Let's get to it:
TONY SOBRASKY FROM COCONUT CREEK, FL: I would like some insight from you on this one. Why would the team release Devlin Hodges? He seemed to do OK for us last year, considering he was a rookie third-string quarterback. Does Josh Dobbs bring something Hodges doesn't? And finally, why didn't he get signed to the practice squad at least?
ANSWER: It's really not complicated. The Steelers waived Devlin Hodges because they believe Josh Dobbs is a better quarterback and they were able to get him when they made a waiver claim on him. The NFL doesn't grade on a curve, and so a player doesn't have his performance mitigated because he was a "rookie third-string quarterback." The role the Steelers were looking to fill was that of the No. 3 quarterback, and while your assessment was that Hodges "seemed to do OK last year," the Steelers obviously believe Dobbs has better physical skills to play the position at the NFL level, and as a legitimate rocket scientist he certainly is intelligent enough. Plus, Dobbs has more experience in the Steelers system and in the NFL than Hodges. Time will tell if the Steelers' assessment and then the decision they made as a result was the correct one, but the reasoning behind it should be obvious. And apparently, they believed carrying three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster gave them enough at the position that carrying a fourth on the practice squad isn't necessary.
DAVID ZIPPARO FROM ROCHELLE, IL: I was looking at the initial 53-man roster and saw wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud won a spot over Ryan Switzer. I know things this year in camp were different from a media standpoint, so we weren't able to get much perspective on players, but why was he chosen over Switzer?
ANSWER: My impression is that Ray-Ray McCloud can give the Steelers more on special teams, both as a returner and also on the coverage units. The Steelers have been wanting/needing to improve their return game, and at some point the only way to do that is to identify one and then keep him on the roster. Ryan Switzer was solid in his decision-making as a returner and his hands were reliable, but there really wasn't anything else that made him a special returner once he had the ball in his hands. McCloud showed some burst in live special teams sessions during camp at Heinz Field, plus he also got some work on the coverage units. I think the hope is that McCloud can be more of a playmaker as a returner, because the Steelers knew the limitations Switzer had in that area.
SCOTT RANDALL FROM CONWAY, SC: If James Connor can't stay healthy, how do you see the running back rotation happening through this season? If we can't run the ball effectively, then Ben Roethlisberger will have a rough welcome back because defenses will key on him.
ANSWER: Here's a news flash for you: Defenses are going to be keying on Ben Roethlisberger whether James Conner is healthy and a 1,000-yard rusher or not. A quarterback who passed for over 5,000 yards the last time he played a full NFL season is the No. 1 priority for every defensive coordinator on the Steelers' schedule. And here's something else you should realize: a quarterback like Roethlisberger will do more to help the running game than a running game will do to help Roethlisberger. That said, I understand and accept the need for the Steelers to be more effective running the football, but you're asking me to guess about something that may not even happen. As Bill Cowher was fond of saying, "I don't play the what-if game."
NEIL GLASSER FROM MANALAPAN, NY: Two minutes left in the game, and your team is losing by four points. Your offense has the ball on its own 25-yard line, and Ben Roethlisberger is out. You can choose one from these replacements: Mason Rudolph, Devlin Hodges, Josh Dobbs, Landry Jones, Charlie Batch, or Mike Kruczek. Who do you go to?
ANSWER: Well, Mike Kruczek is 67 years old, Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier are both retired, and so is that entire 1976 Steelers defense. Charlie Batch is 45. Landry Jones is only 31, but he has had a couple of significant injuries recently. I choose Mason Rudolph, provided the referee doesn't allow Myles Garrett to rough the passer, then rip his helmet off his head and use it to commit battery.
RICK SMEARCHECK FROM TAYLORSVILLE, KY: Based on what you've seen and heard about Chase Claypool, do you believe that he will receive significant playing time as the season progresses? Is the team viewing him as an outside or inside type of player?
ANSWER: When it comes to playing time for receivers and the production resulting from that playing time, the individual who has significant control over those things is the quarterback, and here is what Ben Roethlisberger said about Chase Claypool during training camp:
"I always get caught trying to spread too much praise on rookies, because I want them to sneak up on other people, but it doesn't look like Chase is going to be able to sneak up on anybody right now because people are talking about him and deservedly so. He's just making plays. I think the plays that he's making are impressive, but I think, to me, what's more impressive is that he doesn't ask a lot of questions, which means he knows his stuff. I can change a play with a hand signal or call a different play at the line of scrimmage, and I always check him like, 'Are you good?' He's like, I got it. That's very impressive from a quarterback perspective, because as much as we've thrown at him, he's able to digest it. I'm not saying he doesn't make a mistake, but when he does make a mistake, he's not making the same mistake twice. I just think that's really impressive."
With Claypool's size – 6-foot-4, 238 pounds – I would expect him to be an outside receiver.
MATTHEW SEIFERT FROM SOMERSET, PA: Regarding Marcus Allen's position switch: I noticed he is listed ahead of Ulysees Gilbert so I was wondering if he is intended to be a true backup at the position or if he will be utilized as more of a hybrid safety/linebacker position and Gilbert will still be the running down backup should Devin Bush need a break.
ANSWER: A few things: First, the way the Steelers depth chart reads, behind Devin Bush it's Marcus Allen OR Ulysees Gilbert, which means that one isn't necessarily ahead of the other. And whether it's Bush, Allen, or Gilbert at the position, it's going to involve a lot of coverage, and so all three of those guys are hybrid linebackers in a way. And finally, there is no such thing as a running down in the NFL. Offenses won't allow a defense to get comfortable with whether the play is going to be a run or a pass, and so anything and everything has become fair game on early downs.
CHRIS WELBURN FROM GLASTONBURY, CT: Tell me otherwise, please, but doesn't J.C. Hassenauer being on the 53-man roster make it clear that he'll be the backup center because Stefan Wisniewski has to cover for David DeCastro? DeCastro was supposed to be the rock while this group pulled together after the retirement of Ramon Foster.
ANSWER: You may be taking this depth chart business too seriously, but I am confident that once the regular season gets underway, which for the Steelers is just a few days from now, Stefan Wisniewski will be the primary backup at all three interior offensive line positions, just as B.J. Finney was last season. Per the depth chart, Kevin Dotson is listed as the backup left guard, and if something happened to Matt Feiler, the Steelers would not insert a rookie who missed a chunk of training camp with an injury during a summer that included no preseason games to take that spot in the starting lineup.
DEBORAH SILOS FROM BURLINGTON, NC: Will there be some form of replay for pass interference, now that the NFL has stopped it? Or will it revert back to the way it was?
ANSWER: Pass interference, called and uncalled, is no longer subject to replay review. Thank God.