Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: May 17

Let's get to it:

TJ VASQUEZ FROM LANCASTER, CA: I enjoy seeing pictures of the rookies getting their equipment when they arrive at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Can you give us any insight into what each player receives from the Steelers/NFL and what they have to purchase themselves?
ANSWER: Players do not have to pay for equipment in the NFL, and so what they get from the team is everything else they need/want, as long as it complies with league rules.

JASON NORTON FROM JOHNSTOWN, PA: It's funny how people are saying that Kenny Pickett is going to be voted Offensive Rookie of the Year. He hasn't even won the starting quarterback job yet. Even Ben Roethlisberger started his rookie season as a No. 3 quarterback. My memory is a bit foggy on how all those dominoes fell into place (for him to start). Can you remind me?
ANSWER: When training camp opened in 2004, the Steelers brought four quarterbacks to Saint Vincent College, with the depth chart arranged this way: Tommy Maddox, Charlie Batch, Ben Roethlisberger, and Brian St. Pierre. Not very long into training camp, Batch sustained a knee injury that would land him on injured reserve, and Roethlisberger moved up one spot to No. 2. That turned out to be a crucial development, because it got Roethlisberger more repetitions in practice and also more repetitions with better players in practice. The regular season began with Maddox as the starter, and in the opener, a 24-21 victory over the Raiders at Heinz Field, the Steelers offense was, to be kind, mediocre. The win was powered by a plus-3 turnover ratio and a bizarre stat line turned in by Jerome Bettis, in which he finished with 5 carries for 1 yard and three touchdowns. Maddox completed 13-of-22 for 142 yards, with no touchdowns, no interceptions, a 78.2 rating, and he was sacked twice. The next week, Maddox was injured in Baltimore, Roethlisberger took over since he was in uniform as the backup quarterback, and the second-most successful era in Steelers history began.

PETER HOYT FROM ADAMS, MA: Recently I was watching some older Steelers games and saw Ben Roethlisberger punt in an attempt to pin the opposing team deep in its own territory. Do you know Ben's career punting stats? I also noticed that he punted with his left leg. Do you know if he is naturally ambidextrous or did he just punt with his left so he wouldn't kick the ball too far and into the end zone?
ANSWER: During his NFL career, Ben Roethlisberger punted six times for 188 yards, for a 31.9-yard average. And he was a left-footed punter.

SEAN VOYLES FROM TURNERS STATION, KY: How would you rank Najee Harris' rookie performance against the other great running backs from the Steelers past? Guys like Barry Foster, Franco Harris, Willie Parker, Jerome Bettis (even though he was playing for the Rams at the time), and Bam Morris. OK, it might be a stretch to refer to Bam as "great," but I still liked watching him play.
ANSWER: The only way to rank them is statistically, and Najee Harris' rookie season was the most productive for a rookie running back in franchise history. Jerome Bettis finished with more rushing yards and more yards from scrimmage, but those numbers were achieved for the Los Angeles Rams in 1993. Here is the individual statistical breakdown (NOTE: YFS = yards from scrimmage):

Franco Harris
Year    Att.    Yards    Avg.   TDs    YFS
1972   188    1,055    5.6     10      1,235

Barry Foster
Year    Att.    Yards    Avg.   TDs    YFS
1990    36      203       5.6      1        205

Jerome Bettis
Year    Att.    Yards    Avg.   TDs    YFS
1993  294     1,429     4.9     7       1,673

Bam Morris
Year    Att.    Yards    Avg.   TDs    YFS
1994   198      836      4.2      7       1,040

Willie Parker
Year    Att.    Yards    Avg.   TDs    YFS
2004    32       186      5.8      0        202

Najee Harris
Year    Att.    Yards    Avg.   TDs    YFS
2021   307    1,200    3.9      7        1,667

DANA FISHER FROM ROCKPORT, ME: I am a fan of a true quarterback battle for the starting position. Do you foresee the Steelers dressing three quarterbacks? If Kenny Pickett isn't starting, and they only dress two, it seems as though he'd be odd man out. I can't imagine that either Mason Rudolph or Mitch Trubisky would be OK with not getting a helmet on game day.
ANSWER: Since there is no inactive list during the preseason, the Steelers will be able to have all four quarterbacks in uniform for the preseason game vs. Seattle on Aug. 13, in Jacksonville on Aug. 20, and vs. Detroit on Aug. 28. Once the regular season begins, I cannot imagine a scenario where the Steelers would have three quarterbacks in uniform for games, because at that stage the idea is to win games and that roster spot is needed for backups at other positions and/or for special teams. It's Coach Mike Tomlin who puts together the game day roster, and I can guarantee you he does not care whether the No. 3 quarterback – a role that will be determined by the competition conducted during training camp and the preseason – "would be OK with not getting a helmet on game day."

BURTON HARRIS FROM GREENSBURG, PA: I would like to know if the GM is the boss of the coach? If he is, how can Mike Tomlin be in the room or have a say on who the new GM would be, because to me it seems like you are picking your own boss.
ANSWER: When it comes to the Steelers, the general manager is not the boss of the coach. The only boss is Art Rooney II, and he is the boss of everyone.

