Let's get to it:
DAN DORENKAMP FROM ORLANDO, FL: We added a lot to the offensive line this offseason, but I haven't heard much talk about the center position. Who took most of the snaps last season at center? And who are our best options going into this season at center?
ANSWER: Apparently, the anonymity factor of NFL offensive linemen is not a myth. Mason Cole was signed as an unrestricted free agent during the 2022 offseason, and he not only started all 17 games in 2023 but he played 1,114 of the 1,160 offensive snaps over the course of the whole regular season. The only snaps Cole didn't play came as the result of being nicked in-game a couple of times. In those situations, Cole was replaced by J.C. Hassenauer, who played the other 46 offensive snaps at center over the course of the season. Cole is the Steelers' "best option" at center for the 2023 season by far, in my opinion.
RODGER SHAFFER FROM PLUM, PA: J.J. Watt asked to visit the Steelers, and Coach Mike Tomlin replied that he is welcome to stop in anytime. I know it's just a dream, but is he a free agent?
ANSWER: J.J. Watt is a retired NFL player. In a story that appeared on NFL.com on Dec. 28, 2022, Watt was quoted as saying in a news conference after he had announced he planned to retire: "I've known for a little while. It's the right time. It feels like the right time. I've put so much into the game and the wins and the losses, the mental stress and passion that comes with it, it just weighs on you. It's heavy, I mean it's really heavy. The losses are very tough to take. You live with the highs and the lows, and I've always said that I'd way rather live with the highs and the lows than never know in the middle. I've got a son now. Obviously, I had a heart scare in the middle of the (2022) year, so there's certainly some of that that played into it. But I'm very happy and am very at peace with it."
JACK LANG FROM GARLAND, TX: Regardless of which group of non-conference teams we are playing in a given year, we still always play the Patriots. Why is that?
ANSWER: This is a gross exaggeration, because the Steelers didn't play New England in two of the previous three seasons – 2021 and 2020 – which hardly qualifies as "always." With that out of the way, here is the procedure the NFL uses to create a team's regular season schedule:
• Six games against divisional opponents — two games per team, one at home and one on the road.
• Four games against teams from a division within its conference — two games at home and two on the road.
• Four games against teams from a division in the other conference— two games at home and two on the road.
• Two games against teams from the two remaining divisions in its own conference — one game at home and one on the road. Matchups are based on division ranking from the previous season.
• The 17th game is an additional game against a non-conference opponent from a division that the team is not scheduled to play. Matchups are based on division ranking from the previous season.
To summarize, the ways the Patriots can end up on the Steelers' schedule is when the AFC North teams all play the AFC East teams, or when the Steelers and Patriots finish in the same spot in their respective divisions and the AFC North and the AFC East are matched up in that schedule-making criteria.
IAN BAGNELL FROM SARNIA, ONTARIO, CANADA: In a recent Asked and Answered you answered a question referencing not only the 1974 draft but also 1970, and 1971. Can you tell me more about Joe Greene's draft year of 1969 and some of the other players selected after Greene and how the careers of others drafted that year worked out?
ANSWER: In 1969, the Steelers drafted 17 players over the 17 rounds of the draft, and despite the savage housecleaning begun by first-year Coach Chuck Noll, only 10 of the 17 players made the roster, and three of those 10 – WR Bob Campbell, DT Clarence Washington, and LB Doug Fisher – were gone by the end of the 1970 season. In addition to Joe Greene, there were two significant players added from the 1969 draft class – Jon Kolb from Oklahoma State in the third round, and L.C. Greenwood from a school that was known at the time as Arkansas AM&N, now Arkansas-Pine Bluff, in the 11th round. Notre Dame quarterback Terry Hanratty was the Steelers' second-round pick, but when the Steelers made Terry Bradshaw the first overall pick of the 1970 NFL Draft, that sent a clear signal that he was viewed as a future backup. Greene (4), Kolb (4), Greenwood (4), and Hanratty (2) combined to account for 14 Super Bowl rings during their careers with the Steelers.
KRIS PISCZEK FROM CONNELLSVILLE, PA: When reading some of the evaluations leading up to the draft regarding cornerbacks, there was some discussion on whether or not they possessed long speed. What exactly does that mean?
ANSWER: The standard measurement of speed is the 40-yard dash, but there also are instances when scouts will want to time players such as cornerbacks and wide receivers in the 100 as well. This is done with those positions because often players at those positions are asked/required to run longer distances in games. "Long speed" refers to players who can maintain their speed at the longer distances that can crop up during games.
ED OLIVER FROM AVENUE, MD: What is the status of Mason Rudolph?
ANSWER: Mason Rudolph's status is the same as it has been since 4 p.m. on March 15, which was the official start to the new league year. Rudolph is an unrestricted free agent and free to sign with any team in the league. On May 12-15, the Steelers will have their rookie minicamp, and during the on-field portions of those three days, quarterback Tanner Morgan, who was signed as an undrafted free agent, will be wearing No. 2, which had been Rudolph's jersey.
