Special thanks to Neal for answering all our questions. Check out Behind the Steel Curtain for more Steelers info.
The Steelers have only had three coaches in the last 400 years. Is Mike Tomlin in the hot seat if they miss the playoffs again?
It was tough to replace Barnaby Lowth, the Steelers coach in 1609, but Tomlin has done pretty well for himself.
Whether Tomlin's can gets warm after a non-playoff 2013 I think depends in the manner in which they missed the playoffs. The Steelers were undisciplined, out of shape and surprisingly poor at various times in the 2012 season. It did not look like a team with a strong basis of leadership in place. Injuries and free agency departures can have that effect though. Everyone wants a winner and Pittsburgh has had more than its share of them over the last two decades. If the team is committing stupid penalties, fumbling, constantly dealing with nagging injuries and having players complain about each other in the media, leadership can - and will - be questioned. I'd say the warming pan gets plugged in after this season if they finish the same way they did last year.
What's the plan for TE with Heath Miller and Spaeth out?
I really don't know. As Tomlin says, "The Standard...is the standard," but coaching rhetoric is meant to train the mindset of the players, and probably can't be taken literally by fans. The fact is they lost two good players. Miller is their 2012 MVP and Spaeth fit the zone blocking concept very well.
Just my guess, but Miller will be back early in the season. I think they can utilize single-TE sets and Paulson in movement and be fairly effective for what they're trying to do.
How has rookie Safety Shamarko Thomas looked so far? The Redskins drafted a couple safeties this year so we're curious to know how the other prospects are doing.
Fans and our writer gave him the nickname "Sharknado," which is pretty awesome right now, but likely will be forgotten in a few months (much like the "comebacks" of Tara Reid and Ian Ziering). His teammates call him "Headache," due to the thunderous hits he doles out, but also due to the fact he apparently bugs the hell out of the veterans with questions. We all laugh, but it legitimately seemed like the veterans were annoyed. That likely means he's closing in on their secrets, which only serves the Sharknado well.
He's a good all around player, and if he was taller, he probably would have gone in the second round.
How are the WR and OLine looking this year?
I hate to type this, but the offensive line has only suffered one injury to date - one to a back-up longshot to make the team (rapping knuckles on a wood-like substance as I go). Despite what appears like something of a curveball, throwing Mike Adams in at left tackle and moving Marcus Gilbert to right suddenly, it appears as if they have their offensive line in place.
If no one gets hurt, it should be a good to great one. Very athletic. They'll run for big yards with them in there.
If one guy goes down, though, the whole thing could collapse on itself. A lack of depth is just something they'll have to live with, unless, in the event of an injury, they could get production out of something called "Guy Whimper" and "D'Anthony Batiste."
Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Markus Wheaton could make up a very underrated nucleus for a young passing offense. I'm not going to give you Fantasy Football pointers here (read; don't draft Steelers receivers before Round 6), but Wheaton is a lot of fun to watch. A very hard-working kid with great skills. Antonio Brown has to be one of the quickest receivers in and out of breaks in the NFL and Roethlisberger will need him to catch at least 80 passes this year. Emmanuel Sanders is an underrated player (to everyone except Bill Belichick, apparently) who could manage to stay healthy for a whole season can catch more than 40 passes.
The Steelers have always been solid at LB, how is that unit looking this year and who is primed to the be standout?
If I'm betting you, I'm gonna say Lawrence Timmons. If I'm giving you a few names to watch, I think Treadmilled LaMarr Woodley is primed for a bounce-back year. Timmons is only 27 but has played in the league for six years. It seems like he hasn't even played his best football yet, and there were times last year when he was a machine. Just a great all around athlete, and is really starting to hone into the game (bit of a slow learner, I think).
You'll see rookie Jarvis Jones (no relation to QB Landry Jones) rushing from the inside more than the outside this year. I think his strength is going to improve, as will his technique, but the Steelers will use him in overload packages and in coverage - an underrated coverage linebacker.
Can Larod Stephens-Howling beat out Leveon Bell for the starting RB job or challenge him for bulk of the carries after his performance in the first pre-season game?
My thought on Stephens-Howling is very similar to what the Redskins have with Mike Shanahan at the running back position. It's not overly difficult to find the right players if you know what to look for. The Steelers did an outstanding job scouting The Hyphen, and as we saw in the preseason opener, he took to that zone scheme like a duck to water.
That being said, everything we've heard about Le'Veon Bell to this point suggests the same thing. A reaggravation of a knee injury he suffered last week may cost him a few carries Monday, but word is, he's ok.
Can you name two Steelers players to keep an eye on in the second half to keep us interested?
I've already made too much out of OLB Alan Baxter, but he's got a relentless motor, and works his tail off. Hard not to like seeing players like that. Alan Robinson, another OLB, will be right there with him. ILB Brian Rolle had a great game against the Giants, and DEs Al Woods and Brian Arnfelt are expected to show some life.
You may get a chuckle or two out of Landry Jones (no relation to OLB Jarvis Jones). He provided a few interesting highlights in his first game. Not to wish the kid any ill-will, but he's a rookie. Just know if you ever read "Landry Jones to start for Steelers" in 2013, I'm likely off killing myself somewhere.
Yes! You know football season is back when you hear the word "motor." Oh wait, that's draft talk too.