Let’s get to it:
BRIAN MORELLA FROM POLAND, OH: I know the Steelers do not negotiate contracts during the season, but if they really like Bud Dupree and want to keep him, why not extend him now? Especially since they don’t have any depth behind him or have their first-round pick next year to draft another outside linebacker.
ANSWER: You answered your own question when you began with, “I know the Steelers do not negotiate contracts during the season …” That is an organizational philosophy that was instituted by Dan Rooney after contract negotiations during the 1993 season tore that team apart from within. Free agency in the NFL was just getting started back in 1993, and since the Steelers had a few players whose contracts were expiring at the end of that season they made the effort to get some deals done before those players hit free agency. But the guys not chosen for new deals became bitter and some of the ones chosen for new deals also became bitter when the offers weren’t high enough to satisfy them, and a promising season that included a mid-November butt-kicking of the defending AFC Champion Buffalo Bills ended with two losses in the final three regular season games and a second straight first-round defeat in the playoffs. As a result, the Steelers no longer negotiate contracts during the season, and so if you’re wondering why the Steelers don’t work on a contract extension now for Bud Dupree it’s because they don’t negotiate contracts during the season. If you don’t do that for anyone, then the policy is fair.
SHELDON GREENBERG FROM PHOENIX, AZ: What makes Ryan Switzer so valuable that he takes up a roster spot? Surely there must be a better punt returner on the squad.
ANSWER: If there was someone on the Steelers roster who was better at it than Ryan Switzer, I guarantee you that individual would be doing it, but I also am entirely confident that you aren’t looking at all aspects of the job of punt returner. In some ways, being a punt returner in the NFL is akin to being a doctor, in that rule No. 1 is, “Above all, do no harm.” By that I mean don’t fumble the ball, because one of the worst things a team can do to its defense is to send it right back onto the field after it forced the other team to punt. Switzer is extremely reliable when it comes to catching the ball, and in all climates and at all venues. He also makes good decisions on when to let it bounce and go into the end zone – rarely, if ever, have you seen him field a punt inside the Steelers’ 10-yard line – he is good at coming up to catch the shorter punts so that they don’t hit the ground and bounce toward his own goal line to add yards to the kick. I’m not comparing Ryan Switzer to Devin Hester by any means, but it’s not as if the blocking has opened up huge seams that he has missed entirely or hasn’t been hitting fast enough. And allow me to point out one final thing: going into last weekend’s games, the Steelers ranked 19th in the NFL in punt returns, which means they are just below the middle of the pack. I understand it can be better, and there will come a time in the upcoming weeks when the team could use a dynamic return to give it a boost against a particular opponent, but not all of the responsibility for that falls on the returner.
BOB MEREDITH FROM HONEY BROOK, PA: In your recent evaluation of the Steelers, you correctly evaluated Chris Boswell's performance. But including preseason games, I've noticed that his kickoffs frequently don't go into the end zone, while most opponents’ kicks do. Is that done by design to encourage returns, or is Chris not able to put the ball into the end zone consistently?
ANSWER: You seem to be assuming that the Steelers are asking Chris Boswell to hit every kickoff through the end zone, which is not correct. There may be no kicker in the NFL with a leg stronger than Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, and his kickoffs regularly come down short of the goal line. Would you assume he’s losing leg strength, or that the idea is to kick the ball to a depth where the receiving team will run the ball out and therefore allow the coverage unit to make the tackle inside the 25-yard line?
ERIK BELK FROM BALTIMORE, MD: Do you see the Steelers making a move to trade for a wide receiver, or to bring one up from the practice squad?
ANSWER: Barring injury, I do not see any changes to the current group of wide receivers.
DENNIS NEVINSKY FROM ERIE, PA: The Steelers obtained Miami's fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Will it be Miami's own pick, the pick Miami obtained from Tennessee, or the lower of the two picks?
ANSWER: The Steelers obtained that fourth-round pick as part of the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, and it is Miami’s own pick.
BRYAN BOYKIN FROM LITTLETON, CO: You are a saint, because some of the questions you get are perplexing. Such as: Was the offensive line great because of Mike Munchak, or was it great because of the players? The reason I ask is: have the Steelers’ faithful seen the Broncos offensive line? The unit has regressed, and people out this way are questioning Munchak’s’ pedigree.
ANSWER: Let me begin by pointing out that I am a big Mike Munchak fan. And while I certainly can attest to the results, I always have deferred to other coaches and former offensive linemen when it came to what specifically made Munchak such an effective offensive line coach. But some fans of all teams and all sports seem to believe that coaching is always the difference. Maybe that line of thinking stems from the proliferation of shows on ESPN and NFL Network that often emphasize strategy and play-calls over things such as athletic ability, teamwork, and execution of fundamentals. It has gotten to the point where it is believed that a good coach should be able to take a marginal talent and turn that individual into a star, or if an individual or a unit fails the fault lies solely with the coach. I get no pleasure in the criticism Munchak is receiving for the struggles of the Broncos offensive line, but maybe this will help some fans understand that in professional sports, it’s about the players. Phil Jackson is a great coach, because his teams contained Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago, and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal in Los Angeles. Before Bill Belichick united with Tom Brady, he was just another coach with Vinny Testaverde as his quarterback who was on the way to getting fired by the Cleveland Browns, and I’m certain his genius as a defensive coordinator with the New York Giants could be traced to some outside linebacker named Lawrence Taylor. Granted, those are over-simplifications to some degree, but Chuck Noll had nine Hall of Fame players on those teams that won four Super Bowls in six seasons; Vince Lombardi won five NFL Championships, including the first two Super Bowls, and six Western Conference titles, but he had 11 Hall of Fame players helping him accomplish all of that.
CHRIS WILLIAMS FROM CASPER, WY: Is there a maximum limit to the number of players who can be put on the injured reserve list?
ANSWER: As with all of these kinds of lists involving personnel, the only limitations that come into play are those involving the salary cap. That’s because all of those players on injured reserve get paid their salary, and all player compensation has to fit under the team’s cap.
JOHN PADDOCK FROM INDEPENDENCE, MO: I've probably missed this somewhere along the way, but were any more details about Ben Roethlisberger's injury and surgery released? I thought the initial reports seemed pretty vague.
ANSWER: It is not required by the NFL that those kind of details be released. It was sufficient, from the NFL’s point of view, that the Steelers listed the injury as one to his right (throwing) elbow, that the injury required surgery to repair, and that Roethlisberger would be placed on the injured reserve list. There might be more details that leak out at some point, but I would expect those to become public closer to the time of his return to playing.
JEREMY BETZ FROM PENSACOLA, FL: I know Mike Tomlin’s mentality will be, and should be, to focus on only the team's next opportunity to win, but given the extra time afforded them during the bye week, does the coaching staff look at the current landscape of their division and conference a little harder to determine their positioning in that landscape?
ANSWER: Not in any kind of detailed way, no, because that landscape can change every couple of weeks. The only thing the Steelers can control is their own performance, and so they work on their own performance, and they supplement that by examining opponents as they come up on their schedule.
JOE ASHER FROM TAMPA, FL: During last year's draft, you highlighted the desperate need for defensive playmakers. Fair to say that with Devin Bush – mission accomplished. Many project him to be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. When was the last time the Steelers (if ever), drafted a Rookie of the Year on either side of the ball?
ANSWER: The Steelers have had three players win the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award: Joe Greene in 1969, Jack Lambert in 1974, and Kendrell Bell in 2001; and three more players win the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award: Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, Louis Lipps in 1984, and Franco Harris in 1972.