Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: May 12

Let's get to it:

MICHAEL KUZMINSKI FROM WARREN, PA: If you had to pick the most iconic moment at Heinz Field, what would it be?
ANSWER: That's an easy one for me. It has to be Troy Polamalu's 40-yard pick-6 in the 2008 AFC Championship Game vs. the Ravens that provided the clinching points in a 23-14 victory that sent the Steelers to Super Bowl XLIII, where they won the sixth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history with a 27-23 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

MIKE FOSTER FROM EWA BEACH, HI: If I'm not mistaken DeMarvin Leal moved around a lot all along the defensive line last year, even stand-up rushing the passer, and had good sack numbers in the SEC where a lot of offensive linemen, especially tackles, got drafted. Rather than have Leal bulk up, why not have him slim down to play outside linebacker? Slimming down worked with Le'Veon Bell and James Conner at running back but also Brett Keisel. Crazy stupid, just crazy, or not crazy? I was a Marine raised by a sailor, so words and insults don't phase me much.
ANSWER: Far be it for me to incur the wrath of a Marine who was raised by a sailor, but on the issue of attempting to convert DeMarvin Leal from a defensive lineman to an outside linebacker, you can put me down as a hard "no." We can start with this: the examples you cite of Le'Veon Bell and James Conner losing weight don't really apply because they weren't doing that to switch to a different position but rather to make themselves better at their real position. And as a senior at BYU, Brett Keisel weighed 269 pounds, and during his playing career with the Steelers he usually weighed right around 290 pounds. Finally, the end game with your experiment would be to strengthen depth at outside linebacker, while I view Leal as a soon-to-be top-of-the-depth chart defensive lineman. Instead of messing with Leal, my suggestion is to keep an eye on his Texas A&M teammate – Tyree Johnson – who was a 240-pound defensive end for the Aggies. The Steelers signed Johnson as an undrafted rookie, and it's much more realistic to convert him to outside linebacker. Also, Johnson had 8.5 sacks for Texas A&M in 2021, and in his final three seasons there he totaled 16.5 sacks. Develop him as an outside linebacker and leave Leal where he is.

OTIS JOHNSON FROM GERMANTOWN, PA: Can there be a fair competition among the three quarterbacks – Mason Rudolph, Mitch Trubisky, and Kenny Pickett? It seems to me that Mason is the odd man out. He has waited for his turn sitting behind Ben Roethlisberger. Then the Steelers go out and sign a veteran quarterback and draft another on the first round. In my eyes, from what I've been reading, it's set up for either Trubisky or Pickett to win the starting job.
ANSWER: What you've been reading hasn't been written by the guy who actually will be conducting the competition, and I really don't believe Coach Mike Tomlin has an interest in that competition being a sham. Tomlin's primary and only interest through the team development stage of the process, which begins with OTAs and minicamp and then progresses into training camp and the preseason, is to get the Steelers to a place where they can compete for a championship in 2022. There's no time for charade competitions, especially at a position as significant as quarterback.

TIMOTHY WILLIAMS FROM ST. LOUIS, MO: I was wondering whether the schedule this year would have any impact on the quarterback competition? That's because after looking at the schedule, the best plan could be to not put the defense in tough spots, which could mean Mitch Trubisky could be the answer.
ANSWER: Sorry, but I see that as too much over-thinking of the issue. I believe the competition is going to reveal a winner, or maybe even end up revealing what eliminates the other candidates from being the winner. Once a winner emerges, or the losers of the competition become clear through their performances, then going through the process of looking at the early regular season schedule and trying to guess which teams might be primed for a hot start injects guesswork into the months-long process. Play the best player, and being the best player at the quarterback position definitely includes doing things during games that don't put the defense in too many tough spots.

