Let’s get to it:
PETE FERRARI, WILMINGTON, DE: Do you have any stats regarding how the Steelers fared in 2018 when they received the kickoff to start the game, compared to receiving the second half kickoff?
ANSWER: In the games in which the Steelers received the opening kickoff, they were 4-2-1, and in the games when they kicked off to open the game, they were 5-4. The Steelers won the coin toss 11 times, and in those 11 wins they elected to receive three times, and they deferred eight times.
TIMOTHY HERD FROM CHARLEROI, PA: Is the rule still on the books where after a fair catch on a punt in the last two minutes of a half that the receiving team may elect to kick a field goal with the defense standing beyond the line of scrimmage? Has this been tried in the last several years, and have the Steelers ever used it?
ANSWER: The “fair catch kick” rule still exists in the NFL, but let me clarify a couple of points you made in describing it. The “fair catch kick” can be executed at any time during a game. It’s not limited to the final two minutes of a half. The kicker cannot use a tee for the field goal, the attempt comes from the spot of the fair catch, and the opposing team can stand no closer to the kicker than 10 yards from the spot of the attempt.
Since 1925, there have been 24 “fair catch kick” attempts, but only six have been successful. The three most recent attempts of a “fair catch kick” came on Nov. 23, 2008 when Arizona’s Neil Rackers missed from 68 yards; on Dec. 28, 2008 when Green Bay’s Mason Crosby missed from 69 yards; and on Sept. 26, 2013 when San Francisco’s Phil Dawson missed from 71 yards. The most recent successful “fair catch kick” came on Nov. 21, 1976 when San Diego’s Ray Wersching made a 45-yard attempt.
The Steelers never have attempted a “fair catch kick,” and the franchise was only involved in one game when one was attempted. That was on Oct. 23, 1955 when the New York Giants’ Ben Agajanian missed a 56-yard attempt. The Steelers won that game, 19-17.
DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: Any interest in Eric Weddle?
ANSWER: I would have no interest in a 34-year-old safety who had no interceptions and two passes defensed in 16 games last season. My guess is the combination of those facts, plus his salary, were behind the Ravens’ decision to release him.
LENNART GABKA FROM BRAUNSCHWEIG, GERMANY: Which prospect is a better fit for the Steelers: Devin White or Devin Bush?
ANSWER: Based on my extremely superficial scouting method when it comes to college players – which amounts to watching whatever college games happen to be televised on a Saturday when the Steelers’ travel schedule permits – I like Devin White from LSU. Explosive player. Sideline-to-sideline ability. Played at LSU, a top SEC program that traditionally sends a lot of its defensive players to the NFL.
MARCO SILVEIRA FROM SEEKONK, MA: Do you see the Steelers making a move for running back Jordan Howard of the Bears? With him on the block, I would love to have James Connor and Howard in the backfield, especially with Le’Veon Bell gone.
ANSWER: A couple of things: your characterization of Jordan Howard being “on the block” at this point is more speculation than fact. In fact, the Bears turned down a third-round pick from a team last year at the trading deadline in exchange for Howard. Secondly, this isn’t fantasy football where the idea is to accumulate as many top players at certain positions as possible while ignoring other positions that don’t factor into scoring.
JIM DIBERT FROM FAIRBORN, OH: Are there opportunities for coaches and general managers to meet with prospects following the Combine and prior to draft day?
ANSWER: Yes. There are the college Pro Days, where draft eligible prospects from a particular college stage workouts on campus for NFL personnel. In addition to drills, there also are opportunities for interviews. Then there are the pre-draft visits, where each NFL team can bring in up to 30 prospects for more conversation/interviews, and maybe even an update on injury/medical issues.
GLENN TRICK FROM CANTON, PA: I understand the Steelers’ philosophy of building through the draft, but why won’t they seriously address team needs in free agency instead of “bargain basement shopping” every year for need positions like inside linebacker or secondary help?
ANSWER: You start off by saying you understand “the Steelers’ philosophy of building through the draft,” and then you follow that by asking why they aren’t big players in free agency. See where I’m going here? You’re answering your own question.
NOAH LANG FROM NEW YORK, NY: I get that the Steelers prefer to build their team through the draft and aren't huge players in free agency (except for Joe Haden), but taking into consideration how much we need to better our secondary, along with the field of free agent secondary talent out there (Eric Weddle, Tyrann Mathieu, HaHa Clinton Dix, etc.) would it make sense to try to get one of those guys to boost the secondary, like we did with Haden?
ANSWER: First of all, there are two classifications of free agents – those who are cut by their teams, and those whose contracts expire and become unrestricted. Joe Haden was cut by the Browns and Eric Weddle was cut by the Ravens, and so they are in a completely different category than Tyrann Mathieu and HaHa Clinton-Dix. With that clarified, while it may make sense to you for the Steelers to go after a big name in unrestricted free agency, it’s not how they do business. It’s just not. Wanting things to be different, wishing things were different, asking me if I think things should be different – all of that is a waste of time, both mine and yours. It’s not how the Steelers do business. It’s just not.
GREG HOKE FROM MCHENRY, MD: With Antonio Brown gone, the Steelers obviously need a receiver. Would a potentially dominant tight end like T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant, or Irv Smith be a viable option? I ask that because guys like Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz, Rob Gronkowski, and now George Kittle are incredibly valuable for their teams in both the passing and running game.
ANSWER: The Steelers have Vance McDonald, and he had a very nice season in 2018. And my personal theme for the Steelers in the early rounds of this upcoming draft can be boiled down to two words: defensive playmakers.