Let’s get to it:
MIKE PINOS FROM PORTAGE, PA: Is the new rule allowing challenges on called or uncalled pass interference penalties on a one-season trial basis, or is this something the league is determined to continue?
ANSWER: The rule to which you refer will be voted on again during the Owners Meetings in March 2020. The way things are going right as of this moment, my prediction/hope would be that it would be killed rather than implemented permanently, but a lot can change between now and then.
DAVID HUNDERT FROM MOUNT JOY, PA: Some teams, upon struggling to gain a rhythm, have switched to a hurry-up offense or a no-huddle offense. The Steelers have done that in the past, yet it seems as if we've forgotten how. Is there a point that you can see the Steelers using that again to help the offense get into a rhythm and keep the opponent’s defense on edge?
ANSWER: Allow me to remind you that the Steelers are starting an inexperienced quarterback in Mason Rudolph, one who will be making just his second professional start tonight against the Cincinnati Bengals. Running a hurry-up offense puts a lot of extra pressure on the quarterback, and it’s likely the Steelers didn’t want to put that on Rudolph, especially last weekend on the road. Maybe as he gets more comfortable as the season progresses, but the first step is to be able to execute the basics at a high level.
BRIAN MORELLA FROM POLAND, OH: When the Steelers are considering making a trade for a certain player, do they watch extensive film on the player, talk to scouts, or rely on evaluations from when he was drafted?
ANSWER: This process of watching video and consulting reports done by scouts doesn’t begin at the time you suggest, but rather it’s a process that’s ongoing because all teams keep themselves familiar with the personnel around the league. Coach Mike Tomlin referred to this practice when asked about scanning the waiver wire during final cut-down day, but the same procedure is used for trades. “We have a file on all of those people, just like every organization has a file on all of our people,” said Tomlin. “You meet them during the draft preparation process, you meet them at the Senior Bowl, you interview them there, you interview them at the Combine, you bring them in for pre-draft visits, you get to know them during that process, you pursue the veteran player during free agency and maybe you lose out in signing them. Everybody has a file. There are budding, developing relationships with any man who’s employed within the National Football League, so it’s not a ground-zero study …”
JIM MILLER FROM BROKEN ARROW, OK: I frequently hear the term that a player is “playing fast”. What exactly does that refer to?
ANSWER: That means the player knows either the defense or the offense and his assignments within it very well, and so when he’s on the field he can simply react to what the opponent is doing, rather than having to think about it first.
RUSSELL WALKER FROM CATONSVILLE, MD: If/when Sean Davis returns from the injured reserve list, who do you see as the starting safeties?
ANSWER: Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds.
RICK HOMISTEK FROM UNIONTOWN, PA: Are the Steelers planning on using Zach Gentry, the tight end from Michigan, this season?
ANSWER: When the Steelers used a fifth-round pick on Zach Gentry, they did so understanding that he was a project, a player who would benefit from a redshirt season, so to speak. But if injuries enter into the picture, Gentry could be pushed onto the field sooner.
BILLY LAVERDURE FROM FARGO, ND: Why aren't we getting a whole lot of Rosie Nix? That dude can block, run, and catch. I'm missing the use of an excellent fullback.
ANSWER: Rosie Nix injured his knee in the regular season opener and has not practiced or played since.
LARRY BARNES FROM ASHLAND, KY: Any idea when we might see Ben Roethlisberger back on the sidelines helping Mason Rudolph?
ANSWER: Ben Roethlisberger had surgery on his elbow about a week ago now, and he already has been in attendance at practice at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. It’s only a matter of time until he’s also attending games.
TONY MODZELEWSKI FROM SURFSIDE BEACH, SC: Do you think Christian Scotland-Williamson has a chance to be a tight end in the NFL?
ANSWER: I have been told Christian Scotland-Williamson has made significant improvement from last year to this year, but I also believe it takes more than two years for even a world class athlete to learn a completely new sport and then be able to play it well enough to compete in that sport on the highest level in the world.
JACOB STEED FROM KELLOGG, ID: Melvin Gordon for real? I'm stunned by some of the questions you receive, and I have to praise your ability to answer without more incredulity. Being an avid reader of this column for years, and a follower of the team for decades, I know team philosophy is to build through the draft. Sitting at 0-3 with a backup quarterback starting for the rest of this season, it does seem a shame to not have a No. 1 or a No. 2 pick in next year’s draft. I was curious the last time this occurred?
ANSWER: The Steelers don’t have a first-round pick next year because they have Minkah Fitzpatrick starting at free safety, that’s what they would have had to spend to get a player of his skill-set, and if they hadn’t made the trade a versatile, playmaking free safety would’ve been at the top of their list of needs entering the 2020 NFL Draft. But you are incorrect about them not having a second-round pick, because as things stand right now, they currently have five picks: one in the second round, two in the fourth round, and one each in the sixth and seventh rounds. And that does not take into account whatever compensatory picks they may be awarded. As for being incredulous, get a load of this next question:
ROBERT HARRIS FROM ELYRIA, OH: I think the Steelers should go after Colin Kaepernick. I think he would be a better choice than Randolph. Thoughts?
ANSWER: On this, I have none.
DWAYNE RUTLEDGE FROM NORTH CHARLESTON, SC: Do you think the Steelers will consider bringing back Antonio Brown or Martavis Bryant if they eat a slice of humble pie?
ANSWER: Not even if they ate the whole bakery.