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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 28

Let's get to it:

AL DOWNEY JR. FROM JOHNSTON, IA: With no real action so far at the quarterback position by the Steelers, do you see them entering 2023 with the same trio on the depth chart as last season? That would mean Kenny Pickett as the starter, Mitch Trubisky as the backup, and Mason Rudolph as the No. 3. Or do you see them keeping either Mitch or Mason and giving a shot to another younger player?
ANSWER: At different times already this offseason, Steelers President Art Rooney II, General Manager Omar Khan, and Coach Mike Tomlin all have said publicly they expect/want Mitch Trubisky to return as the backup quarterback in 2023, and since he is still under contract, I believe it's a certainty that will happen. Mason Rudolph is an unrestricted free agent, and while he has yet to sign, he certainly is good enough and has enough of an NFL resume to get added to a roster in time for training camp. At this week's Owners Meetings, Tomlin said the team would be exploring its options in terms of adding a candidate(s) for the No. 3 spot.

RAYMOND LEHMAN FROM MAGNOLIA, DE: After the draft, when is the first time the coaches get to see the players on the field?
ANSWER: For the rookies, NFL rules state, "Clubs may elect to hold their one three-day post-Draft rookie minicamp from Friday through Sunday or Saturday through Monday on one of the two weekends following the Draft (May 5-8 or May 12-15)." In terms of getting a chance to see the entire roster together, May 23 will be when the Steelers are scheduled to hold the first of their 10 allotted OTAs.

TOM McCORMICK FROM FINDLAY, OH: Assuming Mason Rudolph moves on from the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent, what would your expectations be for where the No. 3 quarterback comes from? Draft, undrafted rookie, or veteran free agent?
ANSWER: Let me start with this: I believe the Steelers will carry 3 quarterbacks on their initial 53-man roster, and so to get to that number by early September they have to have 4 on the 90-man roster once training camp opens in late July. If I'm being asked to list the respective likelihood of your categories, the draft would be my choice as the least likely (basically because there are not enough picks to spare); adding an undrafted rookie or a tryout player following Rookie Minicamp is a likely way to find one or both of the two candidates; and signing a veteran free agent would depend upon who's still looking for a roster spot around mid-May. There is plenty of time, and there will be different options, when it comes to filling in the bottom rungs of the depth chart at quarterback.

VINCENT A. BERARDELLI FROM ORLAND PARK, IL: If the draft day board is set up by position – wide receiver, running back, offensive line, cornerback, etc., – and then players are ranked by best to worst at each position, when it's your turn to draft, how does the team determine which is the best athlete or player on the board?
ANSWER: The draft board is not set up by position, but rather it is set up based on how players have been ranked/graded over the course of the evaluation process.

DILLON PALMER FROM NILES, OH: Do you think the Steelers make any assumptions on teams drafting at 18-through-31 overall in order to get an idea of what will be there at No. 32 overall? As an example, if none of those teams prioritize a cornerback, do the Steelers conclude they can wait to draft one at No. 32 vs. doing so at No. 17?
ANSWER: Because there is so much bad information being circulated on purpose in the run-up to every draft, it's a futile exercise to try to suss out what other teams are planning on doing. The only way for a team to utilize the pre-draft period in a worthwhile way is to concentrate on its own evaluations of the prospects, assemble its board correctly, and then pick from that board. If the board is assembled correctly, there is really no need to be worrying about what other teams might be doing once the picking begins.

SEAN VOYLES FROM CAMPBELLSBURG, KY: The Steelers having another season with the same 5 offensive linemen being able to start every game could build even more cohesiveness and turn the unit into a strong one. Do you think the offensive line moves made during free agency so far are primarily for depth, or is there an area that needs improvement?
ANSWER: Both. Yes, it was an accomplishment for the Steelers to go through a 17-game regular season with the same starting five-man group along the offensive line, but I believe that's the NFL version of a once-in-a-generation event. And these Steelers had theirs in 2022, so there are going to have to be reinforcements available to be called upon at various times during the season. But don't forget that the same group of five offensive linemen who started every game during the regular season deserves as much scrutiny for the team finishing with 28 offensive touchdowns while also ranking in the bottom third of the NFL in points-per-game (28th), and red zone offense (24th). So in my mind, the Steelers will be looking for improvement everywhere. I'm in favor of bringing all of these guys to training camp – the holdovers, the free agent additions, and whomever gets added during the draft and then the undrafted rookie period – and have a physical competition. Let the winners reveal themselves.

