Let’s get to it:
HOMER KIMBRELL FROM CINCINNATI OH: Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was quoted recently saying that Vance McDonald's playing time isn't expected to increase in 2019, which I think was a safe assumption heading into the season based upon his injury history. How do you think the Steelers will handle the personnel on the field when he is not in the game?
ANSWER: I’m sure the answer to this will become more clear as we get deeper into the schedule, but my suspicion now would be that on pass plays when multiple tight ends normally would be in the pattern, the work could be handled by an extra wide receiver, or even Jaylen Samuels. On running plays, I would expect the Steelers to insert whomever is their swing tackle on game day – either Chuks Okorafor or Zach Banner – and have him report as an eligible receiver. Both Okorafor and Banner have sufficient athletic ability to handle the blocking chores of a tight end.
JOHN NOH FROM SAN JOSE, CA: Based on the fact Javon Hargrave did not get a contract extension like Joe Haden did, I take that to mean the Steelers are OK with letting him walk after this season. I suppose a franchise tag could be in order, but it might be too steep of a price for a nose tackle who does not play every down. Do you get the sense that this will be Hargrave's last year and how do you feel about the depth behind him right now?
ANSWER: Don’t assume that just because a contract extension didn’t get done with Javon Hargrave this summer that the Steelers are “OK with letting him walk after this season.” There will be a lot of time between the end of the season and the start of free agency, and there are a lot of things that could happen during the season to influence Hargrave’s decision. This is way, way, way too early in the process to be worrying about losing Hargrave and evaluating the depth behind him to compensate for his departure.
BOB COONS FROM VAIL, AZ: How are the players notified if they are waived? Do they stay in a team hotel the night/day before the cuts are announced?
ANSWER: When the Steelers leave Saint Vincent College and return to Pittsburgh for the remainder of the preseason, all of the new guys – or anyone who has yet to secure housing in the area – are housed in a hotel close to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. When the team returned from its preseason finale against the Panthers in Charlotte, the same players who had been staying in the hotel returned to that hotel. When it was time to cut the roster, the Steelers sent representatives of the team to that hotel to notify the players personally.
DAVID HARDY FROM DAYTON, OH: Why are we listed No. 17 in the power index, with a top-ranked offense and a beefed-up defense?
ANSWER: Paying attention to power polls, or power indexes, is a colossal waste of time at any point of the NFL calendar. Do yourself a favor, stop reading that drivel. It will rot your brain. Reading Asked and Answered is a far superior method of wasting time.
LOUIS PERRON FROM MONTREAL, QC, CANADA: First and foremost, thank you for your diligence and transparency in the process of answering our questions. One of the weakest positions on the team in terms of depth is tight end. With that in mind, what options do the Steelers have to upgrade this position (free agency, trades)?
ANSWER: It’s safe to assume the Steelers have been trying to upgrade themselves at tight end, but so far they haven’t been able to work anything out. And just so you understand, there is no free agency at this point in the NFL calendar, at least not in the way I believe you mean. There is the waiver wire, and there is the trade market when it comes to acquiring players. I believe at this point that making a trade is less likely, because those transactions typically happen close to cut-down day, and by this time teams are more focused on getting ready for regular season games. And when it comes to the waiver wire, what’s important to understand is just because a team makes a claim, that doesn’t mean the team gets the player. If multiple claims are made on a waived player, that player goes to the claiming team with the worst record. So in this waiver period, waivers are awarded based on teams’ 2018 record, which means the Steelers are 20th in the claiming order. According to reports, the Steelers were one of the teams to put in a claim for tight end Ricky Seals-Jones after he was waived by the Arizona Cardinals, but Seals-Jones was awarded to the Browns because the Browns, at 7-8-1, had the worst record among the teams that put in a claim for him. The bottom line is that the Steelers have been trying to strengthen themselves at tight end, but it hasn’t worked out.
GIO CALABRO FROM EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, NJ: Like everyone else I'm concerned about the tight end depth. My question is that if necessitated by injury, would Christian Scotland-Williamson be activated on game day and what realistically could be expected from him?
ANSWER: Since Christian Scotland-Williamson is on the practice squad, he cannot be “activated” without the team creating a spot for him on the 53-man roster, either by cutting a player or putting one on the injured reserve list. I make that point to illustrate that the process would not be as simple as you describe, and my suspicion is that were the Steelers to add a tight end to their roster from the practice squad, the first man up would be Kevin Rader.
DAVID ZIPPARO FROM ROCHELLE IL: What is the purpose of the practice squad? Is it to continue to develop the players they see potential in, or backup backups incase of multiple injuries at a position?
ANSWER: Here is the way Coach Mike Tomlin explained the purpose of the practice squad: “It serves multiple purposes. Sometimes it’s a developmental squad. Sometimes there’s guy with upside but he’s not even close to being ready to play, and so he’s camped there for a season. Some guys are just on the outside looking in for whatever reason. They didn’t pan out within their group, and that’s a means of continuing to do business with them. And if something happens positionally or within the team that would give them an opportunity to be elevated and play, then they’re viewed in that way. Different people have different statuses. People are on that list for a variety of reasons. The big thing is you’ve done enough things and you’ve got enough traits that we want to continue with you. That’s what’s important.”
RYAN SOTO FROM RICHMOND, VA: What happened with Devlin Hodges and do you see him coming back to the team in any way? I thought he definitely would have made the practice squad.
ANSWER: Devlin Hodges was waived on the final cut-down because he wasn’t one of the three best quarterback on the Steelers 90-man roster. It’s really that simple. And apparently, only Steelers fans believe he belongs in the NFL, because here is Hodges’ history with the league: He was undrafted, which means 32 teams passed him at least seven times (counting compensatory draft picks); he went unsigned during the undrafted rookie signing frenzy where each of the 32 teams typically add between 10-12 players each; and after he was waived, not one of the other 31 teams claimed him or signed him to the practice squad. I’m not a scout, but what all of that should reveal is that many, many people who are NFL scouts don’t seem to believe Hodges is an NFL quarterback.