Let's get to it:
BEN FIELY FROM MEADVILLE, PA: Do you think the addition of Eric Ebron will be just as beneficial for the Steelers as was the trade for Minkah Fitzpatrick early in the 2019 season?
ANSWER: I believe the Eric Ebron signing has a chance to have a positive impact on the offense by adding another weapon for Ben Roethlisberger and allowing the Steelers to be more effective and creative with formations and personnel groupings. But comparing Ebron to Minkah Fitzpatrick is unfair to Ebron. Fitzpatrick was a first-team All-Pro safety in his first season with the team and a top 10 talent when he was a part of the 2018 NFL Draft. He also was the missing ingredient for a defense that had lacked a ball-hawk defensive back ever since Troy Polamalu retired. I liked the Ebron signing, and if he stays healthy he can be a significant addition to the 2020 Steelers, but Fitzpatrick is a player who'll be on the field for virtually every defensive snap, and opponents will have to account for him on every one of those. Let's not place unrealistic expectations on someone before he even plays a down in a Steelers uniform.
ANDREW CLAY FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: With your connections, can you get someone to take and post a video of T.J. Watt vs. Derek Watt during the backs-on-backers drill? That would be great.
ANSWER: If there had been training camp at Saint Vincent College this summer, fans in attendance for the first practice in pads and for the Friday Night Lights practice at Latrobe Stadium would've had a chance to see that live, but the rules regarding what can be videotaped during a Steelers practice prohibit the taping of drills during the competition period, and backs-on-backers is a drill during the competition period.
BURTON HARRIS FROM GREENSBURG, PA: With what is going on with COVID-19, do you think the Steelers would change their policy and conduct contract talks during the season?
ANSWER: The reason the Steelers instituted the policy of ending all contract talks at the start of the regular season was because they wanted all focus to be on the regular season once it began. That has nothing to do with COVID-19, and so I don't see why that could or should be a mitigating factor in contract negotiations this year.
DAVE STEWART FROM VALRICO, FL: If I understand the camp schedule/restrictions it looks like a lot more coaching and conditioning and less pads and contact. Do you think that will lead to more or fewer injuries during the season?
ANSWER: This is a question where any answer offered is a pure guess. Here's my guess: I hope it's fewer, but I suspect it will be more.
DEAN KOSTLICH FROM ATLANTA, GA: Kordell Stewart was a gifted athlete and when he was given the reigns as the starting quarterback, the expectations were high. I felt that his career as starting quarterback was derailed a bit by the constant change in the offensive coordinator position during his run, thereby not allowing him to ascend as he otherwise could have. Crucial mistakes in the AFC Championship Games of 1997 and 2001 certainly didn't help.
ANSWER: Kordell Stewart didn't play well in either the 1997 nor the 2001 AFC Championship Games, and his three interceptions in each of those losses were important to the outcome. But just as important to the outcome in the 2001 version were the special teams gaffes – a mindless penalty on a punt that forced a re-kick that then was returned for a touchdown; and then having a field goal blocked and returned for another touchdown – that accounted for a 17-point swing in what ended up being a 24-17 final. And in the 1997 version, the Steelers had handled the Broncos, 34-24, in a regular season game during which Jerome Bettis had pounded Denver's porous run defense for 186 yards on 36 carries (5.1 average) and Stewart rushed for two touchdowns, but when it came to playing for a spot in the Super Bowl, the Steelers abandoned their running attack late in the first quarter and saw a 14-10 lead become a 24-14 halftime deficit because they effectively put Stewart in a passing battle with John Elway. In the NFL, winning with a running quarterback requires a total commitment on offense to utilizing that player's unique skills (as the Ravens did with Lamar Jackson in 2019 being a recent example), but the Steelers never quite got there. And then Stewart wasn't able to develop into a traditional NFL quarterback.
ROBERT SINICKI FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: If it happens again, and Ben Roethlisberger is injured, how much confidence do you have in Mason Rudolph after last season?
ANSWER: I would have more confidence in Mason Rudolph than in any of the realistic options the Steelers had for a different backup quarterback in 2020. I liked what I saw from Rudolph in 2019 in terms of his individual development as a player and the way he matured as a teammate over the course of the season. And in addition to that, I'm a believer in the success of a backup quarterback hinging on a mutual confidence that develops between the player and his teammates – him in them and them in him – and that happens only through shared experiences and time spent together on the field. Changing backup quarterbacks as often as one might change socks is not a recipe for success, in my opinion.
ROY PERRIN FROM FUQUAY VARINA, NC: Who would be your vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2021 besides the obvious Alan Faneca?
ANSWER: Bill Nunn. Bill Nunn. Bill Nunn.
ERICK WAKEFIELD FROM WEST PALM BEACH, FL: Do you think Mike Hilton ever will get his fair dollar amount for playing the game as well as he does?
ANSWER: Mike Hilton is due to earn $3.26 million in 2020, which I believe is a representative salary for a slot cornerback who's 5-foot-9 and has four interceptions in his 47 games over three seasons with the Steelers. Hilton has value, no question about that, and recently defensive coordinator Keith Butler said about him, "We know Mike Hilton and what he does. He is a tough little dude. He has been doing it for a while. We feel like he can blitz, I think he can be a threat as a blitzer. He does a good job of what we ask him to do." I'm not saying that $3.26 million is necessarily Hilton's top end in terms of salary, but I also don't believe he's in the same cap neighborhood as Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, and Minkah Fitzpatrick, just to name three other Steelers defensive backs.
TODD WYNN FROM MANSFIELD, OH: I have been looking into the 1980s Steelers, because I just missed out on that era. It seems to me that Louis Lipps is underrated. Where do you think he would rank in franchise history if the Steelers had drafted Dan Marino, or if he got to play with Terry Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger?
ANSWER: I agree with your belief that Louis Lipps, the Steelers' first-round draft choice in 1984, is an underrated receiver in terms of franchise history. The quarterbacks throwing to Lipps during his time with the Steelers included Mark Malone, David Woodley, Todd Blackledge, and Bubby Brister, with Brister by far the best of that group. It's a no-brainer that Lipps' career numbers would've been higher had he played with Terry Bradshaw or Ben Roethlisberger, and I also believe those numbers would've been higher had Chuck Noll hired someone other than Joe Walton to follow Tom Moore as the offensive coordinator following the 1989 season.
LARRY MORRISON FROM PENSACOLA, FL: With Ben Roethlisberger coming back there seems to be a lot of talk about a possible run to the Super Bowl this year. Defensively they seem to be talented enough, but the offense seems average at best. Do you believe there is enough talent on that side of the ball to really make a run at it?
ANSWER: This is the time on the NFL calendar when fans' optimism about their favorite team's chances are at their highest, because nobody has seen anything happen on the field to provide concrete evidence to the contrary. With Ben Roethlisberger taking snaps from Maurkice Pouncey, I believe the Steelers offense is talented enough to be part of a contending team. There's a long way to go, and a lot of things have to fall into place, but not being talented enough won't be a legitimate reason as long as Roethlisberger stays healthy.