Let's get to it:
JASON PAKKALA FROM MANASSAS, VA:
During this preseason we've seen some good things on occasion from the pass rush but not so much from the secondary. This latest game against Buffalo was supposed to be some sort of dress rehearsal, at least for the first few series. Should we be really worried at the performance of the defense at this point? I don't think the offense can put up 40-plus points every game to keep the Steelers in contention.
Yes it was just a preseason game, and for the Steelers it was the fourth one they had to play, but the performance against Buffalo was alarming because the Bills offense made it look so easy. Pitch-and-catch the whole game, and all due respect to the Bills but they're not the 1989 San Francisco 49ers. Buffalo entered training camp with Coach Rex Ryan saying there would be a three-way competition for the starting quarterback job among E.J. Manuel, Matt Cassel, and Tyrod Taylor. Matt Simms is the fourth quarterback on the 90-man roster and apparently not included in the competition. Against the Steelers, those four guys completed 90.1 percent for a total of 395 yards and two touchdowns to finish with a combined passer rating of 146.8. Running back LeSean McCoy, plus wide receivers Sammy Watkins, Percy Harvin, and Robert Woods all missed the game for Buffalo, too. At no point of the 38-plus minutes the Bills had the ball did someone on the Steelers defense rise up and make a play. A takeaway, a timely sack. Nothing. It was too easy against a team that isn't going to be scaring too many of its regular season opponents with its passing attack. I don't know what this means for the Steelers defense at the start of the regular season, because many of the offenders last Saturday night in Orchard Park won't be playing many meaningful, if any, snaps for this team this season. Still, it was hard to watch.
BRIAN ROACH FROM BLACKWOOD, N.J.:
With the recent news about Martavis Bryant's suspension, regardless of whether it remains four games or is reduced, who is next on the depth chart for the Steelers? Also, I read in one report that this suspension being four games would indicate that Martavis was already in the substance abuse program? Is that correct, and what exactly does that mean? Thanks for this feature, as it certainly helps to educate the fans on some of these intricacies.
View photos of Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 3rd Round Draft Pick, wide receiver Sammie Coates.
Starting with the depth chart, the assumption is that it would be Darrius Heyward-Bey especially at the start of a regular season in which the other candidates are all inexperienced. If Sammie Coates shows himself ready to play, I believe an effort would be made to integrate him into the offense in ways that would emphasize his strengths and not expose him in his areas of weakness.**
On to the specifics of the Martavis Bryant situation. Yesterday, the NFL announced it had upheld the four-game suspension, and so Bryant will miss the games at New England, vs. San Francisco, at St. Louis, and vs. the Ravens on Thursday, Oct. 1. He would be eligible to play for the first time in San Diego on Monday, Oct. 12.
Anyway, under the provisions of the substance abuse policy, players are tested at the Scouting Combine as they attempt to enter the NFL via the draft. Players in the NFL then are tested at least once annually between April 20 and Aug. 9. Test negative, and future tests only are administered during the April 20-Aug. 9 period. Test positive, and the player enters the intervention program.
Stage One of the intervention program provides for an evaluation of the player and a treatment plan. He then becomes subject to additional substance abuse testing. After 90 days in Stage One, if the player completes it successfully he is discharged from the program. If he doesn't – and that's usually because of additional positive tests and/or missed tests, he is moved into Stage Two.
Stage Two lasts for 24 months and like Stage One includes a treatment plan and testing, but once in this stage the consequences for failing a test or missing a test are more severe. Fail a test in State Two, and the punishment is a fine and a suspension of four games. Players can complete Stage Two and be discharged from the program, at which time another positive test would return them to the program but at Stage One again.
Failure to complete Stage Two advances the individual to Stage Three, where the suspensions climb to 10 games, and then to a full season requiring reinstatement by the Commissioner. So if a player is suspended for four games for violating the NFL's Substance Abuse Policy, the most likely scenario is that he has failed multiple tests and is facing a 10-game suspension for an additional positive test.
GREG WHARTON FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX:
With Le'Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant being suspended for X-amount of games – do they still get paid their salaries by the Steelers, or are they suspended without pay? I would ask the same for injured reserve? How does this affect the salary cap?
Players under NFL suspension do not count against their NFL team's 53-man roster, and they are not paid their salaries. The portion of suspended player's salary also does not count on the salary cap. Players on injured reserve are paid their full salaries, and those salaries do count on the team's salary cap.**
H.C. PETLEY FROM CORTEZ, CO:
Once again, what is so sacrosanct about the 53-man roster? What is wrong with 60? Think of it as a labor/management situation. Seven more players on each of the 32 teams equals 224 good paying jobs for men who need the work. And why not expand the practice squads as well to a dozen? Need a few more rookie coaches to work with them? Why not? Coaches need practice, too. The NFL is flushed with cash, injuries are common, and therefore a 60-man roster seems affordable and makes sense. So why a 53-man roster? Changing the numbers benefit the players and coaches, and seven more per team is not unrealistic.
Going along with your line of thinking that more is better, you know what also is not unrealistic? Having every register open at the grocery store so that people can complete their shopping in a fast and efficient manner. Large supermarket chains make a mint, so why are there never enough registers open when I'm shopping? Let's not stop there. All teller windows at banks should be open all the time. What industry is more flush with cash than banks? Businesses don't operate that way, by ignoring cost and expanding their numbers of employees unless such action increases revenue accordingly.
Back to the NFL, which is also a business, by the way. Raising the roster limit costs more, and because bigger rosters don't necessarily mean more revenue into the league to be divided by players and owners, each team's cap wouldn't necessarily rise appreciably, which means salaries per player on each team could decrease. And why would the players and coaches already with NFL jobs and salaries those jobs pay be in favor of expanding the pool of employees when teams have to operate under a salary cap? A 60-man roster and a 12-man practice squad may "seem affordable and make sense" to you, but I can assure you there are 32 owners in the NFL who do not share your opinion. I could get behind that grocery store thing, though. Make the world a better place.