Let's get to it:
JEFF DEATON FROM LAFAYETTE, IN: Do you believe the era of the pocket passing quarterback in the NFL is a thing of the past? And also could the stiffer rules on how a player can sack the quarterback or hit the quarterback be paving the way for Slash style quarterbacks in today's game?
ANSWER: I do not believe pocket passers are on the endangered species list in the NFL, and one of the reasons I believe they are not is something you referenced in your question. The stiffer rules to which you refer regarding sacking and hitting quarterbacks only apply to a quarterback in the pocket. Once the quarterback leaves the pocket, he no longer is afforded those protections, and in many instances he is viewed as a runner and not a passer. Once he crosses over into that territory, he is fair game for the defense. The athletes on NFL defenses are too fast and too physical, and if a quarterback leaves the protective cocoon of the pocket he eventually is going to be broken into pieces. Not through a dirty hit, but just by clean, physical football. One of the reasons for the devaluation of running backs in the NFL is their short career-span, which often is the result of the pounding they take when doing their jobs, and I believe quarterbacks are even less able to withstand continued pounding from an NFL defense. Certainly there will be exceptions, but those exceptions will be for Michael Vick-type talents, not for guys like Jalen Hurts, as an example. For those players, a career in the NFL ultimately will come down to their ability to operate and make throws within the pocket, where their offensive linemen and the rules can protect them.
STEVE LINDSEY FROM MATTESON, IL: Do you have any information on when the NFL preseason and/or regular season will start? I am of the opinion that every game, preseason included, is important for various, even minute reasons like competition for roster spots. Do you agree with that thinking?
ANSWER: The only thing I can tell you, which I'm certain you already know, is that the NFL preseason is scheduled to open on Thursday, Aug. 6 when the Steelers face Dallas in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, and the regular season is scheduled to open on Thursday, Sept. 10 when Kansas City hosts the Houston Texans. Outside of that, there is no definitive information, and there might not be any definitive information for some time. The NFL's plan is to consult with medical and scientific professionals and work to come up with the safest, fairest way to begin the process of conducting its 2020 season. Anything you might be hearing now is just a guess, and I'm not about to add my uninformed voice to that chorus.
DAVID ZIPPARO FROM ROCHELLE, IL: I may be mistaken, but I keep hearing that Ulysees Gilbert is a former undrafted rookie. I can swear we drafted him.
ANSWER: Ulysees Gilbert was drafted by the Steelers in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He was the third of three players the Steelers picked in that round, with the others being Sutton Smith and Isaiah Buggs. Gilbert was the 35th pick in that round, and the 207th overall selection.
FRANK O'NEILL FROM MILFORD, CT: What do you think of the 2020 undrafted rookie signings? And players who can really help the team from this group and earn a roster spot?
ANSWER: My belief is that it's going to be very difficult for an undrafted rookie to earn a spot on the 53-man roster, even more difficult than usual, because the offseason program has to be virtual and there will be no OTAs or minicamp for these players to attract the eye of the coaching staff. And then, if training camps have to be shortened that would allow them even less time to make the level of an impression necessary to bounce a veteran off the roster. Certainly, a rash of injuries could be a factor in opening up a spot, but I just see it as a very long shot. Donnie Shell, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2020, has to be considered the best undrafted rookie signing in Steelers history during the Super Bowl era, and what really helped him as a rookie was the players' strike during training camp in 1974 that kept most veterans on the picket line for several weeks, which allowed players like Shell extra repetitions in practice and more playing time in the early preseason games to attract the coaches' attention. This group not only won't have that advantage, but it's fair to describe their situation as a disadvantage. Just to pick one name, I would go with Mississippi State punter Corliss Waitman, because he only has one guy to beat out and specialists don't have a system to learn.
EVAN STEIKER FROM BOSTON, MA: Possibility of trading for Josh Rosen? Would the Steelers ever trade for him?
ANSWER: What's the possibility of this segment of Steelers fans getting it through their heads that the team is happy with Mason Rudolph at this time? And based on what set of factors is Josh Rosen better than Rudolph? Is it that Rosen was a first-round draft pick? Akili Smith, Christian Ponder, Johnny Manziel, and Brandon Weeden all were first-round draft picks, too. In two NFL seasons, Rosen has a 3-13 record as a starter, and his career totals are 54.8 completions percentage, 12 touchdowns, 19 interceptions, and a rating of 63.8. Rudolph's career numbers are 5-3 as a starter, 62.2 completion percentage, 13 touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a rating of 82.0.
MATTHEW RICHARDSON FROM MOODY, AL: Given the Steelers did not opt to draft a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft, should we keep an eye on someone like Jamie Newman from the University of Georgia? Predicting we have a pretty good season and land among the final 10 picks in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, I could see him as the best available quarterback who could be left on the board at that stage. Do you see the Steelers going for a quarterback in 2021 to begin grooming for when Ben Roethlisberger retires?
ANSWER: This question requires many, many outright guesses, and some of the guesses are 11 months away. Jamie Newman has interesting size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), and he had an interesting season in 2019 for Wake Forest, where he began as a backup and ended up his only year as a starter by completing 60.9 percent for 2,868 yards, with 26 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and what would've been a 97.3 rating if calculated by the metric the NFL uses. But Newman averaged fewer than 8 yards per attempt, which indicated he didn't or couldn't push the ball down the field, and with the exception of Clemson, the ACC was a collection of teams struggling to attain mediocrity last season. Newman will play a season as a graduate transfer with Georgia in 2020, but we are left to guess at this point what kind of a college season it's going to be, and then guess as to how he might make the transition to the Bulldogs' system/personnel and then fare against the much tougher competition in the SEC. As a comparison, Jake Fromm, in 43 SEC games for Georgia, completed 63.3 percent for 8,236 yards, with 78 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, and what would've been a 119.3 rating in the NFL, and he was a fifth-round draft pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The other significant part of this is how Ben Roethlisberger plays in 2020 and how he feels doing it. I'm of the mind that the Steelers absolutely should not be looking for an heir apparent until they are absolutely sure Roethlisberger is going to be finished playing within one year of the draft when they should be selecting a candidate to be his replacement. This grooming garbage that many fans seem to believe is so important is in fact counter-productive. What recently has been revealed as a key to success in the NFL (Kansas City, Baltimore, Buffalo, Philadelphia, just to name a few teams) is to take advantage of the time a quarterback is on his rookie contract and therefore a bargain salary cap-wise by fortifying the roster all around him and making a run at a championship or two. It's not smart to have a highly-drafted quarterback sit behind a well-paid veteran for a couple or three seasons "learning" because by the time he gets onto the field he'll be toward the end of his rookie deal, and the team that drafted him will have squandered its chance at cheap quarterback labor and then will have to make a decision whether to shell out big money to the youngster or cut ties and start all over.
Besides, let's pretend Roethlisberger has a very good, Pro Bowl caliber 2020 and feels good doing it. Let's pretend he doesn't go into 2021 feeling like he's at the end of his career. In my opinion, the better use of draft picks in that situation would be to fortify other areas of the roster and keep going for it.
In other words, it's way too soon to decide whether the Steelers will or should be in the market for an heir apparent in the 2021 NFL Draft, and way too soon on steroids to decide whether that heir apparent should be Jamie Newman.