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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 19

Let's get to it:

Hindsight being 20/20, is it realistic to wish that Pittsburgh went with C.J. Mosley over Ryan Shazier in last year's draft?

For me, not yet. I'm not willing to concede that Ryan Shazier cannot become a Pro Bowl linebacker. C.J. Mosley is a very good player, already voted to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, and it's compounded by the fact he's within the division, but I have seen Shazier do some impressive things on a football field. He does need to figure it out, in terms of being a professional, and he needs to stay healthy to remain on the field and get the experience, but I believe Shazier has the potential to be as good but maybe in a different way. Like it used to be with Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. But Shazier is the guy right now who has to do a lot of catching up.

Is there any chance of Ryan Shazier moving to safety? I saw every game at Ohio State. He played some defensive back there. I do not think he is strong enough to play inside linebacker.

No. No chance. And I checked with someone at Ohio State who is paid handsomely to know such things: Ryan Shazier was recruited to Ohio State as a linebacker, and Ryan Shazier only played linebacker at Ohio State. And I only answered this question again – admittedly breaking my own rule by doing so – to correct the idea that Shazier played safety in college.

How much of the improvement in the Steelers offense as the year went on can be attributed directly to Todd Haley?

Todd Haley, as the coordinator, certainly deserves some credit for the improvement of the unit, but I'm a big believer in that it comes down to the players, especially at the NFL level. Schemes, play-calls only get a team as far as putting the players in a position to have an impact, and then it comes down to guys winning one-on-one matchups on the field, or in some cases, just doing something spectacular. If I had to identify a single element that led to the improvement of the Steelers offense as 2014 progressed – and I'm doing this only as an attempt to answer the spirit of your question – it would be the players coming to understand/trust the plan. When players come to understand and trust the plays being called, their athletic ability isn't impeded by worries over whether they're seeing what they're supposed to see and being where they're supposed to be. That's a good thing with this group, because the Steelers offense has some big-time players.

How much interaction is permitted between the Pitt players/coaches and the Steeler players/coaches at the South Side facility? Are there NCAA/NFL restrictions?

There is no interaction, unless it's completely happenstance, as in passing each other in the parking lot. There are rules, some handed down by the NCAA and others by the NFL, that prohibit the kind of interaction I believe is referred to in your question. The NCAA would consider interaction with the Steelers to be an impermissible recruiting benefit, and the NFL, for example, only allows its teams to scout college underclassmen after the players have declared for that year's draft.

By all accounts Dick LeBeau's system was difficult to learn. Do you think that Keith Butler might simplify things so that new players can contribute sooner? It would seem to be prudent in the salary cap era.

I believe there will be changes to the defensive playbook designed to make it more user friendly earlier, so to speak, because that's what the makeup of this particular depth chart is going to require. There is going to be some natural change, simply because Keith Butler and Dick LeBeau are different people, and the players the Steelers will be counting on this season are younger and more inexperienced than some of the previous groups. It's can't be too complicated for these players, and it also can't be too simple for Tom Brady, etc., decipher because that can turn out to be death by 1 million paper-cuts. This is my personal philosophy on the relationship between talent and scheme: there is no scheme that talent cannot execute, and there's no scheme that can cover up for insufficient talent. Not at the NFL level.

When another team claims a player from the Steeler practice squad, do the Steelers have the option to promote that player to their active roster to avoid losing him?

If there is a player on a practice squad and another team is interested in signing him to its 53-man roster, that player can accept that opportunity or stay on his original team's practice squad. Totally his choice, but the difference in pay is significant and players on rosters start the clock on their NFL pensions, which means turning down a spot on a 53-man roster is beyond foolish. And yes, his original team also can keep the player by adding him to its 53-man roster.

Do members of the practice squad practice with the 53 members of the team during the season? How much are they involved?

Yes. A lot. As an NFL team moves through the grind of a regular season, there is a concerted effort made to saving the players' bodies. Short weeks of preparation, sometimes coupled with long flights to/from a road game, combine with the normal bumps and bruises associated with playing football to have teams looking for ways to take care of the players over the course of a season. That's why you'll see guys listed on the practice report as not participating along with the designation: coach's decision. But also, practice is valuable, and that's where the practice squad guys come in. These guys are getting paid to perform in practice in a way that gives the regulars good work without any of the over-enthusiastic stupidity that can get someone injured. And the Steelers believe in calling up players from their practice squad when injuries might mandate an in-season roster move.

Eleven-year veteran, former first-round pick Heath Miller has been a great Steelers player his entire career. When do we, seriously, start planning for his replacement?

For me, not yet. I believe Heath Miller has another quality season left, and this team has enough other needs that I'm not allocating a high draft pick on a tight end based on the current makeup of the depth chart there. Plus, there's what Le'Veon Bell brings to the offense as a receiver. If it's me, I'm looking hard at defensive playmakers in the first three rounds of this draft. Call it, a pragmatic version of best athlete available. In my mind, the topic can be revisited a year from now, but I have other priorities right now.

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