Let's get to it:
JOE GRIMALDI FROM AKRON, OH:
Which running back in Steelers history do you think was the best?
ANSWER: Your choice of the word "best," I believe, poses as many questions as it might answer. "Best" can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Most talented? Most productive statistically? Best all-around player? Because of that, I'm going to change "best" to "most significant."
And so that makes the question: Which Steelers running back do you think was the most significant in franchise history? My answer to that question is: Franco Harris.
While Jerome Bettis posted better statistics, and John Henry Johnson was very effective despite being the team's only offensive weapon at the time, and in 1946 Bill Dudley led the NFL in rushing, punt returns, and interceptions all in the same season, Franco Harris was the offensive player who had the most to do with the Steelers transforming from 40-year losers to a dominant dynasty. In fact, Franco Harris is the second-most significant player in Steelers history, after Joe Greene.
Harris was the author of the Immaculate Reception, he was the MVP of Super Bowl IX, and he scored significant touchdowns late in victories in both Super Bowls XIII and XIV. Bill Dudley, John Henry Johnson, Franco Harris, and Jerome Bettis all are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but when it comes to the Steelers, Franco Harris is first among the franchise's great running backs.
DEREK LUCAS FROM CLAYTON, NC:
Love Asked and Answered. In the May 16 edition you spoke of rule changes caused by Mel Blount. What changes?
ANSWER: It used to be that a defensive player could initiate contact with a receiver and then maintain that contact all over the field until the quarterback released the ball. Because of Mel Blount's size, strength, and speed, he had the ability to erase a wide receiver from a pattern by simply locking onto him at the line of scrimmage and then run with him and continue to beat him up until the ball was in the air. In other words, there was no such thing as a penalty for illegal contact back then. But because Blount was so good at this technique, the NFL changed the rules and initiated the 5-yard contact zone and made contact with a receiver a penalty everywhere else on the field.
JOHN GIBBON FROM HEXHAM, UNITED KINGDOM:
Regarding the upcoming Steelers ticket sale, are tickets available to fans outside the United States, and if so, how does one physically get the tickets? Appreciate any insight you can give.
ANSWER: Ticketmaster takes orders from overseas and usually makes the tickets available at the Will Call window at the stadium after credit card verification. In the event that the customer purchases tickets through the NFL Ticket Exchange, print-at-home tickets would be an option.
And here's a tip for you and for anyone else interested in purchasing individual game tickets this year. Steelers Nation Unite members are eligible to participate in a pre-sale, and having that opportunity should enhance your ability to come away with tickets to a 2017 game at Heinz Field. If you're already a member of Steelers Nation Unite, just log in on the home page (SteelersNationUnite.com), and there will be an ad directing you to all of the information regarding the pre-sale. If you're not already a member, you can join via SteelersNationUnite.com for free and be eligible in plenty of time to participate in the pre-sale.
DARYLE KAYA FROM KANEOHE, HI:
About the offensive line, how does the depth at the position shape up?
ANSWER: As things stand now, which you must understand is more than six weeks before the start of training camp and close to four months before the start of the regular season, and barring injuries, of course, second-year pro Jerald Hawkins can be identified as the No. 3 offensive tackle, B.J. Finney is the primary backup along the interior – the center and guard positions – and Chris Hubbard is a utility guy who can play a bunch of different positions. Counting the five starters, that makes eight offensive linemen right there, and the Steelers figure to keep nine on their original 53-man roster.
JEFF CAMPODONICO FROM RESCUE, CA:
How does it work with rookie free agents? Do they typically get invited to multiple teams, and then they pick one? Or is there some order in which each team has to wait to invite players to camp?
ANSWER: Unlike draft picks who have no freedom of movement/choice in determining their NFL team, rookie free agents have every bit as much freedom in that respect as veteran unrestricted free agents. Undrafted rookies are completely free to pick their NFL teams, and they also can choose the best offer and/or the best situation when it comes to having an opportunity to make the 53-man roster.
See who has worn jersey No. 83 in Steelers history
BENJAMIN SPIRIDIGLIOZZI FROM ALTOONA, PA:
Once a player makes the team, can you tell me what his typical work week is like? How many hours and days must he be at the facility?
