Let's get to it:
BRIAN HENDERSON FROM MURRELLS INLET, SC: I think the Steelers 2021 draft was very good, but time will tell. With four rookies starting this coming week against the Bills – Kendrick Green, Dan Moore Jr., Najee Harris, and Pressley Harvin III – and I was wondering about the 1974 great draft, and did Mike Webster, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Jack Lambert all start the opener of the 1974 season?
ANSWER: The primary starters at wide receiver for the Steelers in 1974 were Ron Shanklin and Frank Lewis; and the starting center was Ray Mansfield. Jack Lambert started all 14 games at middle linebacker. And just a point of clarification: As of now, four rookies are scheduled to start for the Steelers on Sunday against the Bills in Buffalo, but we won't know that it happened until the day of the game. As an example, the Steelers could begin their first offensive series with a personnel package that includes tight end Pat Freiermuth, and even if Freiermuth would go on to play no other offensive snaps in the game he officially would be considered a starter in that game. That's just the way the NFL distinguishes starters – if you're on the field for the first snap, you go down in history as a starter in that game.
CASEY McDONALD FROM MONTGOMERY, PA: I don't want to overreact to the T.J. Watt contract situation, but if the Steelers have the funds available to pay him what he wants, why not just pay it? By now he has proven himself. I don't understand.
ANSWER: I'm not close enough to the situation to know the details of the negotiations, and specifically what the sticking points are in the negotiations at this point in the process. Based on years of seeing from the outside how these things typically unfold, it's usually more about how the money is structured than it is about the bottom-line total.
ANDY GLEASON FROM SPRING HILL, FL: Do you think we'll see any defensive packages with T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Melvin Ingram on the field at the same time?
ANSWER: Not against the Bills in Buffalo, but that's a possibility for later in the season.
JD AKERS FROM NIXA, MO: If the Steelers sign T.J. Watt he may become the highest paid defensive player in the league, with good reason. This does not seem to fit the model of Steelers football, so can you tell us when and if the Steelers have ever had the highest paid player at any position?
ANSWER: I cannot be certain how many times it happened, but I know it happened at least once. In 1993, the Steelers made Rod Woodson the highest paid defensive back in the NFL by signing him to a four-year contract worth $12 million, which was a higher per-season average than the five-year, $12.75 million contract Tim McDonald signed a bit earlier with the San Francisco 49ers. Also, in 1979 the Steelers had the highest team payroll in NFL history, but that was more about a total for an entire roster that was completely homegrown and would finish that season with a fourth Super Bowl victory over a six-season span.
ED SWARTZ FROM NORWICH, OH: Why did Joe Schobert have to give his No. 45 to rookie linebacker Buddy Johnson? Then he was assigned No. 93, which is already assigned to a guy on injured reserve and is normally given to a defensive lineman. Why not give him number 57?
ANSWER: I don't believe Joe Schobert was forced to give No. 45 to rookie inside linebacker Buddy Johnson, because traditionally veterans get to choose first when it comes to available jersey numbers. The four players currently on the Steelers' injured reserve list are Joshua Dobbs, Anthony McFarland Jr., Zach Banner, and Stephon Tuitt, and none of them wear No. 93, so you are wrong there. And why are you so sure Schobert didn't pick No. 93 for himself? Kevin Greene wore No. 91, Jason Gildon and James Harrison both wore No. 92, Greg Lloyd wore No. 95, Levon Kirkland wore No. 99, so clearly jersey numbers in the 90s are not "normally given to a defensive lineman" by the Steelers.
KEN WALDROP FROM ONTONAGON, MI: Have the Steelers practiced with any artificial noise that you know of? The offensive line is so new, I fear the silent snap count may be an issue this weekend, especially where the center is concerned.
ANSWER: Practicing with artificial crowd noise is a regular part of the Steelers' weekly preparation, and Coach Mike Tomlin even takes it a step further. Tomlin has the artificial crowd noise pumped in over the speakers at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex before home games when the defense is on the field so that those players can get used to what they're going to face when a packed Heinz Field tries to disrupt the visiting team's offense.
JEFF BERNARD FROM CHICAGO, IL: How do the Steelers feel that they chose Joe Haden over Steven Nelson? And now Joe Haden says he wants to try out the market.
ANSWER: The Steelers chose Joe Haden because he is the better player now, and when he is eligible to become a free agent in March 2022, he will be about a month away from his 33rd birthday. I'm not saying Haden will be washed-up at that point, or that he'll have no value on the open market, but it's a smart business move to have a wait-and-see attitude when approaching a contract extension for a cornerback closing in on his mid-30s.
