Let’s get to it:
MIKE KELLEY FROM PHOENIX, AZ: One of my favorite players was Aaron Smith, a man who worked hard at his position without seeking to glorify himself, but to better the team. Have you heard anything about what he is doing?
ANSWER: What I can relay to you about Aaron Smith is what I learned from a story written by Joe Bendel that appeared in the Aug. 10, 2018 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. According to that story, Smith has lost 70 pounds from his playing weight and currently is an assistant basketball coach at North Allegheny High School, which is located north of the city of Pittsburgh. The following is a passage quoted directly from Bendel’s story:
“’I want to win a state championship,’ said Smith, who is down to 235 pounds. ‘That’s why I’m here. I’m not here just to pass time and just have fun with the kids. I want to win. I want to be the best.’
“Don’t get the wrong idea: Smith enjoys his time mentoring the North Allegheny interior players and overseeing the weight-training program. His mission, though, is to instill a championship mentality.
“’I approach this in the same way I approached football,’ Smith said. ‘I’m always watching videos, asking questions. I want to be the best coach I can be and give these kids the chance to be their very best.’
“Smith, 42, said basketball has always been his first love, going back to his days as an all-state player at Sierra High School in Colorado. But, because football offered the best route to athletic success, he attended the University of Northern Colorado, where he was part of a Division I-AA championship team.”
TIM SIVERD FROM SOUTH HILL, VA: I was surprised that we drafted a running back in the fourth round. I felt we were pretty deep at that position, and that was the least of our needs. What do you think?
ANSWER: The Steelers typically keep three running backs plus a fullback on their 53-man roster. Two of the three running back are James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, and the fullback is Rosie Nix. Who’s the No. 3 running back? Stevan Ridley was given a chance to be the No. 3 running back, but he fumbled too often. In the case of Benny Snell, I believe you need to look beyond just the position he plays to the manner in which he plays it. And the guy seems to be able to add a component to the backfield this current group is missing, which is a powerful runner who could be effective gaining yards on the ground when the other team knows the Steelers are going to be trying to gain yards on the ground. And the fourth round is the correct time to be adding the kind of player Snell is.
KEN MAULDIN FROM CLYDE, PA: The Steelers have not had a home opener since 2014. Does the NFL pay any attention to those kind of trends during scheduling?
ANSWER: What the NFL pays attention to in situations such as the one the Steelers have on the North Shore, meaning an NFL team and a Major League Baseball team sharing the same general geographic area and parking lots, is when the Pirates are at home or on the road during the months when baseball and football both are being played. This September, the Pirates are at home on Sept. 8 and Sept. 29, and so the Steelers are on the road on the first weekend of their regular season and then have a Monday night game at Heinz Field on Sept. 30.
DUANE ROBERTS FROM ALTOONA, PA: Is there a chance that Mark Barron ends up playing safety again since we drafted Devin Bush?
ANSWER: I really, really, really hate these questions so many readers have been submitting that pose a question in the form of “is there a chance” or “what are the odds?” I am not an oddsmaker, and life has taught me that with the exception of things that either are physically impossible or against the laws of nature, anything is possible. That said, when Mark Barron was a defensive back during the first couple of years of his NFL career, he played strong safety. Terrell Edmunds is the starting strong safety.
ANDREW SCHERBIK FROM DELRAN, NJ: I know that the Steelers have retired two jersey numbers – Ernie Stautner’s No. 70 and Joe Greene’s No. 75. Why is that? If they do retire another number, I think it should be Mel Blount's No. 47.
ANSWER: Your contention that No. 47 should be the next jersey to be retired is one of the arguments for refraining – at least for a while – from adding to that exclusive club that so far counts only Ernie Stautner and Joe Greene as members. There are nine players from those great teams of the 1970s who are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the Rooney family appreciates each of them. Mel Blount certainly would be a good choice, but so would Franco Harris, Jack Ham, and Jack Lambert. And that list doesn’t even include Terry Bradshaw. Where to start? Where to stop? Should it only be players from those 1970s teams? Mike Webster? What about Jerome Bettis? My personal belief is this conundrum is one of the reasons behind the Steelers coming up with the idea of a Hall of Honor as a way to identify and memorialize forever the great players and key contributors in franchise history. Because retiring all of those jersey numbers just isn’t practical, primarily because of the rules the NFL has regarding which numbers certain position players are eligible to wear.
ROBIN WALDRON FROM VERO BEACH, FL: Been a Steelers fan for ages. Former student Nehari Crawford is attending camp, and I was wondering how he is measuring up?
ANSWER: Nehari Crawford, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound wide receiver who played his college football at Duquesne University, attended rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. At the conclusion of the weekend, he was not offered a contract by the Steelers.
MITCHELL LONG FROM DURANT, OK: Had there been any consideration about signing Eric Berry? He's not as young as he used to be, but it's hard to ignore a name like his just sitting in free agency, and he would add quality depth and a good veteran presence to our defensive backfield.
ANSWER: You’re attracted by the name and reputation and not realizing the toll injuries have taken on Eric Berry. Based on his nine seasons with the Chiefs, Berry could have played in 144 NFL regular season games, but because of injuries he was able to play in 87. One season after making the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Berry, now 30, tore his ACL in the first quarter of the opener, ending his season. That was the first of four seasons during his nine years in Kansas City that he missed almost an entire season. In 2014 season, he was diagnosed with lymphoma; his 2017 season ended after one game because of a torn Achilles, and he played in just three games in 2018 because of an ailing heel. Of the last 34 games during his time with the Chiefs, including playoffs, Berry played in only three.
MITCH HUTTON FROM WILMINGTON, NC: Do you think the Steelers should’ve taken a chance on Darron Lee? I think he has huge upside and also can replicate Ryan Shazier’s athleticism plus he’s young and possibly could’ve replaced Jon Bostic.
ANSWER: In case you missed it, the Steelers traded up 10 spots in the 2019 NFL Draft and picked Devin Bush, whose speed and agility performance at the Combine were similar to Ryan Shazier’s; he won’t celebrate his 21st birthday until July 18; and he did replace Jon Bostic.
CAL SABO FROM AKRON, OH: What is the status of Jake McGee?
ANSWER: Jake McGee, a tight end from Virginia who was trying to earn a spot with the Steelers in 2018, tore an Achilles during that year’s OTAs, and he wasn’t tendered a contract by the team after spending 2018 on injured reserve. I don’t believe he has signed with another NFL team.