Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: May 7

Let's get to it:

CREE ICKES FROM AVENEL, NJ: After seeing the results of the draft and seeing who we picked up in free agency, how do you feel about the offensive line this year?
ANSWER: The Steelers went into this offseason looking to add some depth and young talent to the mix, but it wasn't a situation where the offense line needed a complete re-build. The significant newcomers are veteran Stefan Wisniewski and fourth-round draft pick Kevin Dotson, and they will combine to fortify the interior. As for the perimeter, last year's starters – Matt Feiler and Al Villanueva – both return, and the team is high on both Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner.

During a post-draft news conference, General Manager Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin were posed with this question: "You drafted Dotson to add to the offensive line, but he was pretty much purely a guard at Louisiana. Do Zach Banner and Chuks Okorafor give you the level of confidence that you needed to not pursue more of a tackle in this draft?"

The question was barely out of the reporter's mouth when Tomlin answered, "Yes."

Colbert then added, "I think we've watched Chuks and Zach grow over the last couple years, and I think there is a comfort level that both of those guys are NFL tackles. At what level, we'll see, because they've been backups and spot starters and package players, but we're comfortable with where they are. Dotson is a guard. He hasn't played any other position, and that's fine, because he'll be a guard with us. And as we mentioned the other day, too, with the change in the rule this year, being able to dress the extra offensive lineman (for games), sometimes the single position guys are going to have more value going forward."

During the 2019 offseason, Okorafor had shoulder surgery, the type of surgery that requires a full 12 months before 100 percent of the strength returns. That was why he often was inactive on game day, not for any reason having to do with dissatisfaction with him as a player or with his approach to his profession. Banner has improved consistently since arriving as a late training camp addition a few summers ago, and how he handled the job as an extra blocking tight end showed he has good feet and athleticism for a man his size. Neither of these guys are well known (yet), but the Steelers believe they have a couple of young up-and-coming prospects at tackle. Overall, the group of offensive linemen the Steelers have assembled for the upcoming season is talented and deep, with a nice combination of youth and experience as well.

NICHOLAS MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: Do you see Bill Cowher, Troy Polamalu, and Donnie Shell getting short-changed at this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony due to the global pandemic? Maybe use some video conference setup without a live crowd to welcome them into the Hall of Fame? Or do you think they'd push the ceremony back to a time when these men can be properly honored?
ANSWER: "David Baker, executive director of the Hall of Fame, told USA TODAY Sports that there are five different contingency plans under consideration for the annual preseason kickoff game and the ceremony to induct 10 new Hall of Famers, currently scheduled for two days later," wrote Jarrett Bell in a story that appeared earlier this week. "Baker acknowledged that the most essential elements of any decision by the Hall would be preceded by clearance from health and medical experts, government officials, and the NFL. While the Baseball Hall of Fame last week announced cancellation of its July 25 enshrinement ceremonies in Cooperstown, New York, Baker is still hopeful of keeping the Hall's signature – and most lucrative – weekend intact."

Bell's piece then listed some of the contingency plans:

• Push the game and ceremony to a point later in August if the NFL scales back the preseason.

• The enshrinement of the modern-era class (that includes Troy Polamalu and Bill Cowher) could be combined with the Centennial Celebration that's scheduled currently for Sept. 16-19, when 10 selections from the seniors pool (that includes Donnie Shell) are to be inducted to mark the NFL's 100-year anniversary.

• If the Hall of Fame Game, currently scheduled to pit the Steelers vs. the Cowboys on Aug. 6, is cancelled, two other possibilities for 2021 would be: staging the enshrinement during Easter Weekend, or inducting two classes next year.

• According to Bell's story, "Holding a 'virtual enshrinement' with shades from the recent NFL draft is not an option; (Baker) wants to preserve traditions such as the Hall of Fame parade and the Gold Jacket Dinner, when new Hall of Famers are introduced at a banquet by navigating through a sea of existing Hall of Famers."