AARON LOWE FROM WASHINGTON, DC: A player is waived, and let's say five teams put in a claim. What team has the first rights to that player, or does the player decide where he wants to go? Also, if the first team is awarded the rights to him, what happens if the sides don't come to a contract agreement?
ANSWER: Waiver priority is determined by the teams with the worst records having the highest priority. In fact, for a while now, the waiver priority will be an exact replica of the way the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft unfolded, without the trades that allowed some teams to have multiple first-round picks. Players who are claimed on waivers have no right to choose their team – they either play for the team that claimed them or they don't play – and a team that claims a player on waivers automatically assumes that player's contract with his previous team. So, there is no need for negotiations on a new contract.

SEAN DELANEY FROM UPTON, MA: Another thing Steelers fans have blessedly taken for granted is the strong working relationship between the general manager and the head coach. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin worked very well together, seemed to genuinely like each other, and managed to keep any professional disagreements behind closed doors. Regarding the current search for the new GM, how much say does Tomlin have in the decision?
ANSWER: Steelers President Art Rooney II will choose the team's next general manager, but he is smart enough and savvy enough to realize the importance of the working relationship between the new hire and Coach Mike Tomlin. I'm sure some part of the process will involve Rooney seeking Tomlin's opinion of the finalists for the job, but the final call will be Rooney's.

DONALD MARSHALL FROM CINCINNATI, OH: Would you please compare the college statistics of Kenny Pickett and Dan Marino?
ANSWER: Dan Marino played 48 college games over four years, and these were his cumulative statistics:
693-for-1,204; 57.6 percent; 8,597 yards; 79 touchdowns; 69 interceptions.

Kenny Pickett played 52 college games over five years, and these were his cumulative statistics:
1,045-for-1,674; 62.4 percent; 12,303 yards; 81 touchdowns; 32 interceptions.

DAVID HAYES FROM HARTSELLE, AL: Going into training camp at the end of July, the Steelers appear to be in good shape with current players' contracts. Wide receiver Diontae Johnson is one player trying for a contract extension. What are the terms of his current contract, and are there any other players who could possibly hold out for an extension?
ANSWER: According to reports, Diontae Johnson is set to earn $2.79 million and count $3.07 million on the salary cap in 2022 in what is the final year of the four-year contract he signed as a rookie. But the top priority for a contract extension this offseason is Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is set to earn $10.6 million and count that same amount on the salary cap in what is the fifth-year option on the contract he originally signed as a rookie with the Miami Dolphins. While I believe both Fitzpatrick and Johnson are interested in extensions, I don't see either player "holding out."

BERNIE MCCLUSKEY FROM CASTLEGAR, BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA: I was a big fan of Agree to Disagree – "I'm right; he's wrong." Where did it go?
ANSWER: Agree to Disagree morphed into podcast form starting with the 2021 season and will return for the 2022 regular season in the same format. All of the Steelers Official Podcasts can be accessed from the home page of Steelers.com.

JOSEPH SMITLEY FROM UNIONTOWN, PA: Several other NFL teams have already issued jersey numbers to their incoming rookies. As of making this submission to Asked and Answered, Kenny Pickett so far is the only Steelers rookie to get his jersey number. Is it because we have a lot of numbers that are out of circulation making it harder for our rookies to select their number, or does our team specifically allow the guys to feel comfortable with whatever number they decide?
ANSWER: The teams that issued jersey numbers to their rookies did so because they were holding their rookie minicamps the weekend after the draft, and all of their new players were in town for those three days of meetings and on-field sessions. The Steelers rookie minicamp is set for May 13-15, and all rookies will be issued jersey numbers for that. A story that appeared on Steelers.com on May 9 listed all of the jersey numbers for the team's draft picks:

No. 8 Kenny Pickett
No. 14 George Pickens
No. 98 DeMarvin Leal
No. 19 Calvin Austin III
No. 83 Connor Heyward
No. 93 Mark Robinson
No. 5 Chris Oladokun

RALPH WARD FROM WARREN, PA: Like nearly every other armchair GM in Steelers Nation, I was praying for offensive line help from the early rounds of the draft. I'm aware we signed two starters in free agency, but I was hoping for not one but two offensive line picks. I would love to see Najee Harris running downhill on the Ravens and Browns. Do you think we have the offensive line to impose our will on those teams this year?
ANSWER: In my opinion, the realistic goal is to be effective running the football, and that only happens when the offense is sufficiently balanced to force the opposing defense to worry about both the run and the pass. Lining up with big people and trying to play smashmouth is not the way to win games and contend for championships in the NFL anymore.

