Let's get to it:
FRANK LIRA FROM EL PASO, TX:
What are your thoughts on Troy Polamalu's performance on the field this past season, and do you believe he should be thinking retirement?
I'm not going to be so arrogant as to tell Troy Polamalu what he should be thinking, but I will give my opinion on his play in 2014. There was a span of many years when I believed the Steelers could not win without Troy Polamalu on the field, that his absence completely neutered the defense because he was such a singularly unique talent. Without the Polamalu component, the Steelers weren't even mediocre on defense. Moving forward, based on the end of the 2014 season, I couldn't say definitively that I believe the Steelers are better with Polamalu than without him. His speed, his ability to cover ground, isn't what it once was, and that serves to limit both him and the rest of the defense. He still can make the occasional play against the run, but in coverage he becomes someone for whom the scheme must compensate. I also understand what Polamalu has meant to the Steelers – a great player, a great teammate, a great human being – but he didn't mean more to the franchise than Joe Greene and Joe Greene's career ended after 12 seasons because he wasn't what he was anymore. For the Steelers as a franchise, it's time to move on from their old-time greats and create a new era. It's time for this next generation to rise up and forge an identity. It's an unfortunate part of the business, this changing of the guard, but professional football is a business.
DANIEL MOON FROM DALLAS, TX:
If Washington CB Marcus Peters is available at pick No. 22 overall, what is your call on the Steelers decision? Do you pick him or shy away from because of his past history at Washington?
My call would be to pick someone else.
CHRIS DiYENNO FROM EDGEWOOD, MD:
What is the difference between an unrestricted free agent like Jason Worilds and a restricted free agent like Antwon Blake?
An unrestricted free agent is able to sign with any team, and his former team has no right of first refusal with any offer the player receives, nor is there any immediate compensation for losing him. A restricted free agent is tendered a one-year contract, which allows for his current team to match any outside offer and keep the player, and based on the amount of the tender there is immediate compensation for losing that player in the form of a pick in the same year's draft. Teams are eligible for compensatory draft picks for losing unrestricted free agents, but that's a formula based on a range of additional factors, and compensatory picks aren't awarded until the following year's draft.
RYAN HILL FROM TORONTO, CANADA:
One of the major differences between a Steelers defense that was top-five in the league for nearly a decade and the defense of the last few seasons was an inability to get off the field on third downs. Can this be attributed to inconsistent pressure up front, or futility in the secondary?
Both, really. Recent Steelers defenses have been plagued by other issues as well – lack of takeaways, giving up too many big plays for touchdowns. In today's NFL, the game is played with the football in the air a lot. The Steelers defense must become better at dealing with that reality.
DOLORES HOWELL FROM SEVERNA PARK, MD:
Heard the Steelers were going to sign Ray Rice. Please tell me he is not coming to the Steelers.
He is not coming to the Steelers.
ROBERT PURAT FROM NEWTOWN, CT:
I don't agree with your assessment of drafting a pass rusher rather than a shut-down corner. How many Super Bowls did that 1985 Bears defense win? In the Steelers' history, every time they have gone deep in the playoffs they have had a good pass rush but also at least one very good cornerback. You need both because you can't always get to the quarterback. The Steelers have the makings of a good front seven, they just need to come together. With a shut-down corner they could put on an island they can eliminate the weakness that most recent Steelers defenses had: the short passing game. Which first round corner talent do you think fits best in the Steelers system? I think P.J. Williams will be available and with proper coaching would be a great fit.
My answer had nothing to do with the upcoming draft. It simply reflected my opinion on which is more important – the pass rush or the coverage. Certainly you need both, or to be more clear, you can't be awful at either. But I still believe that the single most valuable asset a defense can have is the ability to get consistent pressure on the passer by rushing only four guys. That's how the New York Giants beat Tom Brady in those two Super Bowls. Do you think Brady was bothered more by the pass rush generated by different four-man rotations of Michael Strahan, and Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul, and Justin Tuck, and Mathias Kiwanuka, or the coverage of cornerbacks Sam Madison, and Aaron Ross, and Corey Webster? As to your question about the cornerback talent in this draft, I don't consider myself a scout but I will say I believe the Steelers need to add a starting-caliber cornerback in this draft. It doesn't matter in which round they choose to pick him.
MATT RICHARDS FROM CRANBERRY TWP, PA:
What are the chances the Steelers use their first-round pick on a position other than defensive back or outside linebacker?
There is a chance, and I really couldn't quantify that with a percentage. Again, the idea behind a first-round pick is getting a guy who becomes Pro Bowl caliber, and so with that in mind, a defensive lineman or an offensive lineman would be a nice addition. I do believe the preference would be for a cornerback or an outside linebacker on whom they've placed a first-round grade to be there for them at No. 22.