With Bob Labriola enjoying a summer break, we've gone through recent editions of Asked & Answered and selected a few memorable questions…and answers.
Bob returns to his normal schedule on Tuesday, July 11th.
Let's get to it:
ANDREW SCHERBIK FROM PORTSMOUTH, VA: Which rookie do you feel will have the most immediate impact?
ANSWER: Joey Porter Jr. He would be my pick as of late June because in addition to his skill set, veteran Patrick Peterson has been quoted as saying while some young players believe they have all the answers, Porter wants to be coached, wants to learn, and wants to become great.
RAYMOND CHASON FROM CONNEAUTVILLE, PA: When you look at the competition for the No. 3 wide receiver, how difficult will it be come training camp to say for sure who is starting?
ANSWER: The way I view things is that because there are so many different offensive personnel groupings in today's NFL, and receivers, running backs, and tight ends often are aligned interchangeably, it's difficult to identify who is the No. 3 wide receiver from play to play. I contend a much more important benchmark would be how the offensive snaps are allocated to the wide receivers in uniform for that particular game.
CARLOS ARVIZU FROM CDMX, MÉXICO: Other than T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, and Quincy Roche, who are the outside linebackers currently on the roster?
ANSWER: Veteran Markus Golden and fourth-round rookie Nick Herbig will enter training camp as the primary candidates at outside linebacker in addition to the three you mentioned.
TOM ONIONS FROM LITTLE RIVER, SC: The Steelers now have three quarterbacks under contract who have started regular season NFL games and won multiple games for the team. Under the new rules, how many quarterbacks do you think the Steelers will have dressed and available for each game going forward?
ANSWER: Assuming there are no injuries, I would expect Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky to be in uniform as the starter and the backup, with Mason Rudolph also in uniform as the emergency quarterback.
MIKE ZEKIR FROM MARIANNA, PA: I know it's early, but have you seen anyone stand out at inside linebacker so far? That seemed to be a weakness last season.
ANSWER: At a position such as inside linebacker, padless practices are not a legitimate indicator of how a player is progressing, but the one thing that has been heartening so far is that when the offseason program began it was believed Cole Holcomb would be brought along slowly because of being placed on injured reserve in 2022 by Washington. But Holcomb has been a regular participant this summer, which I contend is a positive development.
SCOTT RANDALL FROM CONWAY, SC: What is the deal with the rookie Cory Trice Jr.? I hear he is a very physical young man. Do you think he has a shot at making the roster as a backup or depth player?
ANSWER: More will be revealed about Cory Trice Jr. once the team reports to training camp and the hitting begins, but I wouldn't label him as a "backup or depth player" at this early stage of the process. Maybe he becomes an interchangeable piece of a revamped Steelers secondary. Stay tuned.
JIM ANDERSON FROM TOLEDO, OH: During training camp, does the depth chart change daily or weekly and is it posted for players to see?
ANSWER: Coach Mike Tomlin is not a big fan of putting a depth chart on a piece of paper during training camp, because in his opinion it's something that can change daily and often does change daily. The Steelers will issue depth charts in accordance with NFL requirements, but those are primarily for the media and are distributed through press releases. Posting depth charts for players to see could result in some guys at the top of them becoming complacent and others toward the bottom of them giving up hope. The competition during training camp is a marathon, and the race isn't over, nor is it won or lost, until the finish line is crossed.
PHILIP SCARSELLA FROM STEPHENS CITY, VA: In your opinion, is the secondary better than last year going into training camp?
ANSWER: Going into training camp doesn't mean a whole lot when it comes to evaluating a player or a position group, because my recollection of 2022 was that the team's issues at cornerback really didn't reveal themselves until the season started. Among the cornerbacks listed on the first training camp depth chart included Cam Sutton, Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Arthur Maulet, and once the team got into the meat of the 2022 season it became apparent that the position was hardly a strength. Just looking at cornerback, the Steelers have added Patrick Peterson, Joey Porter Jr., and Cory Trice Jr., while Sutton, Witherspoon, and Maulet are no longer with the team. Labeling one configuration at the cornerback position better or worse than the other is pure speculation at this point, and the "going into training camp" time frame is meaningless. What I am comfortable in saying is that the Steelers weren't good enough at cornerback in 2022, and that they took steps during the offseason to make some changes in an attempt to rectify that. That's a plus. And quite possibly the biggest plus is that Minkah Fitzpatrick, for my money the best free safety in football, is back for his sixth NFL season as a 26-going-on-27-year-old, three-time first-team All-Pro. He is in his prime as a player right now, and I would anticipate him being a better version of himself in 2023, which by extension should make the entire defensive backfield better. Oh, and he's signed through the 2026 season, so there will be no distractions on that front.
Take a look at photographs of Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick from the 2022 season
SCOTT RANDALL FROM CONWAY, SC: After the draft, and on paper, it seems as though the Steelers added some amazing draft choices, but has the team done anything to upgrade our punter?
ANSWER: What I can tell you is that your assessment of Pressley Harvin III is not shared by the coaching staff. The Steelers emphasize directional punting as a means to support the coverage and to limit return yardage so as to avoid putting their defense is a bad situation following a big return. In 2022, the Steelers punt team ranked second in the NFL by allowing only 24 punts to be returned for an average of 5.7 yards per return. The Chargers led the NFL in that category by allowing only 19 punts to be returned for an average of 3.1 yards per return. Harvin will have to beat back the summer's competition presented by Braden Mann, but if he continues to work in tandem with the coverage as well as he did last season in addition to being the reliable holder he has been for Chris Boswell, he's going to keep his job.
SAM MIKHAIL FROM BETHESDA, MD: How important is the fullback to the Steelers running game? Do you think the team will keep a traditional fullback on the roster?
ANSWER: I'm going to use statistics to try to answer your question. During the 2022 season, the Steelers attempted 500 rushing plays, and as the only fullback on the roster Derek Watt was on the field for 77 offensive snaps. What I believe is going to happen is Connor Heyward is going to be utilized in a variety of ways on offense, and included will be some instances when he lines up in the backfield. But if your question pertains to the Steelers coming out in the I-formation or some other two-back set where one player is always the primary ball carrier and the other is always the blocker a bunch of times, I doubt that's going to happen.
JOE SWICK FROM BALTIMORE, MD: Who seems to be the best blocking wide receiver on the Steelers who is likely to make the team? How important is this for a good running game, in particular, the way the Steelers want to run the ball?
ANSWER: I would go with Miles Boykin as the best blocking wide receiver, and that's based on how he was utilized during the 2022 season. The blocking of the wide receivers typically leads to longer gains and/or runs that allow the offense to get the back to the outside and down the sideline.
MIKE FOSTER FROM EWA BEACH, HI: Do you think the Steelers are a better team now than they were a year ago at this time?
ANSWER: I believe the Steelers have the potential to be a better team in 2023 than they were in 2022, and one of the main reasons they have that potential is they won't be starting a rookie quarterback this year. I'm not proclaiming Kenny Pickett as a superstar-in-waiting, but I believe he has the approach and the work ethic to be a successful starting NFL quarterback, and more experience and know-how can only help his development.