Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Sept. 1

Let's get to it:

STEVEN GREJDA FROM ROCHESTER, MI: How do see the division of labor at running back working out?
ANSWER: James Conner is the starter. Benny Snell is No. 2 and would be the guy into the game when/if Conner needs a rest. Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels, and Kerrith Whyte are still competing for one or maybe two spots on the roster, and Steelers could create a package for one of them on offense, or they could be used strictly on special teams.

CRYSTAL JAMES FROM FISHKILL, NY: With all the attention being given to the competition at right tackle, I'm more concerned about left tackle, which is a more important position for a right-handed quarterback, and protecting Ben Roethlisberger's surgically repaired throwing arm has got to be a high priority. At least at right tackle, whoever loses the starting job will have the other as a tested backup. Do we have a credible, tested backup at left tackle?
ANSWER: The way it works in the NFL is that there is one primary backup to the two starting offensive tackles, and the role is known as "swing tackle." With rosters made up of just 53 players and with game day rosters set at 46, it's not possible to have a dedicated backup to every position along the offensive line. On the typical game day roster, there usually will be seven offensive linemen in uniform: the starting five, one backup who can play each of the three interior positions, and one backup who can line up at either of the tackle positions. And besides, since Alejandro Villanueva became the full-time starter at left tackle in 2016, he played every offensive snap in 2016, 2018, and 2019, and in 2017 he played all but 23 of the season total of 1,110 offensive snaps. That doesn't leave much on-field time to develop a "credible, tested" backup at left tackle.

JIM ALDERFER FROM LAYTON, UT: Will the Steelers add J.T. Barrett, or someone similar to the practice squad to give the defense a look at a mobile quarterback? Looking at the schedule they face eight very mobile or somewhat mobile quarterbacks.
ANSWER: J.T. Barrett wasn't able to last even until the Steelers started padded practices during their training camp before he was waived. The team assembled on July 28, and Barrett was waived on Aug. 2, which suggests the Steelers never really believed he had a chance to compete for a spot on the 53-man roster. Barrett has been cut too many times by too many teams for him to be considered for a spot on the practice squad, even in a year such as this one where practice squads have been expanded to 12 players, and with six of those 12 spots available to players with any level of NFL experience.

CHRIS HANN SR. FROM SARASOTA, FL: It already has been determined that fans will not be allowed to attend the Steelers' first two games. Major League Baseball allows piped-in fan noise and cheering. Can the Steelers play the song "Renegade" throughout the entire game?
ANSWER: There is a difference between piped-in fan noise and piped-in music, and I cannot imagine the NFL allowing a team to play music non-stop throughout an entire game. Just think about the problems that would cause in a dome. Besides that, I've always believed that the reason the Steelers respond to "Renegade" is not because of the music itself but because of the fans' reaction to that music. Without fans in the building, I don't know that "Renegade" will elicit the same reaction.

MICHAEL PLAKE FROM STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO: I liked the offseason addition of Stefan Wisniewski because he seems like the kind of guy who brings his lunch pail to work every day. Defenses rotate defensive linemen in and out of the game for seemingly every possession of every game. Is there a scenario where an offensive lineman such as Wisniewski could be rotated through as well to keep the unit fresh?
ANSWER: The offensive line is somewhat unique because for it to be effective, the five players need to function as a unit. It's not so much about being fresh as it is about being a coordinated group where each player has an instinctive understanding of how the guy next to him is going to react to situations as those situations pop up in the heat of a game. As a result, NFL teams don't rotate offensive linemen in and out of a game to keep them fresh, because instead of being a positive it very well could end up being a hinderance.

RANDY DUVALL FROM HAMPTON, VA: Have the Steelers created or found a role for Ryan Shazier within the organization?
ANSWER: In January, Ryan Shazier was placed on the reserve-Retired list, and on Aug. 31 Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the impact of Shazier's absence from the team.

"Ryan is focused on some transitional things in his life," said Tomlin, "and that's where his focus is right now. He has mine and our full support in terms of that. I hope he's going to have some time for us in the future, but as he lays the foundation for the rest of his life, that's where he's focusing his energies."

Earlier in the training camp process, General Manager Kevin Colbert said, "Ryan will always be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers in an official or unofficial capacity … And he knows that even though he isn't a part of it or in the building (right now), he will always be a part of us."

SUNIL GEORGE FROM PRINCETON, NJ: I saw that the Steelers brought back Saeed Blacknall after waiving him on Aug 21. Why do the Steelers cut players at one point during the preseason and then sometimes bring them back later in the preseason?
ANSWER: One reason for a move such as the one you describe would be injuries. For example, let's pretend a team loses a player or maybe two at a certain position to injuries and decides it has to fortify that position by adding a player. So to create a roster spot for the added player, the team examines its roster and decides on a player they believe is expendable at a position that is well-stocked. Then some time later, the position they had believed was well-stocked becomes one hit by an injury or two and suddenly it's in need of reinforcements. In such a scenario, the Steelers might decide to re-sign the guy they previously had waived because he would be able to return to the field rather seamlessly and get right back to contributing at practice because he would arrive with a familiarity of the scheme and plays.

ROBERT ROYER FROM MILTON, PA: Will Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley broadcast road games in stadium this year?
ANSWER: I believe that at this point, the Steelers Radio Network, led by flagship station WDVE-FM, will not be broadcasting from inside the stadium on the road during the initial portion of the regular season. I also believe that will be the procedure for all road teams league wide. That could change as the season progresses and the NFL gets a better idea of how COVID-19 is going to impact the 2020 season, but right now I believe this cautious approach will be how teams proceed at first. The Steelers Radio Network will broadcast all of the games, but I believe it will be done from a remote location when the team is on the road.

BOB LANDFRIED FROM PALM CITY, FL: We hear about the size and potential of second-year tight end Zach Gentry, and so why wouldn't the Steelers ask Heath Miller to work with him?
ANSWER: First of all, the Steelers have a tight ends coach on staff, and his name is James Daniel. And if you were referring to a more informal teacher-student relationship, maybe Heath Miller isn't interested in coaching. Maybe Miller would rather be a husband and a dad to his wife and children instead of coaching/mentoring professional athletes. Just because fans might consider it a great opportunity or a dream job doesn't mean the individual you're earmarking for it views it the same way.

PATRICK MCCREA FROM ALLEN, NY: What's the over/under on how many people will ask about the Steelers going after Leonard Fournette? I say over 500.
ANSWER: Are you including talking heads, or just fans?

DAN HARDER FROM SASKATOON, SASKATCHEWAN, CANADA: With only $4 million in salary cap space and so much riding on Ben Roethlisberger staying healthy, do you see Leonard Fournette as someone the Steelers should look to add to the running back committee?
ANSWER: That's one. Long way to go to get to 500.

DON COLE FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Any chance the Steelers sign Earl Thomas and use Terrell Edmunds as a hybrid linebacker?
ANSWER: No chance.