ANSWER: During a typical NFL regular season week in which the team played a game on Sunday: On Monday, there is some weight lifting and running, followed by meetings, one of which is a full team meeting conducted by Coach Mike Tomlin that includes watching the previous day's game on video. Tuesday is the players' day off. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday are full days that include a couple of different sets of meeting and practice. Those days begin before 9 a.m. and can last until after 4 p.m. On Saturdays, there are meetings in the morning and a light walk-through on the field, and if the team is playing on the road on Sunday, then it's off to the airport to get on a plane for the flight to the visiting team's city.
Understand that this is a general schedule and reflects a regular in-season week where the games are being played on Sundays. As you can tell by looking at the Steelers' schedule, that's not the case all that often.
WILLIAM GRAY FROM MCHENRY, IL:
I know that the practice squad is used for developing players and that teams can sign other teams' players from it. However I'm curious if there has been a trend regarding the types of players typically placed there?
ANSWER: Typically, there are a couple of categories considered when signing players to the practice squad. One of those categories has to do with conducting practice during the regular season. Coaches are very conscious of not wearing out their top players, and so players will be added to the practice squad based on the positions they play. The other way to populate a practice squad is by using it as a developmental arm of the team, so that when injuries hit, there are replacements readily available who already know the playbook and the way the franchise prefers to do business.
DOUG KLINKEBIEL FROM ALBANY, OR:
I'm 57, born and raised in Oregon, and have been a Steelers fan since the Immaculate Reception when I was 13. (The one-state-up-north Seahawks arrived four years too late). I have never gotten to see the Steelers play in person, and the chances of making Heinz Field are slim (bucket list). With how the NFL schedule works (I believe they rotate through divisions along with where you finish on the year), do you know when the next time the Steelers will be scheduled to be in Seattle?
ANSWER: Where were you in 2015, because on Nov. 29 of that year the Steelers played the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. The next regularly scheduled visit won't be until 2021. And since the Steelers are in the AFC and the Seahawks are in the NFC, the teams cannot meet in Seattle other than that year.
ANTHONY PERRONE FROM NEW YORK, NY:
In the May 2 edition of Asked and Answered, you stated that the Steelers would not use a high draft pick on a player who played one position extensively in college and then move him to another position. Yet, your Asked and Answered on May 4 stated that the Steelers used the 10th overall pick in the first round on a Pitt halfback named Paul Martha and then moved him to safety. So it appears the notion of moving a player from a position to another once drafted isn't far-fetched.
ANSWER: Paul Martha was drafted 10th overall in the first round of the 1964 NFL Draft. That's 1964, as in 53 years ago. You do understand that in 1964, the Steelers had been in the NFL for 31 years and never won so much as a division championship. You also have to understand how different the sport of professional football was then compared to now, and you certainly have to be smart enough to understand that comparing the NFL in 2017 to the NFL in 1964 makes little-to-no sense. Don't you?
MIKE LAFRANCE FROM MERIDIAN, MS:
What do you see as the future for the Steelers run game? Knowing that Le'Veon Bell is the starter and that James Conner has signed a four-year deal, what do you think the future holds for undrafted running back Rushel Shell as well as veteran DeAngelo Williams?
ANSWER: As you indicate, Le'Veon Bell is the immediate future of the Steelers running game. He is 25 years old, and through his first four NFL seasons he has been voted first-team All-Pro once and second-team All-Pro once. The four-year contract James Conner has signed guarantees him only a chance to come to training camp to try to make the team. That also describes the status of every other player on the depth chart at the position, including Rushel Shell and Fitz Toussaint and Knile Davis.
What I can tell you for certain is that all of the young backups – Conner, Toussaint, Davis, Shell – better find a way to contribute on special teams if they hope to win a roster spot. And as it seems that pockets of fans are reluctant to accept the fact DeAngelo Williams became an unrestricted free agent on March 9 and that the Steelers have moved on in another direction, maybe this will convince y'all: when the team signed Knile Davis as a free agent back on March 20, he was issued jersey No. 34, which had been Williams' jersey number.