Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 5

Let's get to it:

SHEROO KHAN FROM PHOENIX, AZ:
Do you agree that under Dick LeBeau the last four-five years the Steelers have failed to coach and develop young players to replace the aging veterans? What do you say about LeBeau's failure to develop a single Pro bowl talent since Timmons/Woodley in 2007?

While your assertion technically is accurate, I disagree with your premise, and here's why: Over the past five drafts, the Steelers have spent premium picks (Rounds 1, 2, 3) on Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Jarvis Jones, Shamarko Thomas, Sean Spence, Cam Heyward, and Curtis Brown. Of those players, the first five have had injuries slow their development – not a lack of coaching – Heyward is a Pro Bowl player who's only going to get even better, and Brown was a bust. When Dick LeBeau returned in 2004 for the start of his second stint with the Steelers, Troy Polamalu had yet to start a game, and James Harrison and Brett Keisel had done little but play some special teams. All of them blossomed under LeBeau. Also on those defenses from the mid-2000s were Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, James Farrior, Joey Porter, Ike Taylor and Deshea Townsend, and then in the second half of the decade came Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley. That's a total of 11 guys, all of whom were in their primes and on the field a lot. And with the exception of Townsend, they all played at least into 2011, a span during which the Steelers won a lot of games and two Super Bowl championships. Explain to me how you develop young guys with that caliber of veterans in front of them on the depth chart, and with the unit performing as consistently as it was? Why not just accept the fact the Steelers had a lot of great defensive players who won a lot of games together and therefore got old together, and this is the byproduct of that.

JAMES PRESLEY FROM SALEM, SC:
How do signing bonuses affect the salary cap on a one-time and on a yearly basis?

There are few things as boring as matters of the NFL salary cap, but I'll try to make this as brief and simple as possible. Let's say, for example, the Steelers sign you to a five-year contract that includes a $5 million signing bonus. That means the team cuts you a check for $5 million on the day you sign on the bottom line. Then for the salary cap, the signing bonus is divided by the number of years in the contract, which in your case comes out to $1 million in each of the five years of the deal. Your cap number then would be $1 million, plus your base salary for that year, plus whatever incentives might be in your contract. There are some other variables, but that's the general idea.

BILL ANGST FROM SALEM, OR:
Why is it that the Steelers seem to favor kicking off short more often than just kicking it long and not allowing the opponent a chance at a return. Is it that our kicker can't consistently kick deep into the end zone?

If Shaun Suisham could kick the ball through the end zone every time, I believe he would. That said, just because Suisham cannot manage that – and remember the Steelers play outdoors in the Northeast in November and December – isn't to suggest he should be replaced. In the three seasons from 2012-14, Suisham was 56-for-58 (96.6 percent) between 30-49 yards, and that's the distance where NFL kickers have to be successful. There are 10 other guys on the kickoff team, and I looked it up – there's nothing in the rule book prohibiting them from running down the field and making the tackle inside the 20-yard line.

LARRY SHEERER FROM MOUNT JOY, PA:
What process does the team/coaching staff go through in determining which veteran players should be retained or released? Could you elaborate on how this is tackled?

There is constant evaluation happening throughout training camp, the preseason, and the regular season, either by the personnel department, the coaching staff, upper management, or some combination of all of the above. During the regular season, for example, on the morning after every game, Steelers President Art Rooney II meets with members of the personnel department – including General Manager Kevin Colbert – during which they watch and evaluate the video from that game. The assistant coaches are more involved in game-planning than evaluating at that time, but Mike Tomlin constantly is evaluating personnel and performance. Then whenever the season is over, Colbert and Tomlin meet several times to go over personnel issues. Who among their own free agents to keep. Who among that group to let go. Which young players might be candidates for contract extensions, etc. At some point, this discussion also will include Rooney, and then the team's plan begins to take shape. The Steelers are not like other teams, where the coach can make unilateral decisions, or the general manager can make unilateral decisions. Things are discussed and evaluated, and then decisions are made that represent some sort of consensus.

RAY MATTHEWS FROM MARTINSVILLE, VA:
Since the Steelers need help in the secondary, why not go after a young player like Ed Reynolds, who was on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad? This guy was a beast at Stanford and could really help us now.

At the end of each team's season – and well before the start of free agency – players on the practice squad who are judged to be up-and-comers to some degree are offered contracts to re-sign and be added to that particular team's offseason roster. Shortly after the Eagles season ended, they signed nine players who had been on their practice squad to their offseason roster, and Ed Reynolds was one of them. He never was on the open market this offseason for the Steelers to sign.

BILL CHIARAMONTE FROM ERIE, PA:
Where does the responsibility lie for the inconsistent play of the Steelers week to week in 2014?

With the players.

TONY DESIO FROM MOUNT JEWETT, PA:
Do we know who will present Jerome Bettis for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

As of today, Jerome Bettis has not announced his decision. Shouldn't be long before we know, however.

JAMES BEVILLE FROM SOUTHAVEN, MS:
I think a pass rusher is more important than a cornerback. I know we need both, but what do you think?

Let me answer your question with a question: who were the starting cornerbacks for the 1985 Chicago Bears, whose single-season defensive performance is considered among the best of the Super Bowl era? You probably remember Richard Dent and Dan Hampton and Steve McMichael and William Perry and Wilbur Marshall and Otis Wilson and Mike Singletary just pillaging opposing offenses. But the cornerbacks were rather anonymous. Mike Richardson and Leslie Frazier.

BILL HILTY FROM SANDUSKY, OH:
It looked like the Steelers were completely unprepared for Le'Veon Bell's injury. Do you think they will use a second running back more in 2015 'just in case?'

The Steelers were not "completely unprepared" for an injury to Le'Veon Bell. They thought of it way back in the offseason, on March 28, 2014 to be precise, when they signed veteran LeGarrette Blount. What they were "completely unprepared" for was him quitting on the team in mid-November, and at that point there aren't rarely are talented running backs on the open market. One last point made one last time: whomever the Steelers sign/draft to be Bell's backup is going to have to understand that there is a clear pecking order at the position in terms of playing time and touches. Maybe this pecking order isn't going to be quite as definitive as the one at quarterback, but on the same order.

LARRY ANDERSON FROM BROCKTON, MA:
Has there ever been someone named Larry Anderson who played for Pittsburgh Steelers?

In the fourth round of the 1978 NFL Draft, the Steelers drafted cornerback Larry Anderson from Louisiana Tech. He had one interception for the team in 1979, but his forte was returning kickoffs. In Super Bowl XIV against the Los Angeles Rams, Anderson returned five kickoffs for 162 yards, which at the time was a Super Bowl record. His long return that day was for 45 yards, and the field position those returns provided for the offense helped the Steelers come back to win, 31-19, and secure their fourth Lombardi Trophy.

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