ANDREW SCHERBIK FROM PORTSMOUTH, OH: With the Steelers being active in free agency, does this, in any way, change their draft strategy, or will they stay the course with their draft plans pre-free agency?
ANSWER: The draft plan is, was, and will be to scout the players, evaluate them, grade them, arrange them on a board and pick from there. The way that plan is made possible is by using free agency in a way to fill any holes on the roster that otherwise could unduly influence the process I described in the previous sentence. Scout, evaluate, grade, arrange, pick.

DENNIS NEVINSKY FROM ERIE, PA: Do you think there is a chance that the Steelers trade up in the first round, using next year's draft capital, if a top-3 cornerback or offensive tackle is within reach?
ANSWER: Let me begin with this: The Steelers are not a player away. There is not a position where drafting a rookie automatically is going to turn a 9-8 team into a contender. Right now in the upcoming draft, the Steelers have 3 of the first 49 picks and 4 of the first 80. Trading up in the first round and using 2023 draft picks to do so could be very costly depending upon your definition of "within reach." The Steelers need pieces. And since you get those pieces in the draft, giving away two picks for one piece is bad arithmetic. Trading future picks for 2023 draft picks would be an incrementally tougher sell to President Art Rooney II.

TODD HAMMERS FROM BLOOMFIELD, IN: Do you know why a kickoff touchback is spotted on the 25-yard line and a punting touchback is spotted on the 20-yard line?
ANSWER: I believe the difference first came about as a result of the NFL looking for ways to limit the number of kickoff plays in the interest of player safety, and it has been the rule ever since. The 32 NFL owners are gathered in Phoenix this week, and maybe that changes to all touchbacks being spotted on the 25-yard line. Is so, then that will be the rule.

MICHAEL WILLIAMS FROM CINCINNATI, OH: How valuable to the teams is the 20-plus hours between the end of Day 1 and the start of Day 2 of the NFL Draft? Could it be true that having the first pick of Round 2 has more appeal than the last pick of Round 1?
ANSWER: Actually, my feeling on that is it's going to end up being rather cut-and-dry in terms of the "who" part of the decision. The board will have been set for a suitable length of time, and it's not that complicated to check off names as they're called into the latter part of the first round. That's not the time to be second-guessing decisions made during the evaluation stage. And all players picked in the first round come with a team option for a fifth-year of the individual's rookie contract. More control over the player >>>>> more time to pick a player.

DAVID ISKOWITZ FROM ALBANY, NY: For what reasons would you advise against the Steelers going after Lamar Jackson? I'm not saying necessarily give up on Kenny Pickett, but the Packers let Jordan Love sit, so why not immediately upgrade our quarterback room with a former MVP who's still in his 20s?
ANSWER: You happen to have any thoughts on the matter of paying Lamar Jackson, both in total dollars and the structure of those dollars within the terms of the contract? A contract, by the way, that you're assuming the Ravens will not match. And quarterback is a position where only one plays at a time, so one of them would have to be the backup. The reasons to advise against this seem self-evident to me. I'm sorry if they do not seem that way to you.

TOM AGUE FROM LAWRENCE, PA: I saw a website list the Steelers 2023 draft picks, and missing were picks in Rounds 5 and 6. With William Jackson III being released and never having dressed for a Steelers game, wasn't the draft pick used to acquire him conditional and now should return to the Steelers?
ANSWER: The picks exchanged between Washington and Pittsburgh that were a part of the trade sending William Jackson III to the Steelers are for the 2025 NFL Draft.

JOE BONI FROM STEUBENVILLE, OH: There was a wide receiver during the 2022 preseason, and I believe his name is Tyler Vaughns. I remember he caught a touchdown pass late in one of the preseason games. Any idea what happened to him, or if there could be a possibility to bring him back for this year's training camp?
ANSWER: Tyler Vaughns currently is playing in the XFL for the 3-3 Arlington Renegades. He is tied-for-third on the team with 14 catches for 129 yards (9.2 average) and 1 touchdown. As to "if there could be a possibility to bring him back for this year's training camp?" Sure, there is a possibility, but I don't think getting Vaughns back on the roster would be classified as a priority.