Let's get to it:
ROB MCMILLIN FROM KATY, TX: The question about Aaron Smith in the May 26 installment of Asked and Answered made me think about Brett Keisel. How important was he to the Steelers defense, and it what ways?
ANSWER: To put a little chronological context into this answer, I believe that it's important to point out that before he was a full-time starting defensive end, Brett Keisel was a dominant special teams player. What made him dominant on special teams was his combination of size (6-foot-5, 290 pounds), speed, athleticism, and team-first attitude, which are the exact qualities he then brought to his defensive end spot in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme. During the 2005 season, which ended with a victory over Seattle in Super Bowl XL, Keisel was an intimidating force on the Steelers' kickoff coverage, and then once Kimo von Oelhoffen left via free agency he took over that spot on the defensive line. With his speed and athleticism, Keisel quickly became the perfect complement to Aaron Smith's strength, and I offer these career statistics in an effort to illustrate how Keisel played the game: he had 33 tackles for loss, which refer to running plays; 36 passes defensed; and nine fumble recoveries. Those numbers reflect a 3-4 defensive end who played the game with speed and athleticism.
PATRICK DILLON FROM WAUKEGAN, IL: Do you have an opinion on why Mike Wagner is not in the Steelers Hall of Honor? He was a key member of the Steelers defense of the 1970s.
ANSWER: I agree that Mike Wagner is an unsung component of the Steelers defense that was a part of those four championships during the 1970s, and my opinion regarding his inclusion into the Hall of Honor it's more about when than if.
DON GARY FROM MUSKEGON, MI: Looking at the quarterbacks on the 90-man roster, what are your thoughts about Devlin Hodges making the cut?
ANSWER: He is going to have to compete for a spot. Often, a quarterback who started six games the previous season and had a 3-3 record in those would find himself in a situation the following season where it's his job to lose, but I don't get that impression. While Devlin Hodges certainly banked some goodwill from the coaching staff based on some of the things he did in a tough situation last season, I also believe there will be a genuine competition for the No. 3 quarterback job among him, Paxton Lynch, and J.T. Barrett.
DAVE KITLAK FROM UHRICHSVILLE, OH: I watched ESPN's replay of the 2015 Steelers-Chargers game, and it made me wonder, whatever happened to Jarvis Jones?
ANSWER: Jarvis Jones was the Steelers' first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, and because the team declined to exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract he became an unrestricted free agent following the 2016 season. During the 2017 offseason, Jones signed a one-year contract with the Arizona Cardinals, and on Sept. 2, 2017 he was released with an injury settlement. He currently is out of football.
MIKE FOSTER FROM EWA BEACH, HI: With truncated offseason practices, do the Steelers and Cowboys have an advantage playing in the Hall of Fame Game with an extra week of practice?
ANSWER: At this time, we don't know for certain that training camps will be able to open on schedule, or whether there will be a full preseason schedule, or whether there will be any festivities in Canton this summer. Theoretically, having an extra week of practice and a fifth preseason game in a year when there have been no on-site offseason programs, no OTAs, and no minicamps could be a help in getting rookies and newcomers integrated into a team's system and therefore help them be prepared to contribute once the regular season starts. But there are still way too many unknowns to make any predictions or draw any conclusions. It's all still wait-and-see and then adapt on the fly.
RONALD MITCHELL FROM TALLMADGE, OH: An article in the Akron Beacon-Journal provided a rundown on Browns' first-round draft choices who no longer are with the team but who still are in the NFL. Those included Corey Coleman (2016), Alex Mack (2009), Cameron Erving (2015), Danny Shelton (2015), Barkevious Mingo (2013), Joe Haden (2010), and Jabrill Peppers (2017). How do the Steelers stack up in keeping their first-round draft choices?
ANSWER: Let's go back to 2004, and chart the Steelers' history with first-round picks: Ben Roethlisberger is still the team's starting quarterback; Heath Miller retired after 11 NFL seasons with the Steelers; Santonio Holmes was traded after four seasons that included a Super Bowl MVP Award and went on to play five more years in the NFL; Lawrence Timmons played 10 of his 11 NFL seasons for the Steelers; Rashard Mendenhall played five of his six NFL seasons with the Steelers; Ziggy Hood played five of his nine NFL seasons for the Steelers; Maurkice Pouncey is a multiple first-team All-Pro and is the team's starting center; Cam Heyward is a multiple first-team All-Pro and is the team's starting defensive tackle; David DeCastro is a multiple first-team All-Pro and is the team's starting right guard; Jarvis Jones played four seasons with the Steelers and was out of football before playing a fifth with Arizona; Ryan Shazier was voted to two Pro Bowls in his four seasons with the Steelers and then sustained a catastrophic spinal injury; Bud Dupree is the team's starting right outside linebacker; Artie Burns played four seasons with the Steelers and signed a one-year contract with the Bears this offseason; T.J. Watt was voted first-team All-Pro in his third NFL season, and the Steelers already announced they will pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract; Terrell Edmunds has been a starting safety since his rookie season; Devin Bush is a starting inside linebacker; and the Steelers' 2020 first-round pick – Minkah Fitzpatrick – was voted first-team All-Pro in 2019.
