Let’s get to it:
ERIC CARTER FROM MILTON, DE: With the drafting of Terrell Edmunds, the addition of Morgan Burnett as an unrestricted free agent, and a healthy Joe Haden, Artie Burns, Cam Sutton, et al, is this the deepest the Steelers have been in the secondary in the last 20 years?
ANSWER: My memory isn’t good enough to go back and remember the group of defensive backs the Steelers took to training camp each year, but I do believe that when it comes to this current crop, there will be guys who get cut by the Steelers who will go on to play for other NFL teams. That always is a sign of good depth, but having depth at this position isn’t going to be enough to get the team to where it wants to be come the first weekend in February.
Speaking on NFL Network, Rod Woodson made the comment that the Steelers need to find some players on defense to become playmakers, and I agree with his assessment. I particularly believe the team must develop some playmakers from its group of defensive backs, especially in the category of takeaways. Last year, the Steelers finished with 16 interceptions, but only 11 of those came from defensive backs, and only Sean Davis (three) and Mike Hilton (two) finished with more than one.
The Steelers set a franchise record and led the NFL with 56 sacks last season, and that kind of pressure on the quarterback should result in more interceptions. The time period referenced in the question is 20 years, and in that time the most interceptions by a Steelers defensive back in a season is seven, which was turned in by Troy Polamalu in both 2008 and 2010. In the other 18 seasons, the most interceptions by a Steelers defensive back was five – by Polamalu in 2004, and by Dewayne Washington in both 1998 and 2000.
For this defensive backfield to be difference-making in a positive way for this team in 2018, it’s going to need to raise its recent interception total, and by more than just a little bit.
TERRY PECK FROM SPRINGFIELD OH: For me it’s always tough to watch the first three or four games of the season due to all the penalties and overall sloppy play compared to the rest of the season. Do you agree with this assessment, and if so, do you think it’s related to the Collective Bargaining Agreement restrictions they put on preseason practices?
ANSWER: I’m sure there’s some of that at work, but let’s also not forget the over officiousness of the zebras. The guys wearing the striped shirts need to understand that people didn’t buy tickets or turn on their televisions to see it rain yellow cloth. The product would be much better if everyone involved used a little common sense.
JOHN MILLENDER FROM ALEXANDRIA, VA: Who will step up at the wide receiver position now that Martavis Bryant is gone? And how deep is this year’s corps?
ANSWER: Similar to the situation in the defensive backfield, I believe the Steelers will cut some players at this position who can go on to play for other teams in the league. The top of the depth chart here includes Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Justin Hunter, and James Washington. Hunter had a strong offseason, and Washington looks to be someone who should be able to contribute as a rookie. The rest of it will be sorted out at training camp.
ANA ZAMORA FROM EL PASO, TX: What are the chances the organization would have James Harrison back to retire as a member of the Steelers?
ANSWER: That already happened once. It was in 2014, before the start of that regular season, and the news conference took place in the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. But of course Harrison came back several weeks later and then played through 2017. I don’t get the sense that either side is very interested in doing it all over again.
TREVOR FOLLANSBEE FROM WAVERLY, PA: What are the chances of the Steelers bringing back Lawrence Timmons?
ANSWER: If there was any interest in this move by anyone except a portion of the fan base, it would’ve happened by now. Nothing happened during free agency, then nothing happened in the immediate aftermath of the NFL Draft, then nothing happened through the conclusion of the offseason program that included 10 on-field OTAs and three days of mandatory minicamp. The only thing preventing me from saying NO CHANCE is that there could be am emergency created by injuries during training camp and the preseason that might cause it to be revisited.
STEVAN WILLIAMS FROM NORFOLK, VA: In the June 19 installment of Asked and Answered, you wrote about the confidence offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner has in Landry Jones as Ben Roethlisberger's backup. So even if Joshua Dobbs beats Jones and Mason Rudolph for the back-up position, he's on his way out of Pittsburgh because their selections have already been made?
ANSWER: No. That’s your interpretation. Confidence isn’t forever. It’s not as if the Steelers coaches can’t change their minds, and if Joshua Dobbs out-performs the competition minds will be changed. If what transpires on the practice fields during training camp and in the preseason games convinces the Steelers that their confidence in any individual was misplaced, a change will be made. Football is a meritocracy, which means the person with the most ability will get the job. There are two famous quotes to remember pertaining to this very situation. The first is from Jerry Glanville, who said, “N-F-L. That stands for not-for-long.” The other is from Stephen Stills, who sang, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.”
SCOTT SWEENEY FROM HICKORY, NC: Do you think there is a veteran with a decent sized cap number who could be in danger this summer? I know the Steelers are tight against the cap and am wondering if someone with a higher cap number may be more on the chopping block than someone else?
ANSWER: While there could be a veteran or two who get cut when the Steelers go about the business of trimming the roster from 90 players to 53, the team won’t have to make such moves specifically to remain cap compliant. The Steelers are in good enough shape that they can keep the best 53 players, but if there happens to be a tie between a young guy and an older player, the edge often goes to the young player. Partly because he’s cheaper, but also partly because a younger guy is seen as having more upside.
DEVONTE BAKER FROM GOLDSBORO, NC: Do you think that there will be much change to the offense with Randy Fichtner as the coordinator instead of Todd Haley? Meaning Ben Roethlisberger calling the majority of plays?
ANSWER: What I have learned over the years here is that the quarterback calls the plays that work, and the offensive coordinator calls the ones that don’t.
ANTHONY BROWN FROM KETTERING, OH: When will the Steelers sign first-round pick Terrell Edmunds?
ANSWER: Before July 25.