JOHN FENNER FROM LITTLE ELM, TX: The early offensive line depth chart had Chuks Okorafor as the starting left tackle and Zach Banner as the starting right tackle. Dan Moore Jr. was working at both tackle spots and looked to be the swing tackle. Since then, Banner has gone on injured reserve, and now Moore is listed as the starting left tackle instead of Okorafor. Are we to surmise from this that Coach Mike Tomlin sees Moore as a better left tackle than Chuks would be?
ANSWER: I believe this is a combination of trying to get the five best offensive linemen on the field while also taking into consideration where they would be most comfortable. Both Chuks Okorafor and Dan Moore Jr. can play either left tackle or right tackle, but since Moore played primarily on the left side during his college career, Coach Mike Tomlin is giving him a chance to make the jump to the NFL on the side of the line of scrimmage where he has the better muscle memory.
DENNIS NEVINSKY FROM ERIE, PA: If a player makes the initial 53-man roster, is he guaranteed to be paid his yearly salary? I am wondering about Henry Mondeaux, who made the initial 53, but then was cut before the season began.
ANSWER: No, he is not guaranteed his yearly salary, and since he was not on the active roster for any regular season games and is now on the practice squad, he will be paid at the weekly practice squad rate. A vested veteran who is on the active roster for the regular season opener can file for termination pay and receive his entire year's salary regardless of whether that opener is the only game for which he's on an active roster. But a player can only claim termination pay once over the course of his career.
LEE BOWERS FROM COLORADO SPRINGS, CO: With the Ravens announcing the signing of Le'Veon Bell, do you think their offense will benefit, based on his time here and familiarity practicing against our defense along with Alejandro Villanueva on their offensive line, or does it tip the scales slightly in our favor with the defense understanding/knowing his tendencies? Also, how big of a role do you think he'll for them this year?
ANSWER: First, allow me to point out that we're talking professional football and not the plot of a John le Carre spy novel. Le'Veon Bell hasn't been a significant NFL player since 2017, which is also the last season he played for the Steelers. That may be only four years ago in real time, but in NFL time it's a lifetime ago. The only four players left from that starting defense are Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, T.J. Watt, and Joe Haden. Tuitt is on injured reserve now, and Watt was a rookie then, and based on the way Alexandro Villanueva blocked for the run last year, having him in front of Bell hardly should be considered an advantage. Since leaving the Steelers, Bell has averaged 3.4 yards per rush and scored five touchdowns for the Jets and the Chiefs, and I have absolutely no idea of what Bell's role might be with the Ravens in 2021. Let me close with this: If the Ravens weren't desperate at running back, I doubt Bell would be in the league this season.
TIM WARFEL FROM RICHMOND, VA: I'm old school, and when I think of Steelers football I think of the Bus, running Power-O from the I-formation. One play in particular, from the I-formation, we would stack the left or right side of the line, and at the snap we would pull the opposite side guard to that stacked side, with the fullback leading the way. The defense was consistently overwhelmed, and we closed many games by moving the chains by dominating the defensive line. Why have we gotten away from the I-formation, especially with fullback Derek Watt and agile guards in our arsenal?
ANSWER: Want to talk old school? OK. Why did Chuck Noll go from an offense that RAN the football 70.2 percent of the time in 1976 to one that THREW the ball 62.8 percent of the time in 1978? In part because of the rules changes enacted by the NFL to make it easier to throw the football. And since 1978, even more rules changes have made it even easier for offenses to throw the ball, while player-safety measures have made blocking for the run more difficult. In addition, your memories of the good ol' days also reflect an era when the Steelers employed a 260-pound Hall of Fame running back, and an athletic, Hall of Fame left guard playing next to a Hall of Fame center who may have been the most athletic player ever to play that position in the NFL. In addition, the quarterback for most of those seasons was either Kordell Stewart or Mike Tomczak. As General Manager Kevin Colbert remembers Don Shula telling his personnel people when Colbert worked for the Miami Dolphins, "When you have red paint, paint the barn red." The Steelers are all out of red paint, and the NFL doesn't sell that color anymore.
JARRETT RICKERDS FROM KNOXVILLE, MD: I am very excited about the direction and changes to the Steelers' trio of specialists. What are your expectations for punter Pressley Harvin III and long-snapper Christian Kuntz? A lot of fans are drooling over Harvin, but does he have the tools to be consistent in what special teams coordinator Danny Smith needs from him?
ANSWER: My expectations don't matter, but I believe the Steelers went shopping for a punter this past offseason in the hope of finding one who is capable of flipping the field for them more consistently than Jordan Berry. As for Christian Kuntz, the expectation for every long-snapper in the NFL, in my opinion, is to be the most anonymous person on the roster. If the long-snapper is that, then there have been no issues with him doing his job. As for Harvin's potential consistency, we'll all find that out together.