EDWARD BAUMAN FROM LANDISVILLE, NJ: Don't you think the Steelers opening eight straight seasons on the road is a little much? It is always good to win the first game of the season, and the Steelers have a better chance at home. I have been a Steelers fan since 1945.
ANSWER: The Steelers opening on the road to begin each regular season since 2014 is strictly a result of Major League Baseball creating a schedule that calls for the Pittsburgh Pirates to be at home on the weekend following Labor Day, which is the traditional opening weekend of the NFL regular season. This procedure is necessary because the teams share parking lots and staging two games on the same day would put too much stress on the ingress and egress and ultimately create an unpleasant experience for the fans attending both games. One might think that the simple courtesy associated with being a good neighbor would have incentivized the Pirates to work out some arrangement with Major League Baseball to consider this when formulating the schedule – because the Pirates schedule comes out more than six months before the start of the baseball season and almost a full year before the NFL releases its schedule – but that has not happened lately.

JOHN SEBUKLI FROM CARNEGIE, PA: Supposedly the Steelers open on the road each year because of PNC Park and potential parking problems if the Pirates have a game that day. Why then do the Bengals, who likewise have an adjacent stadium to the Reds' Great American Ballpark, get to host us in Week 1?
ANSWER: Because the Reds are on the road on Sunday, Sept. 11, and therefore there are no potential parking problems that day. Maybe the Reds are more interested in being neighborly than the Pirates.

MARTIN NIVERTH FROM WAYNESBURG, PA: The Steelers currently have Gunner Olszewski and Calvin Austin III on the roster. They usually keep five wide receivers, and these two guys are wide receivers, even though they both possess potential as return men. As a returner, Olszewski has the pro resumé. As far as wide receiver talent goes, Austin gets the nod. Is this situation a reason to keep both on the final roster, or does it demand a showdown during camp and preseason to determine which one makes the team? And could Connor Heyward play into this scenario?
ANSWER: Gunner Olszewski and Calvin Austin III are competing for roster spots and roles, but not the same roster spot nor the same role. As you mentioned, Olszewski likely is going to have to make the roster as a returner, while Austin has the potential to complete the summer as one of the top four wide receivers on offense. And as I see things at this very early stage of the team development process, Connor Heyward is competing for a spot as the No. 3 tight end plus a role on special teams.

BRAD JONES FROM SILVER SPRING, MD: Now that Ben Roethlisberger is retired, is his last contract complete, or is he still being paid deferred salary? I assume this counts against the cap.
ANSWER: Ben Roethlisberger is no longer being paid by the Steelers, but that doesn't mean he's off the books. Because of the voidable years attached to the contract he signed to stay with the team for the 2021 season, Roethlisberger will count $10.34 million on the team's salary cap in 2022.

CHRIS HELFRICH FROM CALDWELL, ID: The XFL is going to start soon, and Hines Ward and Rod Woodson are going to be coaches. Do you think if they do great jobs it could translate into a head coaching job in the NFL? On a side note, Rod Woodson was my favorite player. Has he ever coached for Pittsburgh in any aspect?
ANSWER: Whether Hines Ward and/or Rod Woodson can use their coaching jobs in the XFL as a springboard to coaching jobs in the NFL is to be determined, and it remains to be seen whether one or both of them are interested in pursuing a career as an NFL head coach. When it comes to their background as coaches, Ward spent last season as the receivers coach at Florida Atlantic University and previously served as an assistant coach with the New York Jets. Woodson, who played 17 seasons with the Steelers, 49ers, Ravens, and Raiders, coached in the NFL with the Bengals and Raiders, most recently in 2017. He spent the past few years in the media, as an analyst with NFL Network, Big Ten Network, and Westwood One.

SEAN CONNERS FROM FAIRMOUNT CITY, PA: Mike Tomlin has stated that he looks forward to a good quarterback competition this year. With the preseason being shortened, will that impact the evaluation since the four quarterbacks won't get as much of an opportunity to prove themselves? Is it possible or likely that the Steelers might increase scrimmages with other teams to help properly evaluate the quarterbacks?
ANSWER: To date, the Steelers have not announced any joint practices or scrimmages with other NFL teams, and please understand that when scheduling something like that, the best interest of the whole team is the consideration. It's about more than just the quarterbacks.

KEVIN DOYLE FROM SALINAS, CA: Has Kevin Colbert left the building? If so, who is handling his responsibilities while the team continues the process of hiring his replacement?
ANSWER: Kevin Colbert has not left the building. In fact, he attended the on-field workouts the Steelers held during the three-day rookie minicamp as he always has, and he still can be found in his office at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on a daily basis.

BRANDO SILVA FROM MERCED, CA: I recall Pressley Harvin (while at Georgia Tech) was used in trick plays where he displayed a strong and accurate arm, but the Steelers have made no effort in maximizing his skills thus far. When Ken Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator, he was known for trick plays that landed the Steelers in Super Bowl XL. He maximized talents from Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El, which led to much success. I was wondering if this might be in the cards with a new mobile quarterback and a new list of young talent?
ANSWER: Allow me to inject a little perspective here. Pressley Harvin III left Georgia Tech having completed 1-of-3 passes for 41 yards, which hardly represents a sufficient sample size to characterize him as someone with a "strong and accurate arm." In fact, that seems to me to be more an example of a one-time thing that caught the opponent off guard and unprepared. Also, it should be remembered that both Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El started at quarterback for college programs that competed in Power 5 Conferences – Ward at Georgia and Randle El at Indiana. Comparing them and their value in gadget plays with a punter who got lucky once against one opponent is absurd. I see it as a case where Harvin needs to worry about becoming a more consistent and effective NFL punter right now than being distracted with executing gadget plays.