Best of Asked and Answered: Friday, September 4

Let's get to it:

STEVEN GREJDA FROM ROCHESTER, MI: How do see the division of labor at running back working out?
ANSWER: James Conner is the starter. Benny Snell is No. 2 and would be the guy into the game when/if Conner needs a rest. Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels, and Kerrith Whyte are still competing for one or maybe two spots on the roster, and Steelers could create a package for one of them on offense, or they could be used strictly on special teams.

CRYSTAL JAMES FROM FISHKILL, NY: With all the attention being given to the competition at right tackle, I'm more concerned about left tackle, which is a more important position for a right-handed quarterback, and protecting Ben Roethlisberger's surgically repaired throwing arm has got to be a high priority. At least at right tackle, whoever loses the starting job will have the other as a tested backup. Do we have a credible, tested backup at left tackle?
ANSWER: The way it works in the NFL is that there is one primary backup to the two starting offensive tackles, and the role is known as "swing tackle." With rosters made up of just 53 players and with game day rosters set at 46, it's not possible to have a dedicated backup to every position along the offensive line. On the typical game day roster, there usually will be seven offensive linemen in uniform: the starting five, one backup who can play each of the three interior positions, and one backup who can line up at either of the tackle positions. And besides, since Alejandro Villanueva became the full-time starter at left tackle in 2016, he played every offensive snap in 2016, 2018, and 2019, and in 2017 he played all but 23 of the season total of 1,110 offensive snaps. That doesn't leave much on-field time to develop a "credible, tested" backup at left tackle.

MICHAEL PLAKE FROM STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, CO: I liked the offseason addition of Stefan Wisniewski because he seems like the kind of guy who brings his lunch pail to work every day. Defenses rotate defensive linemen in and out of the game for seemingly every possession of every game. Is there a scenario where an offensive lineman such as Wisniewski could be rotated through as well to keep the unit fresh?
ANSWER: The offensive line is somewhat unique because for it to be effective, the five players need to function as a unit. It's not so much about being fresh as it is about being a coordinated group where each player has an instinctive understanding of how the guy next to him is going to react to situations as those situations pop up in the heat of a game. As a result, NFL teams don't rotate offensive linemen in and out of a game to keep them fresh, because instead of being a positive it very well could end up being a hinderance.

RANDY DUVALL FROM HAMPTON, VA: Have the Steelers created or found a role for Ryan Shazier within the organization?
ANSWER: In January, Ryan Shazier was placed on the reserve-Retired list, and on Aug. 31 Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the impact of Shazier's absence from the team.

"Ryan is focused on some transitional things in his life," said Tomlin, "and that's where his focus is right now. He has mine and our full support in terms of that. I hope he's going to have some time for us in the future, but as he lays the foundation for the rest of his life, that's where he's focusing his energies."

Earlier in the training camp process, General Manager Kevin Colbert said, "Ryan will always be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers in an official or unofficial capacity … And he knows that even though he isn't a part of it or in the building (right now), he will always be a part of us."

ROBERT ROYER FROM MILTON, PA: Will Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley broadcast road games in stadium this year?
ANSWER: I believe that at this point, the Steelers Radio Network, led by flagship station WDVE-FM, will not be broadcasting from inside the stadium on the road during the initial portion of the regular season. I also believe that will be the procedure for all road teams league wide. That could change as the season progresses and the NFL gets a better idea of how COVID-19 is going to impact the 2020 season, but right now I believe this cautious approach will be how teams proceed at first. The Steelers Radio Network will broadcast all of the games, but I believe it will be done from a remote location when the team is on the road.

LEN OLDLAND FROM ERIE, PA: What's the difference between a player being released or being waived?
ANSWER: Players who are not vested veterans – those who don't have at least four years of service – are subject to waivers. This process means when a non-vested veteran has his contract terminated, he is waived and can be claimed by any other team in the NFL with the priority determined by won-loss records the previous season. As an example: I'm a second-year player who gets my contract terminated on Saturday when all teams must reduce their rosters to 53 players. The technical term is I have been waived, and for 24 hours any team in the NFL can claim my services under the terms of my contract at the time I was terminated. If more than one team claims me, I am awarded to the claiming team with the worst record the previous year. If I don't want to play for that team, I don't play in the NFL. A player who is released is a vested veteran who immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent and is able to sign with any team that's interested and can be paid any salary based on the terms and provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

JOHN VERDEROSA FROM ABINGDON, VA: I'm reading and hearing lots of good things about the Steelers corps of receivers. With so much talent to spread around, how do you see things shaking out for the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Ryan Shazier, Eric Ebron, and Vance McDonald?
ANSWER: It's impossible to predict precisely how things are going to shake out, because there are variables such as injury to take into consideration. But I believe this group will offer the quarterback plenty of options to attack all areas of the field while also preventing opposing defenses from being able to hone in on one or two players as the quarterback's go-to guys. And finally, I'm just happy that quarterback is going to be Ben Roethlisberger.

JIMMY SUVOY FROM INDIAN ROCKS BEACH, FL: You responded to a question regarding shuffling offensive linemen in and out of the game by pointing out that continuity is more important to that unit than freshness. That makes sense. But wasn't Chuck Noll a messenger guard for the Browns? Meaning he ran in and out of the game on every other play to bring in the plays from Coach Paul Brown? And anticipating your answer, I suppose the radio equipped helmet has eliminated that need.
ANSWER: Yes, technology has eliminated the need for players to be used to relay plays from the sideline to the huddle, and even before technology, teams got away from this "messenger guard" practice by using hand signals from the sideline to communicate with the quarterback on the field. Of course, hand signals from the sideline became dangerous once the New England Patriots began their illegal shenanigans. But it always puzzled me why Brown, who had a Hall of Fame quarterback named Otto Graham, never believed he was capable of calling his own plays, like so many other quarterbacks of that era did – Johnny Unitas, Bobby Layne, Y.A. Tittle, and Bart Starr, among others.

NATHAN GEISLER FROM BOISE, ID: Help me understand something: the Steelers have a history of great centers. Ray Mansfield played from 1964-76, and Mike Webster played from 1974-88. Do you know who was snapping the ball to Steelers quarterbacks from 1974-76?
ANSWER: In 1974, the Steelers used their fifth-round pick on Mike Webster, and during that season, as well as in 1975, Ray Mansfield started 13 of the 14 games in each of those regular seasons. As a rookie, Webster played some guard as well. What Chuck Noll saw was that Mansfield, while the starter, was 33 years old for the 1974 season and 34 for the 1975 season, and even if he wasn't breaking down physically he was losing ground to the much younger and stronger Webster. So Noll began working Webster into the lineup, and it evolved into Mansfield playing the first and third quarters, and Webster playing the second and fourth quarters. This wasn't done to keep the two of them fresh as much as it was done to get Webster some game experience while also respecting what Mansfield had contributed and still could contribute as a veteran who was snapping the ball to a still young quarterback in Terry Bradshaw, who was 26 in 1974 but far from a mature, savvy NFL quarterback at the time.

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