Let’s get to it:
JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: Our offensive line has been stellar the last few years, in my opinion. Where would you rank our current offensive line among other offensive lines from years past, and would you rank our current offensive line No. 1 in the NFL? Also you have answered many questions regarding your top unrestricted free agent signings (James Farrior). Who is your top “undrafted” free agent signing?
ANSWER: Let’s start with your last question: There have been many undrafted rookies signed by the Steelers who have gone on to have outstanding careers with the team, among them Donnie Shell and Willie Parker, just to name two. But even though he might be an unpopular figure among Steelers fans right now, I would put James Harrison atop that list. He is the Steelers’ all-time leader in sacks, and he authored what I believe to be the greatest play in Super Bowl history when he returned an interception of Kurt Warner 100 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII. I still believe a compelling case can be made for Shell to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but it’s also fair to make the case that Harrison made a very significant contribution to the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl championship.
As for the offensive line, I agree that it is a talented and effective group, but I am not qualified to rank it among other offensive lines in Steelers history or across the NFL. If the Steelers continue to improve and go on to compete for, and possibly win, a championship this season, that accomplishment in large part will be able to be traced to the performance of this offensive line. Any coronation of that unit, or other units on this Steelers team for that matter, needs to wait until the season plays itself out.
MARK O’MALLEY FROM MANTUA, NJ: I see Randy Fichtner is one of just a few NFL coordinators who don't cover/hide their mouths when calling plays. Is hiding your mouth passé?
ANSWER: Let me just throw this out for all of the espionage theorists: the large laminated placard coordinators typically use to cover their mouths to hide from aspiring lip-readers is what’s know as a “ready sheet,” which contains possible play-calls for any situation that might arise in a particular game. While covering their mouth with this might foil lip-readers, it does expose the “ready sheet” to telephoto lenses. Maybe Fichtner believes there are more telephoto lenses in a typical NFL stadium than there are lip-readers.
BENJAMIN NYPAVER FROM MUNHALL, PA: With the small sample size that we have seen, how do you rate the job offensive Randy Fichtner has done. Do you feel as if clock management or third down conversions have improved, declined, or stayed about the same?
ANSWER: Managing the clock – calling timeouts, etc. – is not the job of a coordinator. The head coach handles that. As for third downs, the Steelers are converting at a 42.7 percent rate this season compared to a 44.0 percent conversion rate in 2017. Where I see the most significant and important improvement is in red zone offense. In 2017, the Steelers ranked 22nd in the NFL in red zone offense by converting 50.8 percent of their trips inside the opponents’ 20-yard line into touchdown, while so far in 2018 they rank third in the NFL by converting 72.2 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns. I’m not necessarily willing to pin that disparity solely on the coordinators, but they certainly have a role in that aspect of the offense’s performance.
DAVID BERMAN FROM FOREST HILLS, NY: What has been the coaching staff's impression of Mason Rudolph, in terms of skill and work ethic?
ANSWER: Mason Rudolph made a favorable impression during his rookie training camp and preseason, but as the No. 3 quarterback on a team during the regular season he is largely an afterthought. Rudolph can, and does, work on his fundamentals off to the side during certain periods of practice, and of course he attends meetings and is a part of game-planning sessions with Ben Roethlisberger, Joshua Dobbs and coordinator Randy Fichtner. But the hope is that Rudolph’s next opportunity to make an impression will be in 2019 starting with OTAs in May, because that would mean Roethlisberger stayed healthy throughout the 2018 season.
BRIAN BRANCH FROM MODESTO, CA: With Antonio Brown being the best receiver in the NFL, with his skills being evident since his rookie year, and his performances from high school all the way up to draft day, why was he a sixth-round draft pick and not a No. 1, No. 2, or a No. 3 pick?
ANSWER: Two of the concerns regarding Antonio Brown leading into the 2010 NFL Draft were his size and the level of competition he faced at Central Michigan. What could not be measured, however, was his commitment to improving himself and a maniacal work ethic that has made him what he is today. Commitment and work ethic are difficult to measure, and Brown is off the charts in both of those categories.
ROY PERRIN FROM FUQUAY-VARINA, NC: It seems like there are a few different types of turf in the NFL. Which turf do the Steelers players prefer?
ANSWER: The kind you have to mow.
BRANDON ENGLISH FROM VENUS, PA: If Ben Roethlisberger were to be injured and we needed either Joshua Dobbs or Mason Rudolph to go in the game, who would pose a bigger threat to a defense and why?
ANSWER: If Ben Roethlisberger sustained an in-game injury, Joshua Dobbs would replace him because Dobbs is the No. 2 quarterback and Rudolph is inactive on game days. If it were a longer-term situation, Dobbs would get the first opportunity, not because he poses a bigger threat to opponents but because his experience and understanding of the offense would be a bigger asset to the Steelers.
STUART FLECHNER FROM HUDSON, OH: I was impressed with the Ravens’ use of Lamar Jackson and the Saints’ use of Taysom Hill on short yardage. Steelers also have an old and slow quarterback, so why not use Joshua Dobbs to mix it up on third-and-short or fourth-and-short?
ANSWER: In those situations, I would rather have Ben Roethlisberger reading the coverage and throwing some kind of quick, timing route to Antonio Brown. Why Coach Sean Payton ever would take the ball out of Drew Brees’ hands is too much of an attempt to make himself look creative, in my opinion.
ISRAEL PICKHOLTZ FROM JERUSALEM, ISRAEL: So “The Man” uses Donny Anderson as an example when he could have chosen the great Sammy Baugh. Harrumph!
ANSWER: The question had to do with an NFL team using a running back as a punter. Donny Anderson was a running back. Sammy Baugh was a quarterback. I answered the question posed, but you are correct about one thing: when it comes to this space, I am “The Man.”