Let’s get to it:
JAMIE AGNEW FROM ANN ARBOR, MI: Could Cam Sutton have called for a fair catch on that onside kick in the fourth quarter of the game against the Chargers?
ANSWER: You can only call for a fair catch if the ball does not hit the ground first. The Chargers kicker in that situation hit the ball in a way where it bounced off the turf first and then went high into the air, which is when Cam Sutton went up and made the catch to secure possession for the Steelers. That’s why kickers often choose to strike onside kick attempts that way, because the ball bounces off the ground first, which eliminates the possibility of the receiving team signaling for a fair catch.
MARK TAYLOR FROM POST FALLS, ID: During a bye week, how much time do players and coaches get off? Are there restrictions as to how many practices a team can hold during a bye week?
ANSWER: The Collective Bargaining Agreement mandates that during a team’s bye week, players must get four consecutive days off, with the choices being Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday, or Friday-Saturday-Sunday-Monday. Coach Mike Tomlin always has preferred the first of those options. So the way the work week went for the Steelers: Because the charter flight from California from the Sunday night game didn’t land in Pittsburgh until 6 a.m. on Monday, the players were off that day; there was practice on Tuesday, and Wednesday’s practice had to be cancelled because of drenching rain that made the grass fields too slippery to be safe for a team already dealing with a number of injuries, and then the mandatory four-day bye week time off kicked in. The players will be back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Monday to begin the week of preparation for the game against the Miami Dolphins on Monday, Oct. 28.
DUSTIN SAUTER FROM TORRANCE, CA: No matter if Earl Thomas meant to hit Mason Rudolph on the chin or not, the end result was the loss of our starting quarterback. What do you think about a rule stating if a defensive player commits a penalty against the quarterback that results in him being taken out of the game, the opposing team is forced to bench its starting quarterback, which would leave both teams playing with a backup?
ANSWER: It doesn’t really matter what I think, because this absolutely has no chance of happening. Never, ever.
PAUL ROWE FROM MONACA, PA: Is anyone else concerned that rookie Devin Bush was the only Steelers defender who knew that a lateral is a live ball?
ANSWER: All of the players know that a lateral is a live ball, but the issue is whether they knew that was a lateral and not a forward pass. Before passing sweeping judgment, you might want to consider that the view of the players on the field rarely is as good for those type of things as the view that’s available to fans via television cameras. My opinion of the play is that Steelers fans should be happy that their favorite team has a rookie inside linebacker who is an aware playmaker who has had a hand in six of the team’s 15 takeaways so far this season. We were looking for the team to find a way to replace the kind of impact that was lost when Ryan Shazier was injured, and the Steelers have done that with Devin Bush.
MATTHEW POWNALL FROM FORT MYERS, FL: With Stephon Tuitt now out for the season, who will need to step up? Is this Javon Hargrave’s chance to prove he can be more than a nose tackle, which is what Coach Mike Tomlin wanted from him?
ANSWER: The Steelers will continue to employ a rotation along their defensive line in an attempt to keep the players fresh into the fourth quarter of games, but one of the guys who should expect increased playing time – at least in the immediate aftermath of Stephon Tuitt going on the injured reserve list – is Javon Hargrave. Not only is he in a position to show he’s more than a typical run-stuffing nose tackle, but Hargrave gets an opportunity to maximize his value as he continues to move through the final year on his contract. He clearly is the team’s best option in their attempt to replace Tuitt’s production.
NATHAN PALMER FROM AMHERST, MA: T.J. Watt's snap anticipation seemed phenomenal in the game against the Chargers. Could you explain some of the factors behind his success with that?
ANSWER: A few summer ago, Coach Mike Tomlin instituted something that’s now known among the players as the “get-off drill.” Early in every practice, and often with Tomlin choosing to stand right there to watch the drill instead of one of the others going on at the same time, the defensive players who typically line up along the line of scrimmage divide themselves into groups and compete to be the quickest to get off the football that is snapped at various simulated counts by an assistant coach. The players compete against each other to be the quickest off the ball, and Tomlin’s presence adds fuel and often colorful commentary to the drill. It’s now a staple of Steelers practices, just like seven-shots, and it allows the players to work on their craft in a competitive way without beating each other up physically. And as you noted, it has helped guys be more effective during games.
