Let’s get to it:
ADRIAN SMITH FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Do you see the Steelers using both Mark Barron and Devin Bush as starters at inside linebacker? If so, what happens to Vince Williams?
ANSWER: How the Steelers ultimately end up deploying their defensive personnel figures to become clearer as the team gets deeper into training camp and then the preseason, but at this position, I really don’t see it as an either/or situation. Matchups, the offensive preferences and tendencies of the particular opponent, and even the communication requirements among the defensive players on the field all could become factors in the coaches’ personnel decisions. And just because two of those three players you mentioned might start a game doesn’t mean the third guy will be the odd man out that particular day. There are going to be a lot of sub-packages for this defense in 2019, and that was one of the reasons the Steelers made the move up in the first round to draft Devin Bush, but because of the number of snaps the Steelers defense could be in a sub-package there are going to be various personnel groupings employed to make those sub-packages effective. The Steelers are going to need big seasons from Bush, Vince Williams, and Mark Barron, and it just may come to be that the guys who are on the field at the beginning of the game aren’t necessarily as important to the outcome as those who are on the field at the end of the game.
ROBERT KEALEY FROM PAXINOS, PA: With the salary cap set in stone and quarterbacks eating up most of it, do you think they will ever separate the quarterbacks salary from the rest of the players?
ANSWER: Never. And let me point out a couple of your assertions that are incorrect. The salary cap is not set in stone – it changes every year. And there are many teams, such as those with quarterbacks operating on their rookie contracts, that are getting relatively cheap labor at that position. Finally, management of the salary cap is every bit as important a factor to winning a championship as good play from a particular position group.
RICKEY MILLSAP FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: During training camp at Saint Vincent College, are there meals prepared for the players and coaches? Is there a charge for the meals? Do fans have access to the cafeteria?
ANSWER: During the Steelers’ time at Saint Vincent College, players, coaches, and staff have access to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and an evening snack each and every day. There is a charge for this, and it’s one the team pays as part of the cost for conducting its training camp on campus. And there is no access to that cafeteria for fans.
JOSH NICKERSON FROM JAMESTOWN, NY: What are your thoughts on Mike Hilton’s contract situation? Do you see him holding out, or will he be playing in 2019?
ANSWER: Mike Hilton has already said he will not miss a day of training camp because of his contract situation, and I take him at his word.
DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: Taking a look back at the 1995 NFL Draft, should the Steelers have made a move to draft Devin Bush?
ANSWER: The Steelers would have had to trade up in the first round to pick Devin Bush Sr., who came into the NFL as a safety, which means they would have had to give up some draft capital to make the move you suggest. At the time, the Steelers starting safeties were Carnell Lake and Darren Perry. Lake finished his Steelers career with 16 interceptions and 16 fumble recoveries for 32 takeaways, while being voted to five Pro Bowls and being named first-team All-Pro once. Perry had 32 interceptions and eight fumble recoveries for 40 takeaways during his Steelers career. Devin Bush Sr. finished his NFL career with seven interceptions and eight fumble recoveries for 15 takeaways. I’m not here to denigrate Bush’s NFL career, but I suggest you are not giving Lake’s and Perry’s careers here the respect they deserve. Any by the way, tight end Mark Bruener, who was the Steelers’ No. 1 pick in 1995, turned out to be a very good player in his own right.
DONALD ADAMS FROM RICHMOND, VA: I just watched the video on Steelers.com of Ben Roethlisberger's ultimate highlights for 2018. Not one play shown was any pass to Antonio Brown. There were some great throws and catches made last year between those two. How can it be ultimate highlights if those are not shown?
ANSWER: Antonio who?
TAG WILSON FROM MCDONOUGH, NY: James Conner and Jaylen Samuels are proven NFL backs, Bennie Snell Jr. is expected to be the same, and Trey Edmunds will compete for a roster spot. What is your general view of running back by committee, and have the Steelers used this approach in the past? Will Snell be used as a goal line puncher to improve the red zone results?
ANSWER: James Conner can be considered a proven NFL back because of what he produced as a second-year pro in 2018, but you’re jumping the gun on Jaylen Samuels. Not that Samuels is a bust or was a disappointment as a rookie, but he has a ways to go before he deserves to be called “proven.” My general view of “running back by committee” is that teams employing that approach do so because they lack one individual who is sufficiently multi-talented to handle all aspects of the job. In the NFL, a successful backfield employs one primary guy and then a complementary player who can be used in situations to give the primary guy a breather. And then you conclude with this: “Will Snell be used as a goal-line puncher to improve the red zone results?” In 2018, the Steelers led the NFL in red zone offense, which means they converted a higher percentage of their trips inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns than any of the other 31 teams in the NFL.
NOAH LANG FROM NEW YORK, NY: For a late Father's Day present, I'm taking my Dad to training camp at Saint Vincent College. Are there any sign-ups or registration necessary to watch the practices, or can we just show up on the scheduled dates?
ANSWER: No sign-ups. No registration. And both parking and admission are free.
RICHARD BAINBRIDGE FROM IRWIN, PA: Is there room on the roster for Ryan Switzer? Seems like wide receiver is a crowded position.
ANSWER: I believe Ryan Switzer and Eli Rogers will compete in training camp and during the preseason for one roster spot.
ZACHARY DESTEFON FROM ALLENTOWN, PA: Why did the Steelers get rid of Matt McCrane, because I think he could help the Steelers with the placekicking issue they had with Chris Boswell last season?
ANSWER: The Steelers didn’t believe Matt McCrane had good enough leg strength, and that especially was apparent with his kickoffs.
CARLOS ARVIZU FROM MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: When players sign one-day deals to officially retire as Steelers, does the team have to cut and then re-sign other players? If Arthur Moats and/or Darrius Heyward-Bey wanted to do so, would the team grant their wish?
ANSWER: For special players in franchise history, the Steelers have been known to allow them to have a retirement news conference either at Three Rivers Stadium when that building was in existence, or more recently at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. But even when that happens, there is no signing of one-day contracts to officially retire as Steelers.
JIM DIBERT FROM FAIRBORN, OH: Is there any truth to recent media reports that safety Marcus Allen might not make the Steelers active roster? I sure hope he is given a chance to prove himself through training camp and the preseason before that happens.
ANSWER: The Steelers spend a lot of money to stage a training camp at Saint Vincent College, and then the NFL has every team play four preseason games as a means of getting ready for the season. You can rest assured that players such as Marcus Allen will be given plenty of opportunities to prove themselves during practices at camp and during the four preseason games. What those media members are doing is guessing whether Allen will be part of the 53-man roster, and now you’re asking me to guess whether those guesses are correct. I prefer not to guess and instead wait and see how Allen performs this summer.