BRETT ASH FROM CHARLESTON, WV: Since the NFL's jersey number rules were relaxed a couple of years ago, I can only remember a select few Steelers who were able to take advantage. Is the tendency to stick with the classic number rules rather than the new ones an Art Rooney II decision, or is it simply the equipment manager's decision/preference?
ANSWER: Neither General Manager Omar Khan nor Coach Mike Tomlin make unilateral decisions when discharging their duties, and so I am supremely confident that Equipment Manager Adam Regan is not making unilateral decisions on which jersey numbers are assigned or not assigned.
STEVE JOINES FROM OWENSBORO, KY: With what the Steelers did in free agency and the draft, do you see the offensive line being considerably better?
ANSWER: That certainly was the idea behind the spending of a No. 1 pick on Broderick Jones and the signing of veteran free agents Nate Herbig, Isaac Seumalo, and Le'Raven Clark, but that won't be determined for certain until the pads go on and the hitting begins at Saint Vincent College. What I believe can be stated now is that those additions to the offensive line have improved the unit's depth significantly.
MATTHEW BARISH FROM LAKE HAVASU CITY, AZ: B.T. Potter is a good example of someone who has virtually no chance of making the team, unless there is an injury. I understand why the Steelers would want to have extra players for training camp, but what motivation do the extra players have?
ANSWER: For the record. B.T. Potter is an undrafted rookie placekicker from Clemson the Steelers added within 24 hours after the end of the draft. Potter is also one of the players Coach Mike Tomlin was referring to when he talked about the number of individuals in this year's draft pool who took advantage of the opportunity stemming from COVID to play an extra year of college football. In 56 games over 5 seasons at Clemson, Potter converted 99.6 percent of his PATs and 75.3 percent of his field goals, and only once in his 5 seasons did he convert less than 76 percent of his field goal attempts. Potter is a legitimate prospect, and he would have been in an NFL training camp this summer.
What Potter is doing is applying for a job as an NFL placekicker, and the Steelers have a reputation for giving "extra" specialists a fair and liberal opportunity to exhibit their wares to all 32 NFL teams. Potter also has to be savvy enough to know that the Steelers have a tendency to do future business with players they know, and that represents another potential opportunity for him in the future. And the characteristics NFL teams seek in a placekicker are a willingness to compete, an ability to deliver in critical situations, and no fear when put into those situations. And finally, I see Chris Boswell as being more vulnerable than at any time to this point in his Steelers career. He's 32 years old, and over the last three seasons, he has missed 8 games because of injury. In 2022, Boswell missed 8 field goal attempts for a percentage of 71.4, which was the second lowest of his career and his lowest since 2018. I'm not predicting Boswell is going to continue to backslide, either from a health or performance standpoint, but I disagree with your assessment of the situation as a waste of time because the outcome is already assured.
FRANK FOGGIA FROM SAULT STE. MARIE, ONTARIO, CANADA: I believe that the release of Myles Jack was a financial decision. My non-professional opinion is that he performed well for his first year in this system. Do you think the Steelers would consider bringing him back to compete for a job at inside linebacker? I have not heard of him signing anywhere.
ANSWER: I believe the Steelers have moved on from Myles Jack, and I would put that decision in a similar category as the ones the team made regarding Terrell Edmunds, Robert Spillane, and some others. Over the course of this offseason, the Steelers have made what I would refer to as "bang for the buck" decisions, where they have chosen to move on from some of their own free agents in an effort to improve themselves at some areas that were liabilities last season. You can choose to describe those moves as financial, or performance-related, but the final outcome is the same. And as another hint that Jack won't be brought back is that his No. 51 was issued to fourth-round pick Nick Herbig.
JOE PERANSKI FROM NEWARK VALLEY, NY: Since Terrell Edmunds was not resigned, do you think a free agent strong safety might be signed, or do you think Coach Mike Tomlin and General Manager Omar Khan are confident in the personnel we currently have?
ANSWER: Terrell Edmunds was an in-the-box safety in 2022, and the candidates competing for that job and/or some similar role within the defense are Damontae Kazee, Miles Killebrew, Keanu Neal, and Tre Norwood. I don't believe there would be any additions before the coaches have sufficient time to evaluate those guys within the framework of the defensive plan.
R.A. PEGHER FROM STATE COLLEGE, PA: When it comes to listing a player's experience, what is the difference between a rookie and a first-year pro?
ANSWER: Trying to be as simple as possible, a player designated as a rookie is one who is going directly from college football to his first attempt at making an NFL roster. A first-year pro is a player who has tried previously but never has made an NFL roster.
DENNIS BONISESE FROM HELLERTOWN, PA: Back in the mid-1970s, the Steelers drafted two players from the University of Nebraska – safety Wonder Monds and offensive tackle Marvin Crenshaw. Did the Steelers ever sign either player, because I don't remember ever seeing them play for the team.
ANSWER: The Steelers drafted tackle Marvin Crenshaw in the sixth round of the 1975 NFL Draft. He was waived at some point before the start of the regular season and never played in the NFL. They drafted safety Wonder Monds in the fourth round of the 1976 NFL Draft. Monds never played for the Steelers, but he did play four seasons of professional football – for the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1976, 1977, and 1979, and for the San Francisco 49ers in 1978.