On to the questions:
Rob Issaacs: Are the Steelers going to use Heath Miller this year like the rest of the NFL used tight ends last year? And would they consider trading Mike Wallace if signing a new contract looks grim?
JW: You snuck two in there on me, Rob, but both need to be answered. The Steelers will use Miller more, but nothing like the way Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski or Vernon Davis were used. Those players and others like them are pass-catching freaks. That's not Miller. He's a combo blocker-receiver, heart-and-soul player and will continue in that role. As for Wallace, I highly doubt they would trade him. He can help them win a ring and they would also have the option to franchise him next year.
Mr. Porter 2U: My question is this, Wex: Is this the most loaded Steelers team in recent memory? Sure seems that way to me, especially with all of the weapons on offense.
JW: This dovetails nicely with the question about Wallace, Mr. Porter, because that's why they wouldn't trade him. They have a great chance to win it all, and it would be foolish to think about the future at this point. Their quarterback is old enough to be a mature leader and young enough to run with his boys on and off the field. The best running back, Ike Redman, will start this year, and their WRs won't have to deal with Hines Ward's numbers chase. And I love the offensive coordinator's work with the run game, his willingness to throw to the tight ends, and his overall sense of discipline and attention to detail. The defense is very solid, in spite of the perception that it's old. Is it the most loaded in recent memory? I don't know about that. I do know it's an excellent team with a QB in the thick of his prime.
Choltzeakin: Agree or disagree: Pass-rush depth could be the Achilles' heel of this defense.
JW: I don't like the news on Jason Worilds. Medical people say his type of injury (wrist) could significantly decrease his grip strength for good. Maybe that's why they signed Brandon Johnson at the end of the spring workouts. It was a good pickup, but if James Harrison's back doesn't hold up, yes, the pass rush could be the team's greatest problem. On the bright side, LaMarr Woodley's hamstring problems are gone and Chris Carter is entering his second season off a good spring.
Kentucky Steeler: Based on the limited stuff you've seen, is there any offense in the league that shows strong similarities to what Todd Haley looks to be doing?
JW: Kentucky, thank you for believing I'm that smart. Unfortunately I'm not. My limited understanding of his offense while watching from the sideline made me think of the New Orleans Saints because of their intention to pound the ball, throw to the tight ends, and get the ball deep to the wideouts, but probably more akin to the Baltimore Ravens with the physical run game, two tight ends, deep speed but without the precision of a Drew Brees attack.
Stillerfreak: What are the top camp battles in your opinion? Is backup tight end one of them?
JW: The battle for the No. 3 TE position is wide open due to Weslye Saunders' 4-game suspension to start the season and his lack of participation this spring because of injury. But I really don't see anyone else stepping up there. Rookie David Paulson is a lock for the practice squad but probably only a sleeper to make the 53-man roster. As for other battles, punter is probably the most obvious. I also look for Troy Smith to give Charlie Batch a run for the No. 3 QB job.
Tyranid: My questions, Wex, have to do with the secondary. First of all, who will play free safety in the Denver game to open the season? Also, I'm a big fan of Curtis Brown. Will we see more of him this year? And how are the rest of the cornerbacks looking?
JW: I suppose Ryan Mundy will again give it a shot in Denver in place of Ryan Clark. Mundy's a smart young man, so you assume he'll learn from his big mistake in overtime. Robert Golden is an undrafted rookie to keep an eye on at safety, but there's no way he'll start the opener. Curtis Brown looked great this spring – when he was healthy. He had a minor injury (I believe it was his knee) and was on and off the field. But he'll battle Cortez Allen for the nickel position behind starters Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis and we'll definitely see more of him on defense. If the Steelers keep a fifth cornerback, rookies Terrence Frederick and Terry Carter were the third-team corners this spring. Carter flashed late, but Frederick – a seventh-round draft pick – is bigger and more polished.
FeMan: How far behind Larry Foote is Stevenson Sylvester? Does he look comfortable making calls in practice?
JW: The question might be how far behind Sean Spence is Sylvester, because Spence is the one who looked comfortable making calls in practice while Sylvester missed the last two-plus weeks with an injury.
Ericksen72: Thanks for doing this, Wex. I'm interested in your thoughts regarding how Dick LeBeau is adapting the D in light of increased use of the spread around the league.
JW: They used much more press-man coverage last season than I've ever seen with LeBeau. But the bigger difference might be in the athletes they're drafting. In Ike Taylor, Lewis and Allen, the Steelers have three tall and physical corners who can be used on players such as Gronkowski. And in Spence they drafted a coverage linebacker who runs like a safety and – they hope – hits like any other buck backer they've had.
Steel Therapy: I've heard you and some other writers mention that you can't divulge certain information about practice. Could you explain the things you are not allowed to talk about?
JW: Most of it is common sense. You ask yourself what kind of information would be to the opponent's advantage. The plays and, if the coach asks, as Bill Cowher did with Carnell Lake playing cornerback, the positions to which players have been moved. Mike Tomlin stresses that he doesn't want us to report about injuries and their replacements, but the replacements usually give up that info when asked. New this spring is that we couldn't write who was playing where and on what team (first team, second, third). That took some time to get used to, but once the player gives up that info, and you trust in your gut that it won't help upcoming opponents, you report it.
Steelmann58: Jim, which longshot wide receiver should the fans watch during training camp?
JW: Tyler Beiler is very quick and the No. 5 spot is open. It's currently being manned by seventh-round pick Toney Clemons, who looked sensational at times this spring and ordinary-at-best at other times. Beiler has speed, as does David Gilreath. Those two would be my choices over Derrick Williams, Juamorris Stewart and Jimmy Young. Marquis Maze is too small.
Dam3391: Wex, how many offensive linemen and linebackers do you think they'll keep?
JW: That's so far down the line that I'm going to pass on this question.
Mineola: Love your question, Dam. Certainly it's an educated guess at this point, but I'd love to hear Wex's take.
JW: Sigh. OK, well, nine O-linemen and eight linebackers are the norm. They kept nine linebackers last year, and that could be the case again this year with Johnson and Spence joining veteran backups Stevenson, Worilds and Carter. As for the linemen, I count nine with Maurkice Pouncey, Willie Colon, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, Trai Essex and either Max Starks or Jonathan Scott. Seventh-round pick Kelvin Beachum is a lock for the practice squad.