Let's get to it:
ARJUN VYAS FROM MECHANICSBURG, PA: I always hear about teams having complementary running backs, or even a third-down back. With everyone's ability to watch film and know tendencies based on which back is on the field, why do more teams not utilize both in the backfield together, especially as shotgun sidecars? It seems to offer more options in the run and pass game from a single formation.
ANSWER: You're looking at this issue the wrong way. The best way is not to have multiple running backs on the field to perform the various duties but to find one player for all situations. That's why it was worth a first-round draft choice to select Najee Harris, because he can run it, catch it, and block for the quarterback in passing situations if necessary.
ERIC SMITH FROM OIL CITY, PA: As Ben Roethlisberger most likely enters what could be his final season, and the average quarterback class coming out of college for 2022, do you believe there is a free agent quarterback out there that the Steelers should target for the future?
ANSWER: Whenever the time comes for the Steelers to decide on a successor to Ben Roethlisberger, I believe that individual will be a draft pick as opposed to a free agent signing. And the draft pick could be someone already on the roster.
GREG FINDURA FROM NORTH ROYALTON, OH: In the June 1 edition of Asked and Answered, the question was asked about why the Steelers were poor at converting short-yardage possession downs. Your answer was the offensive line got pushed around. Without selecting a premier offensive lineman in this year's draft, what is going to change?
ANSWER: Don't misrepresent the question and my response to it. The question was why the Steelers didn't utilize the fullback more often in short yardage in 2020, because "isn't that kind of their specialty?" The submission attempted to paint the picture that the simple insertion of a fullback onto the field in short-yardage situations would have led to a different outcome. My answer was that "the Steelers' issues with short-yardage situations throughout the 2020 season went deeper than use of a fullback. Too often the offensive line was handled physically, and I believe that was the root of the problem." With that clarified, are you of the belief that if someone doesn't do something then that's proof that he cannot do it? That if a player, an offensive lineman for the purpose of this discussion, either through poor execution, or technique, or via a faulty scheme, is defeated physically by the defensive player across the line of scrimmage that the same offensive lineman cannot be taught to execute better, taught better technique, or put in a more friendly scheme to be made able to get the job done?
SAM MIKHAIL FROM BETHESDA, MD: Who are the contenders for starter at left tackle?
ANSWER: As of today, my assessment would be that it's Chuks Okorafor's job to lose.
JEFF ELINOFF FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Who do you think will be the starters at left tackle and right tackle?
ANSWER: With the understanding you're asking this question almost two full months before the start of training camp, which is about six-plus weeks before the start of the regular season, my guess would be Chuks Okorafor at left tackle and Zach Banner at right tackle.
JEFF BAUMAN FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: I appreciate your brevity and factual reply to Mr. Ellis implying that Steelers should make special arrangements for fans who are not vaccinated. I'd prefer he watch it on television from the Bahamas.
ANSWER: I'm sure you're not the only one with that opinion, starting with the people forced to sit in the stands close to him.
BETH GOLLMAR FROM ATLANTA, GA: Will Ben Roethlisberger finally play more snaps under center or at least in the pistol instead of out of the shotgun? Did this help to contribute to our offensive linemen playing in two-point stances and getting pushed off the ball?
ANSWER: Guess which NFL team operated out of the shotgun formation the highest percentage of the time in 2020? The Baltimore Ravens. Guess which team led the NFL in rushing last season? The Baltimore Ravens.
PAUL LUKACS FROM VIENNA, VA: Have you heard anything about how the Steelers addressed Diontae Johnson's drops last year? Other than benching, do the Steelers employ counselors to work with young talent to overcome adversity?
ANSWER: The NFL is a business, a job, and the business requirements, the job requirements, of a wide receiver is to catch the football. Those who do not or cannot first lose playing time, and then if things don't improve they lose their job. If they lose their job, they lose their paycheck. That's how professional sports teams incentivize players.
ANDREW LAMB FROM PARKERSBURG, WV: If the Steelers sign T.J. Watt to an extension this offseason, will it impact this year's salary cap or next year's?
ANSWER: In the NFL, the salary cap is a constant, which means there is no point where every team doesn't have to be in compliance. Using your example, if the Steelers sign T.J. Watt to a contract extension this offseason, that would impact the salary cap immediately and the contract would not be approved if the terms of the contract extension put the Steelers out of compliance. Then in 2022, the portion of the contract relating to 2022 would impact the salary cap once the 2022 salary cap goes into effect at the start of the new league year.
ANDREW SCHERBIK FROM CHESAPEAKE, VA: Other than Najee Harris, what other draft pick(s) are you looking forward to seeing in action?
ANSWER: All of them, but for different reasons. For example, tight end Pat Freiermuth as a physical presence in blocking drills; Kendrick Green's ability to adapt to center; Quincy Roche in one-on-one pass-rush drills; Tre Norwood's ball awareness. There are a lot of roles, a lot of ways for rookies to contribute in 2021, and the Steelers are going to need those kinds of contributions.
SCOTTE MARTIN FROM LAKESIDE, CA: In your opinion, what rookie (not named Najee) has the best chance to be a starter in 2021?
ANSWER: I'd make it a tie between Kendrick Green at center and Pressley Harvin III as the punter.
TITUS LANEY FROM NORTHERN CAMBRIA, PA: Ben Roethlisberger recently took a pay cut to stay with the Steelers for rest of his career. Will he play beyond 2021?
ANSWER: All I can tell you is what Ben Roethlisberger said on June 1 when he was asked that question. "I'm going to approach this like I do every season, like it's my last. I think that's the approach you have to take. And you don't approach it that way because it could be your last, but you approach it (that way) because every single play in the game of football could be your last. Every game could be your last game. That just means I'm going out to give it everything I have. I've never looked towards the future. I've always looked at the right here and now, and that's what's important for me for this season is giving it everything I have right here and right now for this group of guys."
KENDALL ROBERTS FROM SLIPPERY ROCK, PA: I was excited to see Slippery Rock University quarterback Roland Rivers III get an invite to the rookie minicamp and sad that he apparently wasn't offered a contract. Is that the end of the story, or is there still some hope that he can eventually make the team?
ANSWER: There is a significant difference between getting an invitation to training camp and "making the team." The Steelers already have four quarterbacks under contract on their 90-man roster – Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Joshua Dobbs and Dewayne Haskins – and each one of them has regular season starting experience in the NFL. Unless there is a trade or a significant injury before the start of training camp in late July, there will be no additions/subtractions to the depth chart at quarterback. And then after training camp and the preseason, the Steelers will cut their roster to 53 players, and three of those 53 players will be the quarterbacks who "make the team."
CAIDEN YODER FROM FREDERICK, MD: I was thinking about buying a couple of tickets to the Lions-Steelers preseason game on Saturday, Aug. 21 at Heinz Field. Do you think it is worth it to buy a couple tickets at a cheap price?
ANSWER: I make it a policy never to tell anyone how to spend their money.