STEVE YOUNG FROM ST. DAVID, AZ: The Steelers will not have to travel outside of the Eastern time zone for any of their regular season games during the 2022 season. I realize that the majority of NFL teams reside east of the Mississippi River, and a great number of those teams are in the Eastern time zone. Do you consider it somewhat of an advantage for the team?
ANSWER: During the January 1969 press conference called to announce his hiring as the Steelers coach, Chuck Noll was asked why he believed he was the man who was going to be able to turn Pittsburgh's NFL team into a winner. Noll answered, "Losing has nothing to do with geography." I contend that line of thinking applies to your question as well.

MIKE MATHEWS FROM WEST JEFFERSON, OH: I believe GM Kevin Colbert's 2022 draft was a success, but the one area that was not addressed was outside linebacker depth. T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith are a great starting tandem, but the depth behind them is a major concern. Genard Avery was recently signed, but do you see any other current free agent as a possibility? Could the answer be inside linebacker Myles Jack taking a few snaps at outside linebacker?
ANSWER: Leave Myles Jack where he is, because I see him as an important ingredient in the defense's ability to be better than No. 32 in the NFL against the run in 2022. Maybe it's more hope than belief, but I have my eye on undrafted rookie Tyree Johnson, a 240-pound standup defensive end from Texas A&M. As a senior at Texas A&M, Johnson had 31 tackles, including nine for loss, 8.5 sacks, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. In his final three seasons at College Station, Johnson had 16.5 sacks. Hopefully, Johnson and Derrek Tuszka become serviceable rotational players who occasionally spell T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.

DANIEL CWIAKALA FROM RALEIGH, NC: Since we are in the "football in shorts" portion of the offseason, what do you spend your time looking for in the team, players, and coaches during this portion of the offseason? What parts of the next few months do you enjoy seeing? Finally, do you ever get a sense of "what this team can be/what is unique about this team" this early in the process?
ANSWER: There are important things to accomplish during this phase of the offseason, but since football is a sport that's played in pads, I don't allow myself to get too excited about what happens between now and the opening of training camp. Too often, things you see now and get excited about turn into a mirage when the hitting begins.

BRANDON LATTANZI FROM STRATFORD, CT: The Steelers have a lot of unofficially retired numbers that aren't issued to new players. I was hoping George Pickens would be able to wear No. 1, but I'm guessing he won't because of Gary Anderson. If they're never going to give these out, why wouldn't they officially retire them? I hope one day some of these numbers come back into circulation, except, obviously, No. 75.
ANSWER: The Steelers officially have retired No. 75 (Joe Greene) and No. 70 (Ernie Stautner). As for the other jersey numbers that have been taken out of circulation, those are for Hall of Fame players who were integral components of multiple championship teams. Gary Anderson's Steelers career doesn't deserve to be included in that group.

DICK PLUMLEY FROM EAST LIVERPOOL, OH: I would be excited to see Connor Heyward and Derek Watt both make the team. What are the chances of this?
ANSWER: Last year, the Steelers kept three tight ends and a fullback on their 53-man roster. I believe that will happen again.

JOHN VINCENT FROM CONNEAUT, OH: I hear a lot of Steelers fans labeling this year's schedule "easy." Wouldn't it be easier to evaluate the strength or weakness of the schedule after the season is over?
ANSWER: If you don't stop with this type of reasonable viewpoint, you're going to get banned from Asked and Answered.

RICK PIETROLUNGO FROM GREENCASTLE, PA: In the May 3 Asked and Answered, I laughed so hard at the Connor Heyward switching to nose tackle question it brought tears to my eyes. Then your answer. I couldn't stop laughing. Please don't ever stop doing Asked and Answered. I absolutely look forward to it. It is "your life's work."
ANSWER: The thought of Asked and Answered actually being my "life's work," makes me want to laugh and cry all at the same time.

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