Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 18

Let's get to it:

DAVID BRITT FROM PORTSMOUTH, VA:
Outside of Antonio Brown and Dri Archer, who do you expect to challenge for the role of punt/kickoff returner this year and why?

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At the end of the 2014 season, Markus Wheaton was the team's best kickoff return man, with a 24.7 average on 20 attempts, with a long of 41 yards. There was no one close to Antonio Brown in punt returns, with his 10.6 average and a 71-yard touchdown. Training camp is the time when long lines form during special teams periods, with a lot of receivers, running backs, and defensive backs looking for any edge that might be the difference in earning a spot on the roster. Guys who could fit into this latter category include wide receivers Eli Rogers and Shakim Phillips and running back Ross Scheuerman.**

BRIAN WILSON FROM CYPRESS, CA:
Who will be the starting four linebackers?

Gazing into my Magic 8 Ball, I see the starting linebackers on Sept. 10 for the opener in New England as Arthur Moats, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, and Jarvis Jones. That's barring injuries, of course.

PETER CUSACK FROM TAMWORTH NSW, AUSTRALIA:
Firstly, I want to say I love this Asked and Answered, because being from Australia it's hard to find many things to read on the Steelers. With our offense set and ready to produce, my question is about defense: with the number of question marks and with Dick LeBeau out and Keith Butler in as coordinator, could we see the defense get more aggressive with more blitzing/rushing the quarterback to help force the ball out quicker to help our secondary defend better? I ask this because I feel as though our front-seven is going to come out very strong.

It's no secret – either among fans, media, coaches, or players – that the Steelers have to do a better job in getting pressure on the passer and also increasing their takeaways. The 33 sacks the Steelers recorded in 2014 was their lowest total since 1989 when they had 31. And it's also worth noting that since the team posted 48 sacks in 2010 along the way to advancing to Super Bowl XLV, the total has steadily decreased. As for takeaways, the Steelers had 21 in 2014, with only 11 of those being interceptions. Since 2010 when the Steelers defense had 21 interceptions, the totals have been 11 interceptions in 2011, 10 in 2012, 10 in 2013, and 11 in 2014. Blitzing more is one way to try to remedy the situation, but a better way would be to have the players on the field win more one-on-one matchups. That's what it comes down to in the NFL – winning those one-on-one matchups. The notion that coaches can be the difference by scheming things so defensive players come in clean on the quarterback is a myth. Scouting is too sophisticated these days for that to happen consistently.

GEORGE ELEFTHERIADIS FROM LIEGE, BELGIUM:
Hey, Bob, a salute from Belgium. I've been a Steelers fan all my life. My question: why is Ryan Shazier again being pushed to start, when they tried that last year and it seemed to be too much for him, plus we have two inside linebackers with more experience in Sean Spence and Vince Williams who are both very good, proven players?

Ryan Shazier was a rookie last season, and there is an adjustment period for every rookie, regardless of pedigree, in transitioning from college football to the NFL. As part of a normal offseason, the Steelers go back over the previous season and evaluate each player based on every snap from every game in which he was on the field. Yes, Shazier was a rookie who missed seven games during a nine-week stretch, but what the Steelers also discovered was that he did a lot of good things when he was healthy and once he got himself acclimated a bit. The Steelers made Ryan Shazier a first-round draft pick in 2014 because they believed he could develop into a defensive playmaker for a unit in desperate need of playmakers. The idea then becomes to coach him and nurture him so that he can translate his skills into on-field production. You just don't give up on a guy after one-half of one season. And all due respect to Sean Spence and Vince Williams, Shazier has more of the physical ability the position requires. Let's see how things shake out starting at training camp.

MATTHEW SMITH FROM REDONDO BEACH, CA:
Love "Asked and Answered," especially the witty responses. Are you SURE Ryan Shazier can't play a little safety? My question concerns Gerod Holliman, someone I think has the potential to become a big-time playmaker and for a steal in the seventh round. What chance do you think he has of making the 53-man roster with Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden, Ross Ventrone, Will Allen, and Mike Mitchell at safety?

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View photos of Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 7th Round Draft Pick, safety Gerod Holliman.

Imagine how crowded it's going to be at safety once Ryan Shazier is moved to the position, too. Anyway, the scenario you present shows how difficult it's going to be for some of the young players to break through and earn a spot on the 53-man roster. But don't get the impression that the Steelers have their minds made up going into training camp about any of this. As General Manager Kevin Colbert said after the 2015 NFL Draft: "We have 47 guys back from last year's team. When you add in DeAngelo Williams that's 48 guys. Really, we didn't have a lot of spots, unless we get competition to beat out someone who was already on our team. We hope that this group of eight (draft picks) and whoever we pull out of this (undrafted rookie) class will make us better. If that means beating someone out who's currently on this team, so be it."**

ROBERT FENTON FROM BRIGGSVILLE, PA:
I was curious about those young undrafted free agent offensive linemen, because the Steelers' luck with these types of prospects has been good. What is your take on them? I know there is a depth concern for this part of the team.

Actually, the Steelers signed five undrafted rookie offensive linemen: Miles Dieffenbach, Reese Dismukes, B.J. Finney, Collin Rahig, and Kevin Whimpey. What these guys needed to do during this offseason program was put themselves in a good position from a learning standpoint so that come training camp they'll be able to showcase their talent during the on-field practice sessions in pads. Yes, there is a depth issue to be resolved along the offensive line during camp and the preseason, and there also are going to be the inevitable injuries that must be overcome. It's impossible to evaluate offensive linemen in any meaningful way until the practices become padded. Stay tuned during training camp.

BOB MAHR FROM FINKSBURG, MD:
From one of the many Steelers fans here in Ravensland: What would you say is the realistic chance of Ross Scheuerman making the final roster? Lafayette College doesn't get many chances at placing a player in the NFL.

I would say Ross Scheuerman faces an uphill battle, but not one that's insurmountable. The Steelers know they will be without Le'Veon Bell for some number of games to open the 2015 season, and the team still figures to keep four running backs on the roster during his suspension. If Scheuerman can make himself valuable to special teams coordinator Danny Smith, it would sure help his cause.

DON DAVIS FROM COTO DE CAZA, CA:
I played both wide receiver and defensive back in high school and ended up playing wide receiver in college. Why aren't the coaches trying out any of the converted quarterbacks or other big wide receivers who may be on the bubble at defensive back? It seems that it would be an easier transition for them to play defensive back since that's the main defensive position they have to go against when they are on offense.

You cannot seriously believe making such a transition on the high school level is somehow comparable to making the same transition in the NFL. A high school wide receiver who switches to cornerback only has to cover high school wide receivers who are catching passes from high school cornerbacks. The margin for error in the NFL is razor-thin in terms of a defender who's even in perfect position being able to break up a pass. I see it at every Steelers practice when Ben Roethlisberger fires a bullet into a small window to complete a pass to a receiver who would be considered covered at every other level of the sport. Also at the NFL level, coaches don't have the time to invest in trying to turn a wide receiver into a cornerback. If an NFL team needs a cornerback, it will draft one, or sign one. Even an undrafted rookie cornerback is more capable than a receiver who is trying to make the transition to a new position. By the time an NFL coach takes an on-the-bubble wide receiver and transforms him into a capable cornerback – if it ever happens – he'll be fired for not winning enough games. It's just not practical.

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