Let's get to it:
VICTOR VALE FROM SPRING, TX: There was a lot of talk about Darnell Washington being a red zone threat during the preseason, and he did draw some pass interference penalties in preseason games. However, I have not seen him used that way in the red zone. Is he not ready yet or are his blocking skills just needed more?
ANSWER: The Steelers haven't been in the red zone enough to utilize Darnell Washington, or to establish any kind of rhythm or identity in that area of the field. Through the first five games of this regular season, the Steelers have been in the red zone just five times, and one of those five came during kneel-down time in the fourth quarter. I also would like to see Washington utilized as a red zone threat, but what has to happen first if the offense needs more red zone possessions.
MATTHEW JOHNSON FROM CASHIERS, NC: I think I am the only one who likes the limited exposure of the first two Steelers picks from last year's draft, Broderick Jones and Joey Porter Jr. Every player will have bad plays and historically younger ones have more of them than older ones. Have you agreed with their playing time/usage to start their NFL careers?
ANSWER: I certainly understand the reasoning behind getting Broderick Jones and Joey Porter Jr. acclimated to NFL regular season football before throwing them onto the field to play positions – left tackle and cornerback, respectively – that can have a huge role in the outcome of games. I can see how the Steelers may have wanted to spoon-feed Porter the defensive schemes because there are so many adjustments and checks and things that happen on the fly in the NFL because of the varied personnel groupings used by offenses, and left tackles in the NFL typically face the best pass rushers in football on a weekly basis. Another factor with Jones and Porter is their relative inexperience coming into the league. Jones had only 19 college starts at Georgia, and Porter played in 23 games, including bowl games, over his last two seasons at Penn State, and he finished his college career with just one interception. And it's not as though the Steelers haven't historically taken their time getting rookies on the field, with some notable examples being Troy Polamalu (no starts as a rookie), Cam Hayward (no starts until his third NFL season), Santonio Holmes (4 starts as a rookie), Leon Searcy (no starts as a rookie) – and remember, the Steelers had traded up to draft both Polamalu and Holmes. With all of that, however, I would expect both Jones and Porter to have more significant roles when the Steelers return from their bye.
CARLOS BRAVO FROM BELO HORIZONTE, MG, BRAZIL: Do you believe Jaylen Warren deserves the starting job? He's playing very well, and Najee Harris isn't producing as much.
ANSWER: If what you mean by "deserves the starting job" is do I believe Jaylen Warren should become the primary running back, my answer would be no. Warren is a talented, valuable part of the offense and the team as a whole, but my opinion is that the primary reason Harris "isn't producing as much" is because the offensive line is not doing a consistent job of even getting him to the line of scrimmage before he has to start breaking tackles. Warren is playing well and has been effective – kudos to him – and I think part of his success comes from being a bit smaller than Harris, which allows him to get through the creases the blocking creates when he's in the game. In terms of running style and relative size, Harris is similar to Jerome Bettis and Warren is similar to Amos Zereoue, and there were times when defenses would stuff Bettis only to have the smaller, quicker Zereoue enter the game and have some success. Coach Bill Cowher actually fell victim to that and named Zereoue the starter in the late 1990s, when what the Steelers actually needed was a better, more physical offensive line. If the Steelers really want to have a physical running attack that can wear down the opponent, Harris is the back who can deliver that, but first they're going to have to do a better job of blocking for him.
NATHAN CASEY FROM ROANOKE, VA: Do the Steelers hold open tryouts for the team in the offseason?
ANSWER: No. It would be the football version of The Gong Show, and guys could injure themselves.
NICHOLAS PELCHAR FROM PURCELLVILLE, VA: I get my Steelers information through radio broadcasts. What's up with Nate Herbig? I haven't heard his name at all. Is he injured?
ANSWER: Nate Herbig is an interior offensive lineman, currently the right guard with James Daniels injured. If you're getting your Steelers information through radio broadcasts, when have you ever heard the name of the right guard mentioned?
TOM HOLOWELL FROM CUYAHOGA FALLS, OH: Is Diontae Johnson due to come back after the bye week or will he be out longer?
ANSWER: After the team's practice on Tuesday at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, Diontae Johnson told gathered media, "Hell yeah I'm coming back. I've been working my behind off these last three or four weeks. Today was one of those days to see how far I came along. Everything looked great out there to them. I feel completely great and healthy. I'm ready for Monday (after the bye) when we come back to get ready to work. I could have gone out there and done individuals (drills) today. I feel 100 percent right now. I appreciate the trainers for pushing me through the process. I was ready to work with whatever they threw at me."
CRAIG DUMNICH FROM AVONDALE, PA: I saw on television the reaction that offensive coordinator Matt Canada had on the touchdown pass to George Pickens. There was none. I heard Kenny Pickett called an audible for that play. Do you know if that's true?
ANSWER: It is not true. After the game, George Pickens said the play was called in the huddle. What Kenny Pickett called out when the team was lined up at the line of scrimmage was a change to the protection based on what the Ravens defense was showing at the time.
ADDISON NOSS FROM HARRISBURG, PA: I was at the game on Sunday against the Ravens at Acrisure Stadium. There were so many obvious penalty flags that should have been thrown but weren't. Is there a rock-solid reason that the refs didn't call it, or was it just because they were blind?
ANSWER: There is a reason, but I would hardly refer to it as "rock-solid." The crew that worked Ravens-Steelers last Sunday was headed by referee Carl Cheffers, and his crew just doesn't call a lot of penalties. In four games so far in 2023, Cheffers' crew has called 7 offensive holding penalties, 3 defensive holding penalties, 1 offensive pass interference penalty, 1 defensive pass interference penalty, 1 delay of game penalty, 1 unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and 1 roughing the passer penalty.
KIM YORK FROM WARREN, PA: Does the Steelers GM have any say in hiring an offensive consultant, or is it up to Coach Mike Tomlin to hire or fire at that position?
ANSWER: Based on the Steelers business model, the general manager has no unilateral authority over the coaching staff.
LEON KULINSKI FROM OIL CITY, PA: Could you give an update on both Cam Heyward and Diontae Johnson. When will they be able to return?
ANSWER: As explained in a previous answer, based on what Diontae Johnson has said about his rehabilitation I believe he has a chance to play against the Rams on Oct. 22 in Los Angeles. While it has been reported that Cam Heyward has started running, my guess is that his return would come closer to the middle of November.
CLARK ARNOLD FROM BOWLING GREEN, KY: Do officiating errors (such as Minkah Fitzpatrick's roughing the passer penalty on Jimmy Garoppolo) result in the "offending official" receiving any punitive actions?
ANSWER: Over the course of a season, officials are graded on their weekly performances, and then those grades are factored into the assignment of postseason games. But none of those grades or reviews are made public.
CHRIS LIPPART FROM BELTON, SC: You got a question recently about radio coverage for Steelers games. Being outside the normal coverage area, I have been going to the website, then hitting the more button (the ellipses … on the top nav bar), clicking the SNR button, re-clicking the more button and re-clicking the SNR button. The game will come back on for a while, but then you have to repeat. It's a pain, but it works for me. Hope this helps.
ANSWER: Thanks for the tip. I'm including it here in the hope it helps other Steelers fans in the same situation.