, sharpen his technique, and be a big producer for our defense. In your years of covering football, do you have any examples of players who regressed in their play and then came back and excelled?
ANSWER: Ike Taylor is a good comparison, and he played the same cornerback position. A fourth-round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, Taylor was a full-time starter for the first time in 2005, and after posting 20 passes defensed during the regular season he had two interceptions in the playoffs – one in the AFC Championship Game in Denver and one in Super Bowl XL vs. Seattle. Then in 2006, the Steelers signed him to a $22.5 million contract extension that included a $6.4 million signing bonus.
Two months later, Coach Bill Cowher benched Taylor, with the final straw being a 31-20 loss to Denver in early November during which Broncos receiver Javon Walker caught six passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns, and Taylor missed a tackle on Walker’s 72-yard run on a reverse for a third touchdown. When Mike Tomlin was hired the following January, Taylor got a chance to bounce back from that benching, and he responded with a four-year stretch (2007-10) in which he played some of his best football and helped the Steelers advance to the Super Bowl following both the 2008 and 2010 seasons.
THOMAS TRUXAL FROM NEW CARLISLE, OH: Last year was my first year at training camp, and it was awesome. I was wondering if you know which former Steelers will be there for meet-and-greet sessions and what days they will be there?
ANSWER: After a lot of positive feedback from fans, the Steelers again this summer will be holding meet-and-greets from 2-3 p.m. each day there is practice open to the public at training camp. The process of getting firm commitments from the alumni is ongoing, but there is confirmation that it will be Merril Hoge on Friday, July 26, and Donnie Shell on Saturday, July 27. The Steelers are hoping to lock down Charlie Batch for Sunday July 28. As you would expect, this is a work in progress trying to get answers as fast as possible from the alumni. Steelers.com will list each day’s player appearance, which will take place in the FedEx Air and Ground Zone inside Steelers Experience on campus.
CHARLES CLARK FROM SARASOTA, FL: Between now and training camp do the coaches and other Steelers employees take vacation, or are there other items that need to be addressed while there are no players around?
ANSWER: Now that OTAs and minicamps are over, all NFL teams are experiencing the only real down-time of the year, which encompasses the weeks between now and the opening of training camp. Therefore, this typically is the time for people to take vacations, spend time with their families, and generally re-charge their batteries, because once training camps open, the typical NFL employee is going to be working seven-days-a-week until the season ends. And that can last up to six months. But also, there are preparations to be made for training camp and the upcoming season, and so there is still business to conduct.
ROBERT NUNLEY FROM LEBANON, VA: In the time between the end of minicamp and the beginning of training camp, what is permitted for the players and coaching staff?
ANSWER: What Mike Tomlin expects from the players between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp is that they utilize the time to work on their conditioning so they show up in the kind of physical shape that will allow them to take part in practice daily ands avoid the kinds of nagging injuries that could derail the work needed to get done at Saint Vincent College. If they accomplish that during this “off time,” there will be plenty of opportunities to work on technique, assignments, etc., during training camp when they’ll also be able to do it with pads on. As Tomlin told the media at the conclusion of minicamp, “I left (the players) with the message that they need to show up ready. We have outlined that more in detail about what specifically that means for each guy. Rest assured that conditioning and readiness has to be the most significant element of their time spent in the upcoming weeks.”
DAVID LAVECK FROM ROCHESTER, PA: With the training camp practice schedule released last week, do you happen to know when the backs-on-backers drill takes place? I would like to see this in-person if at all possible.
ANSWER: Generally, there are two occasions where it’s a pretty safe bet that backs-on-backers will break out during a training camp practice, and those two occasions are the first day in pads and the Friday Night Lights session at Latrobe Stadium. This summer, the first practice in pads will be on Sunday, July 28, and Friday Night Lights will be on Aug. 2. There will be other times when Coach Mike Tomlin conducts the drill, but if you’re looking for advance notice, I’d stick with the two dates I just gave you.
CHRISTOPHER MILLER FROM LOS ANGELES, CA: In the 2018 NFL Draft, was Leighton Vander Esch not the type of inside linebacker the Steelers were looking for? Or did the Steelers want him, but did not have the draft picks to trade up to pick him like they did in this year’s draft with Devon Bush?
ANSWER: The Steelers viewed Leighton Vander Esch as one of the group of inside linebackers who had the potential to provide their defense what the unit had lost when Ryan Shazier was injured, and in fact the team brought him in for a pre-draft visit. But in 2018, the Steelers were picking 28th in the first round, and the Dallas Cowboys picked Vander Esch 19th overall.
DAVE KITLAK FROM UHRICHSVILLE, OH: I usually don't pay much attention to the preseason games. For Chris Boswell last year, how did he perform in the preseason? Was the writing on the wall, or did the decline not start until the regular season?
ANSWER: During the 2018 preseason, Chris Boswell was 7-for-7 on extra points and 7-for-7 on field goals. His field goals came from 32, 41, 38, 42, 33, 45, and 21 yards out.
EUGENE BUTTERY FROM ST. MARYS, PA: What has happened to Darrius Heyward-Bey?
ANSWER: Darrius Heyward-Bey was playing on a one-year contract with the Steelers in 2018. The Steelers didn’t re-sign him after that contract expired, and Heyward-Bey is currently out of the NFL.