DEREK LAKE FROM BUSHNELL, FL: You have nailed the Steelers' drafts for as long as I can remember, and you do this months leading up to the draft. I know it's your knowledge of the Steelers' needs, but have you ever seen a draft board either before or after the draft?
ANSWER: I have not ever seen the Steelers draft board, and I deliberately distance myself from the Bill Nunn Draft Room because I never would want to divulge any proprietary information, even by accident.
CALEB EICHENBERGER-GAY FROM DALLAS, TX: In the May 26 installment of Asked and Answered, you referenced that during some periods of practice, filming is not allowed. Why is this, and are there specific drills that can't be filmed?
ANSWER: This is standard procedure throughout the NFL, that only the individual portion of practice can be filmed by the media, even in-house media. The reason behind this is that coaches don't want other teams to be able to visit the team's website or tune in to the local news or ESPN or NFL Network and be able to essentially scout your own players and schemes and how you're planning to utilize your players.
RYAN SULLIVAN FROM SOUTH WINDSOR, CT: I get a little frustrated when people discuss the Steelers quarterback situation, more often than not they forget about J.T. Barrett who played at Ohio State. I am excited about Barrett's potential since he played pretty well at Ohio State. What are your takes on J.T. Barrett so far?
ANSWER: I have no "takes" on J.T. Barrett because he wasn't signed to the Steelers practice squad until Dec. 24, and the 2019 season ended on Dec. 29. But what I will do is point out some things that should temper your enthusiasm, because it's not as though there are so many talented/qualified quarterbacks in the NFL that a solid prospect would be unable to find work. As you know, Barrett was undrafted in 2018 even though he started 44 games at Ohio State, which means he was not selected during a draft that totaled 256 players, including 13 quarterbacks. Barrett also was not signed as an undrafted rookie and had to attend New Orleans' rookie minicamp, where he showed enough to get signed by the Saints. After being waived by the Saints before the start of the 2018 season, Barrett was signed to their practice squad, and he was a part of 23 separate transactions on and off the practice squad during that season. That means every time the Saints cut him from the practice squad he had to clear waivers before they could re-sign him to the practice squad, and none of the 31 other teams ever claimed him.
On Aug. 10, 2019, Barrett signed with Seattle and then was waived on Aug. 31. On Sept. 17, 2019, Barrett was signed to the Saints practice squad and then was waived on Oct. 22. He was out of football until Dec. 24, 2019 when he was signed to the Steelers practice squad. To summarize, Barrett was available to be drafted and wasn't; he was available to be signed as an undrafted rookie and wasn't; he earned a contract by attending a rookie minicamp and when he was subjected to waivers countless times as a member of the Saints practice squad and available to be claimed, he wasn't; and in 2019 he was signed and then cut by both Seattle and New Orleans (again).
Here is part of the scouting report on Barrett that appeared on NFL.com in advance of the 2018 Combine: "Operation time and ball-handling are a little slow. Not a naturally accurate passer. Makes receivers work too hard. Ball placement can be a struggle even on swing passes and short throws. Completed a measly 28 percent of his throws over 21 yards this season. Seam curls come wide open, and he will opt for safe throws in middle of the field. Misses opportunities to challenge safeties. Gets it out a step late on intermediate and deep throws. Halts progressions early rather than allowing route development. Three-quarter release makes him short in the pocket and allows defenders to maul his pass attempts. Release and arm strength are below average. Allows rushers to get on top of him."
Based on the way things look right now, Barrett will be one of five quarterbacks the Steelers take into training camp this summer, which means he'll get an opportunity to compete for a job. But clearly, the NFL isn't as excited about him as you are.
DALE SANTEE FROM CHULA VISTA, CA: Perhaps you can tell me whether Curtis Publishing Co. is still publishing Steelers Digest. We haven't received the April/May issue and a phone call to that office results in a message that the office is closed.
ANSWER: The Steelers recently reached an agreement with Dollard Publishing, a Pittsburgh-based company, to continue publishing Steelers Digest. Information on upcoming issues will be forthcoming to subscribers. In the meantime, you can call Dollard Publishing at 866-470-0394 or email them at: info@Steelers-Digest.com.