Let’s get to it:
ANDREW CLAY FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: I'm a fan of kickoff returns. Those plays used to be exciting to watch and could swing momentum/outcomes of a game. Will it ever come back to the way it was? And statistically, does it really cut down on injuries all that much?
ANSWER: According to a story in The Washington Post that appeared on March 1, 2019, there were 13 concussions sustained by players on kickoffs during the 2018 season, which was down from the 20 concussions sustained on kickoffs in 2017. That represented a reduction of 35 percent from one year to the next, and that prompted Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive vice president of health and safety to admit, “It seemed to have the result that the competition committee wanted.” Applying these statistics and feedback to your questions, the answers would seem to be that kickoffs never will be going back to the way they used to be, because the league believes the reduction in the number of concussions is worth the rules changes.
TODD FURST FROM ALLENTOWN, PA: I've read good quotes from the Steelers top three running backs commenting on formations that have James Connor and Jaylen Samuels in the backfield together. Have any Steelers coaches commented on the running back by committee approach?
ANSWER: This seems to be an annual rite of spring, that being talk about the Steelers employing more of a two-back system in the upcoming season, and then fans getting excited about it. But what we also have come to learn is that once the season starts, the Steelers primarily revert to the procedure they’ve used since Bill Cowher was hired in 1992, that being the concept of one man being the primary ball carrier. The fact Jaylen Samuels can serve as an H-back does offer an opportunity for the Steelers to utilize formations with him lining up in the backfield, but if fans believe this is the precursor to the Steelers returning to the days of a split-backfield, a la Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier, that’s not going to happen. At least not as a primary offensive formation.
NICHOLAS PELCHAR FROM PURCELLVILLE, VA: Do you think that Levon Kirkland belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? He is my favorite Steelers linebacker. Along with defensive end size for his time, he covered tight ends.
ANSWER: I don’t want to come across as someone who is disparaging Levon Kirkland’s Steelers’ career, but he simply was not a Pro Football Hall of Fame caliber player. That’s not to say that Kirkland didn’t have some very good seasons, and in the 32 regular season games of the 1996-97 seasons Kirkland had nine sacks, six interceptions, and three forced fumbles, plus another three interceptions in four playoff games those years. But doing that for a couple of years doesn’t constitute Hall of Fame production.
THOMAS ROWE FROM WIMAUMA, FL: I understand that Sutton Smith, a sixth-round pass rusher in this year's draft, is taking reps at fullback. Further, I understand that our current fullback, Roosevelt Nix, was converted to fullback by the Steelers. Are colleges not producing talent at the fullback position that necessitates this sort of position retraining?
ANSWER: I don’t know how much of an opportunity you get to watch college football, but most college offenses are some variety of the spread, and those formations/schemes rarely if ever employ a fullback. That’s why NFL teams often have to go looking for candidates who played other positions in college.
LUIS DELGADO FROM CHIHUAHUA, MEXICO: Back in 2007 when Bill Cowher retired, did Dick LeBeau have a chance to follow him as the Steelers head coach?
ANSWER: One of the things Dan Rooney came to believe once he took over the running of the franchise’s football operations back in the mid-1960s was that when it came time to hiring coaches, he wasn’t interested in hiring the friend of a friend, and he wasn’t interested in hiring a coach who already had been fired by an NFL team from the same job. Dick LeBeau served as head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals from 2000-02 before being fired after compiling a 12-36 record. Some guys make better coordinators than they do head coaches, and I believe LeBeau falls into that category.
GREG THOMAS FROM ATLANTA, GA: Do you think the offense will be more balanced this year, rather than Ben Roethlisberger throwing 40-50 times a game?
ANSWER: Balance is a nice thing for an offense to be able to achieve, but sometimes game circumstances intervene, and in those cases I would hope the Steelers would be able to adapt their plan to those situations. If an opponent has an awful pass defense, as an example, what’s the point of running the ball a certain number of times just to be able to say at the end of the game there was a 50-50 balance between runs and passes? Or in the situation of falling behind early and having to catch up. I believe in the importance of an offense having the ability to run the football, but I see that ability as being most important in certain areas of the field and at certain times of the game, more so that having the same number of rushing attempts and passing attempts on the final stats sheet.
HOWARD ASHCRAFT FROM LANSING, MI: I am wondering if there is a way that the legendary Bill Nunn can get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a contributor to the game?
ANSWER: It’s possible, and there is a mechanism in place to honor men like Bill Nunn. Personally, I believe he deserves to be enshrined in Canton, and I also believe he’s more deserving to be enshrined in Canton than some of the recent men who have been elected under the contributor category. But I don’t have a vote, and I’m certain my opinion would be dismissed as that of a homer.
TA ERLENBUSCH FROM COLORADO SPRINGS, CO: Who was the bigger draft pick for the Steelers: Joe Greene or Ben Roethlisberger?
ANSWER: You cannot be so naïve as to be asking whether it was Joe Greene or Ben Roethlisberger who was a more significant addition and had a more significant impact on the franchise that was founded in 1933, because it is indisputable that Joe Greene was the most historically significant player in Steelers history. As author Roy Blount wrote: “When the Steelers made Greene their top pick in ‘69 they laid the first and biggest building block of a six-year program that brought them up from perennial failure.” So based on you having to know that, I’ll approach this literally: When Joe Greene was drafted, his weight was listed in the 270s, and when Ben Roethlisberger was drafted, he was listed at 241, and so Greene was bigger in that respect, too.