Let's get to it:
JOE ASHER FROM TAMPA, FL: During Ben Roethlisberger's time as quarterback for the Steelers, I read several articles about his desire for a huge tight end.
ANSWER: Here we go again with basing an opinion on what was read "in several articles." I'm willing to bet that Ben Roethlisberger was very happy with Heath Miller as his starting tight end for the entirety of his time as the Steelers starting quarterback. Miller was listed at 6-foot-5, 256 pounds. Darnell Washington's listed height and weight would make him 2 inches taller and 8 pounds heavier at 6-7, 264. Washington yet may develop into a fine player, maybe even a difference-maker at his position, but Heath Miller deserves respect for what he accomplished during a Steelers career that had him leave as the best receiving tight end in franchise history as well as a winner of couple of Super Bowl rings. Miller also was inducted into the Steelers Hall of Honor as a member of the Class of 2022.
GERALD YONEDA FROM WESTMINSTER, MD: As you have written in Asked and Answered, a draft class can't really be evaluated until 3-to-5 years have passed. In the last 20 years, which Steelers draft class would you identify as the best?
ANSWER: Unlike discussions about the best draft class in franchise history that always conclude with the unanimous conclusion that it was the 1974 draft that yielded four Hall of Fame players, identifying the best draft class of the last 20 years does not have an obvious answer. I will begin with a listing of some candidates for this recognition, while also including why these "candidate draft classes" ultimately fell short:
• Class of 2010: Maurkice Pouncey, Jason Worilds, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown all became starters for the Steelers, with Sanders being a two-time Pro Bowl selection, and Pouncey and Brown being voted first-team All-Pro multiple times. But Sanders was voted to those Pro Bowls as a member of the Denver Broncos after leaving via unrestricted free agency, and while Brown went through a 5-season stretch as arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, he ended up quitting on the team late in 2018 and getting traded to the Raiders. Worilds left football at the age of 26 to devote his life to his religion as a Jehovah's Witness.
• Class of 2014: Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, and Martavis Bryant. These three players quickly became significant players in the NFL, but all of them had their Steelers careers cut short. Shazier never played football after sustaining an injury to his spine in 2017 as a 25-year-old; Tuitt's career was impacted by the hit-and-run death of his brother, and he retired at the age of 29; and Bryant was driven out of the league because of substance abuse issues.
• Class of 2017: T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cam Sutton, and James Conner all were starters or significant contributors by their second seasons in the NFL. Watt was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2021 and soon should assume the No. 1 spot on the franchise's all-time sack list, and Smith-Schuster and Conner both were voted to the Pro Bowl in 2018. But Smith-Schuster left as an unrestricted free agent in 2022 as a 26-year-old, the team moved on from Connors when it used a No. 1 pick on Najee Harris in 2021, and Sutton left as an unrestricted free agent earlier this offseason.
• Class of 2007: Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, and William Gay all became multi-season starters for the Steelers, and all made valuable contributions to the 2008 team that won Super Bowl XLIII. Timmons and Woodley each were voted to one Pro Bowl, and Gay was not voted to any.
• Class of 2003: Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor. Polamalu developed into one of the most dynamic defensive players in franchise history and entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2020, and Taylor was the team's best cornerback during a stretch that had the Steelers win two Super Bowls and qualify for a third.
• Class of 2004: Ben Roethlisberger, Max Starks. Roethlisberger owns every significant franchise record for quarterback play and was the starter in two Super Bowl victories plus the team's appearance in a third; and he is expected to be voted to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Starks started 96 regular season games at offensive tackle and was the starting right tackle in Super Bowl XL and the starting left tackle in Super Bowl XLIII.
In conclusion, even though both Draft Classes listed as finalists contributed a Hall of Fame player who was a transformational figure in franchise history, a great quarterback is more important to a team than a great safety, and then when you add in what Roethlisberger did on that fourth quarter drive in Super Bowl XLIII to snatch the Steelers' sixth Lombardi Trophy, he pushes the Class of 2004 to the top of the list. In my opinion.
STEPHEN CUPRZYNSKI FROM COCKEYSVILLE, MD: With the maturation of the offensive line and our free agent and draft acquisitions, do you see the Steelers as being more of a running team? I would guess that a 50/50 balance with passing be desirable.
ANSWER: In today's NFL, contending teams need to be able to run the football effectively in situations, but the name of the contemporary game on the professional level is being able to score points. The Steelers finished 26th in the NFL last season in points per game, and they only scored as many as 30 points in a game one time. That's much more of an issue than being "more of a running team." As Steelers President Art Rooney II said in January when asked what he wanted to see from the 2023 team, "Score more points."
DAVID ANDERSON FROM IDAHO FALLS, ID: What sort of team activities have taken place that would convince the Steelers that a player would not work out so that they release him now?
ANSWER: I believe that your reference has to do with the way the Steelers have been remaking the bottom of their roster recently. While there haven't been any competitive on-field activities to this point in the process, it's also worth noting that the Steelers have knowledge of both the players they're adding and the players they're cutting based on previous exposure through the scouting process.
JOHN M. WASHINSKY FROM CLEMMONS, NC: With the reinstated emergency quarterback rule, can the spare quarterback be from the practice squad and not be included on the team roster?
ANSWER: No. For a quarterback to be eligible to be a team's emergency quarterback on the day of the game, he must be on the 53-man roster, and he cannot be one of those players who is called up from the practice squad for the game and then returned automatically to the practice squad once the game is over. Also, according to NFL.com, "The emergency activation can only occur after injury or disqualification, not for a performance-related decision or other conduct. If either of the first two quarterbacks is cleared by the team's medical staff to return to play, the third must be removed from the game and only can return as a quarterback if an injury scenario arises again. If a team puts three quarterbacks on the active list for a game, it can't use the emergency option. Game-day practice squad elevations are not eligible, either."
JASON GODFREY FROM ENOREE, SC: With the emergency quarterback clause, does this mean that Mason Rudolph, given he remains the No. 3 quarterback, would be in the stadium for all games, both home and on the road? Also would he dress out or be ready in street clothes?
ANSWER: Even when he was inactive for games in 2022 and thus not in uniform, Mason Rudolph was on the sideline for all of the games. And if he is either going to be a part of the gameday roster or serve as the emergency quarterback, he would have to be in uniform. There is no time allowed for a player in street clothes to run to the locker room and put on a uniform if he is serving as the emergency quarterback and is needed during the course of a game.