DANAVIOUS HURD FROM JOLIET, IL: If Devlin Hodges is on active roster for the rest of the season is he eligible for the practice squad next year?
ANSWER: I believe Devlin Hodges would be eligible for the practice squad in 2020 under the scenario you describe.
SCOTT BAETE FROM SIOUX FALLS, SD: On the front of some of the Steelers helmets there are what appear to be “eyeballs.” What are these for?
ANSWER: What you are describing are helmets of players who are wearing visors manufactured by Oakley. Those “eyeballs,” as you describe them are in fact the Oakley logo. In August 2019, the NFL announced that it would be partnering with Oakley to become the official helmet visor provider in a new four-year deal starting this season.
KEN MAULDIN FROM CLYDE TX: On the play where Justin Layne interfered and caused a fumble on the punt return, isn’t that a penalty? If so how can they rule he interfered and not penalize?
ANSWER: Fair catch interference is indeed a penalty, but according to the website Operations.nfl.com, there also is this: “ITEM 3. MUFF. After a valid fair-catch signal, the opportunity to catch a kick does not end if the ball is muffed. The player who signaled for a fair catch must have a reasonable opportunity to catch the muffed ball before it hits the ground without interference by members of the kicking team, and regardless of whether the ball strikes another player or an official. PENALTY: For interference with the opportunity to make a fair catch after a muff: A fair catch is awarded at the spot of the interference even if the ball is not caught.” I believe this is what the game officials ruled on that particular play, which is why the Chargers retained the ball at the spot and there was no penalty yardage assessed.
MICHAEL COOK FROM CHATHAM, UK: With both Ben Roethlisberger and Stephon Tuitt on injured reserve for the remainder of the season, the Steelers have got a substantial amount of this year's salary cap tied up in players they will not be able to field. Is there any mechanism for this hit to be mitigated, or is that cap space just dead and gone?
ANSWER: Dead and gone. And this is just the kind of situation General Manager Kevin Colbert has in the back of his mind when he’s talking about going into each season with a $5 million cushion on the salary cap to mitigate potential injuries.
ERIC ZALINKANSKAS FROM CRANFORD, NJ: We all know hindsight is 20/20, but had the team known Ben Roethlisberger was going to be gone for the year, would they still have traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick in your opinion?
ANSWER: The Steelers knew Ben Roethlisberger was going to need surgery on his right elbow on the night of Sunday, Sept. 15. The trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick was first reported on Monday night, which was Sept. 16, so I think the team knew or at least had a very strong suspicion that Roethlisberger would need surgery, what kind of surgery it was going to be, and that he was going to be lost for the season as they were making the trade. And again, the kind of player the Steelers would have been looking for in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft is exactly the kind of player Fitzpatrick already had shown himself to be during his rookie season in the NFL.
ROBERT DAVIES FROM EDINBURGH, UK: With Paxton Lynch being signed to the active roster from the practice squad, if Mason Rudolph were to become available to play within the time that the Steelers have to keep Lynch on the roster, would the team have to keep Lunch on the roster and cut someone else?
ANSWER: A couple of points of clarification. First, Mason Rudolph never lost his spot on the 53-man roster following his concussion. He was simply made inactive for the game against the Chargers. Second, the rule requiring a team to keep a player signed off the practice squad on its 53-man roster for at last three weeks only applies if the player was signed off another team’s practice squad. There are no such rules if a team signs a player off its own practice squad.
WILLIAM HEISE FROM SUMTER, SC: Do you think the running game is missing Rosie Nix? By the way the Steelers are 2-0 when I wear my Steelers T-shirt.
ANSWER: The Steelers were able to run the ball effectively last season, and a lot of it happened out of the shotgun formation with no fullback on the field. Clearly the issue behind all of the team’s problems to this point in the season is your choice of wardrobe on game days. Step it up. The standard is the standard.