Let’s get to it:
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Steelers will be wearing their black jerseys in today’s game against the Browns in Cleveland.
TOM WHITLEY FROM BONAIRE, GA: Is Matthew Thomas a potential upgrade in run defense against a run-first team. Or is he developmental player and solely for special teams?
ANSWER: The starting inside linebackers will be Jon Bostic and Vince Williams, and unless there is an injury or a series of poor performances that might convince Mike Tomlin a change is in order, I believe those will be the starters whenever the Steelers are in their base alignment. Matthew Thomas has a lot of potential, but the Steelers aren’t going to rush him onto the field, because as well as he did during the preseason, you should remember that most of his playing time came against a bunch of guys who may not even be NFL players anymore.
PAUL KIMBLE FROM FORT IRWIN, CA: Jeff Tanchak, a Cleveland meteorologist said, “I have not seen a worse weather forecast for a Browns game in the almost 16 years I have been here, and that includes snow events. I have no idea how they will be able to play football or how people will be able to sit in that stadium and watch a game.” Assuming the worst case scenario weather forecast (40 mile-per-hour winds, 7 inches of rain) comes true, will the NFL postpone the game?
ANSWER: The game would never be cancelled, and it only would be postponed if there was some threat to the fans – lightning, for example – or if playing the game at 1 p.m. would create some kind of public safety issue, as was the case with the postponement of the Steelers game in Miami in 2004, which happened to be Ben Roethlisberger’s first career start.
MIKE MORHIDGE FROM AKRON, OH: What is your opinion on how the loss of Martavis Bryant will affect the passing game? I am concerned about the Steelers’ ability to push the ball downfield because they’ll be missing his speed/size. I know Antonio Brown can get deep, but besides him I am not confident in anyone else's ability to take the top off the defense. JuJu Smith-Schuster strikes me as more of a blue color guy (really a lot like Hines Ward) and Justin Hunter’s hands scare me. I hope the rookie James Washington can get a lot of those snaps but I am not sure what to expect from him being a rookie.
ANSWER: Which Martavis Bryant are we talking about? The guy before the one-year suspension? Or the 2017 version? I begin this answer this way, because I believe those were two very different versions of the same player. Justin Hunter made several Martavis Bryant-like plays in the preseason, but now he has to follow that up by making those same kinds of plays in the regular season. And understand that making big plays down the field in the passing game doesn’t only happen when the quarterback throws the ball a long way and a receiver runs under it. Sometimes those kinds of plays happen when a receiver finds a seam, and the quarterback throws him a pass that he catches in stride and runs a long way, as happened on Smith-Schuster’s 97-yard catch-and-run last season against the Lions in Detroit.
CALEB LANDIS FROM COATESVILLE, PA: Once a player has cleared waivers and placed on the Steelers practice squad, can he be signed away by another team, or are the practice squad players considered under contract with us?
ANSWER: Players on practice squads all over the league can be signed by any other team, with the only condition being that the player must be kept on the signing team’s 53-man roster for three weeks. This rule was put in to prevent teams from doing what Tom Coughlin liked to do to the Steelers when he was coaching the Jaguars, which was sign a guy off the Steelers practice squad the week before the teams played, pick his brain, and then cut him. Two other things to remember: players on the practice squad do not have to sign with another team – even though it’s really foolish for a young guy to turn down a chance to be on an active roster because of the ramifications regarding his progress toward free agency and a pension – and some teams will have agreements with certain practice squad players’ agents where the current team will get a heads-up about an outside offer to be given the chance to activate the guy to his current team’s 53-man roster.
WILLIAM EDWARDS FROM DAVENPORT, IA: What will Jaylen Samuels role be Week 1?
ANSWER: Since Vance McDonald was ruled out of today’s game, and because the Steelers only have three tight ends on their 53-man roster, there will be only two tight ends in uniform – Jesse James and Xavier Grimble. Maybe Samuels, who has some experience at the position from his time in college, is utilized there in some situations. Strictly a guess on my part.
TERU WHITE FROM DOVER, DE: Is it feasible for the Steelers to just use the transition tag on Le’Veon Bell?
ANSWER: That’s not against the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the transition tag only allows a team to match any outside offer. There is no compensation attached if the team chooses not to match.
JOE CABADAY FROM PASADENA, MD: With all the insanity due to Le’Veon Bell’s holdout and the possibility of a continued holdout I'd like to pose a hypothetical question. If you were the Steelers general manager and knew this fiasco would happen prior to draft day, would you have given up future picks to move up and draft Saquon Barkley?
ANSWER: Absolutely, positively not. In that position, giving up future picks for a dynamic defensive player, a la Ryan Shazier, would have been something worth considering, but giving up future draft picks to replace a running back who was a second-round pick? No way. I would do that. Never.
TIM ALAND FROM STEVENSVILLE, MT: Has Le'Veon Bell played more than one complete season since being drafted?
ANSWER: Le’Veon Bell started all 16 regular season games in 2014, and he started 15 games in 2017 and was held out of the regular season finale by Mike Tomlin, so I consider that a full season, as well.
JOHN VENDITTELLI FROM ST. CATHARINES, ONTARIO, CANADA: If Le'Veon Bell sits out the year without signing the tender, does he become a free agent, or do the Steelers still have his rights? If they choose to franchise tag him again would it be at this current level or the average of the top five salaries?
ANSWER: If Le’Veon Bell never signs his franchise tender this season (which I believe is not realistic), the Steelers would be able to place the franchise tag on him again next February/March, and the number actually could be less than the $14.5 million that it is this year.
GRAHAM LYNN FROM CHARLOTTE, NC: Do the Steelers really view James Connor as the future running back in Pittsburgh, or is it possible we use our first-round pick next year on one?
ANSWER: Gee, can we maybe wait to see what happens in today’s game?
MIKE HENRY FROM HAGERSTOWN, MD: I am old enough to remember when punters would kick towards the sidelines to limit returns. Seems that does not happen anymore. Was there a rule change disallowing that kick or just a change in style?
ANSWER: No rule change. It’s just not as easy as you think, because if an NFL punter could kick the ball a little longer than 40 yards every time and it would go out of bounds with no return, teams would be lining up to sign him.
KATHY DAVIS FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: While I know it was a mere glimpse, I was impressed with Damoun Patterson in the final preseason game. I believe he was released with some sort of injury waiver. Is there a scenario where he could someday wear the black-and-gold?
ANSWER: Damoun Patterson indeed was waived injured, and there are a couple of ways he could end up with the Steelers in the future. One of them would be that after his injury heals, he could re-sign with the team and be added to the practice squad, or at the end of the 2018 season, he could sign a futures contract and start over with the team in 2019.