JOHN CURLEY FROM CHAPTICO, MD: What would your thoughts be about the Super Bowl being on a 32-year rotational cycle, meaning it would be played once in each team's stadium before starting the cycle over again? The current system only allows for southern stadiums or domes. Just think of how entertaining it would be to watch a good, old-fashioned game played in a Great Lakes winter, or something similar. Isn't football still an outdoor sport?
ANSWER: That will never happen, it never should be considered, and I would hate it. Those are my thoughts. And here are some associated realities: The Super Bowl may be just a game to you and some other fans, but to the NFL and most of the world, it's a global sports/entertainment/marketing event. It's a huge event that requires it to be held in an area that has enough hotels to accommodate the fans, media, league personnel, sponsors, and business people who use the event as the mega-event it has become. Green Bay, as an example, never could host a Super Bowl, because the city lacks the hotel space, infrastructure, and entertainment sites/attractions to make it the kind of destination to attract fans from all over the world. And the weather? Who would want to spend four-to-seven days in a place where there is likely to be several inches of snow on the ground and sub-zero temperatures? The players and coaches spend a lifetime working to have a chance to compete for a Lombardi Trophy, and none of them would want to determine a championship in such harsh conditions. Players and coaches want to share such an experience with their families, and who would want their parents, wives and children sitting in sub-zero temperatures to watch a football game? The Super Bowl ceased being a game decades ago. Now, it's an event, and it needs to be and deserves to be staged in an event city. Or at least a city that is capable of hosting an event.

KEN GLEASON FROM SPRINGBORO, OH: To follow-up on your thought about the lack of depth at inside linebacker, are there any players other than Ulysees Gilbert on the roster who could play there? If not, are you aware of any other prospects that the Steelers might realistically acquire from elsewhere?
ANSWER: In terms of returning players, there is Robert Spillane, who spent 2018 with the Tennessee Titans, both on the practice squad and the active roster, and then 2019 with the Steelers. He was waived at the end of training camp, was added to the practice squad in early October, and then to the active roster in early November. For the season, Spillane had one tackle on defense and was in on 10 tackles on special teams putting him behind only Tyler Matakevich and Jordan Dangerfield. I don't know enough about any of the undrafted rookies or the former XFL players the Steelers signed to offer an informed opinion of their abilities and potential. Another possibility is for the Steelers to deploy personnel packages that don't require two inside linebackers to be on the field at the same time. This is a situation where we'll have to wait and see how things evolve.

TONY MODZ FROM SURFSIDE BEACH, SC: With no OTAs and minicamp and other practices being missed this year, I believe there will be many more injuries. How do you think the NFL will compensate for that?
ANSWER: I have heard nothing about the NFL having any contingency plans in the event of a rash of injuries during the upcoming season. It's going to be up to the players to keep themselves in shape during this offseason and then to be prepared whenever things ramp up for the season. This is professional football, and it's the players' job to be ready for the demands of the sport. That's why they get paid.

BURTON HARRIS FROM GREENSBURG, PA: I know Ben Roethlisberger likes Ryan Switzer, but does the drafting of Chase Claypool mean Switzer will be cut?
ANSWER: Chase Claypool was drafted to be a down-the-field threat as an outside receiver. Ryan Switzer lines up in the slot and is a possession receiver. One has nothing to do with the other, and besides, this is the kind of question that will be answered by actions on the practice field.

TODD GOODING FROM PORTAGE, MI: If Jack Ham is regarded as the best linebacker to play for the Steelers, why was his jersey issued to another player after his retirement?
ANSWER: It was my OPINION that Jack Ham is the best linebacker in Steelers history, and I used his selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 50th Anniversary team as one of two outside linebackers (along with Lawrence Taylor) to support my OPINION. Assigning his jersey number to a player for one season has nothing to do with the Steelers' opinion of him. And No. 59 never has been issued since that one year.

BEN RASEY FROM ANGOLA, IN: No question, just an giant thank you for what you do. Specifically your Dalton/Tebow response made my day. Keep up the good work.
ANSWER: I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest Kip Lyons (see below) has a different opinion.

KIP LYONS FROM NORTH LITTLE ROCK, AR: Why do you continually post crappy questions by people with zero football knowledge?
ANSWER: You mean as opposed to crappy questions by people asking about crappy questions? Here's a novel idea: instead of just complaining about the questions selected for Asked and Answered, submit something better.

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