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Answering the burning questions surrounding the 2018 Steelers heading into OTAs

Flip fills some gaps in the typical, sports-chat format.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sportswriter Ed Bouchette holds a weekly chat in which he takes questions from the general public. If you’re unfamiliar with Bouchette, he’s definitely an interesting character best known for breaking important Steelers news and also for his snarky and colorful comments. This week’s full chat session can be read here.

Most of Bouchette’s answers to fans’ questions are one-liners. It’s hard to glean useful information from that, so I decided to expand on his responses to the questions with answers of my own. The chat lasts around a half-hour so I cherry-picked some of the questions. For a bit of fun with this, if you put BTSC at the end of your nickname there and your questions get answered, I will include your questions in next week’s article. Better make it good though—don’t want the BTSC faithful to chide you.

Question: I know undrafted players go undrafted for a reason, but I’m real intrigued by Quadree Henderson. He could eventually fill a role in the slot and even be a poor man’s Tavon Austin. But more importantly, he could be the answer in the return game. I would love to get AB out of that role. Thoughts?

Bouchette: They would love to get AB out of that role, too. Henderson will have to show he does more than return, even if that is as a good special teams player in other areas too. I don’t think he has a future as one of their top-3 or 4 receivers

Flip: The Steelers’ top-3 wide receivers (Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Washington) are locks for making the team. Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Hunter are veterans who have their roles on special teams. What about the sixth wide receiver? Does Pittsburgh even carry a sixth? Normally the team does carry a sixth WR but it’s not out of the question for them not to.

Henderson’s quickest path to the 53-man roster is nailing down the team’s punt return job and not via his offensive skill set. The undrafted rookie WR/RB/return specialist, formerly of the Pitt Panthers showcased his dynamic ability—but this was limited to only 53 offensive touches in 2017. Where he shined was in the return game. On 73 career kickoffs, Henderson averaged more than 26 yards per return while scoring four TDs. The Steelers used a turnstile of kickoff returners in 2017, and only Smith-Schuster is a lock to return to the Steelers in 2018.

I wrote about punt returns being a sore point two years ago, and the team hasn’t fixed this need in the interim. AB, once a game-changing return man, seems to avoid contact these days and would rather watch the ball roll than take a chance to make a positive gain or simply scamper out of bounds. Henderson might be the solution with his three career punt-return TDs, while averaging a modest 13.4 yards per return in college. The rookie should be given every opportunity to win a roster spot via the return game. Any benefit he might add to the offense would just be gravy, but not a necessity.


Question: Again, I know it’s early, but your thoughts on the potential of Matthew Thomas from FSU making the team and having an impact?

Bouchette: It’s more than early, it hasn’t really even begun. I know you don’t want to hear this in May, but we’ll find out more in training camp.

Flip: I started seeing Thomas’ name popping up on the BTSC boards with people intrigued by this undrafted rookie out of Florida St. This former five-star recruit was one of the most heavily recruited linebackers in the nation coming out of high school. His college career got off to a rocky start when a shoulder injury derailed his freshman season. The 2014 season was muddied due to a 6-game suspension followed by another shoulder surgery. Prior to the 2015 season, Thomas lost his mom and struggled academically which made him ineligible for the 2015 season. My issue with Thomas is his poor tackling technique. He tackles too high and he’s prone to bouncing off of the ball carrier. Can such a flaw be fixed after so many years of making these types of hits? I have a tough time thinking that the Steelers will use a roster spot—let alone a practice-squad spot—for a player having such a glaring, fundamental flaw to his game.


Question: Hi Ed. Any opinion on the legalization of sports betting?

Bouchette: My heart goes out to the bookies because they’re about to lose their jobs, or at least lose a lot of revenue.

Flip: As a gambler, I have a vested interest in following this topic. Like many others, I started betting on NFL football back in college with local bookies. Will the Supreme Court ruling put bookies out of work and will we see bookmaking businesses on every street corner? The Supreme court only ruled that the law was unconstitutional — now it will be left up to individual states to decide if they want to allow sports betting. States are lining up to implement laws regulating sports betting and to open up a new tax revenue streams. Currently, 21 states are moving forward with plans to allow legalized sports betting.

Will it actually put bookies out of business? Nah. Casinos have their plans already in place to open up sports books throughout the country. Other locations already have established gambling such as horse tracks or keno locations. These bets will have to be made at a brick-and-mortar location, not over the phone or online like almost all illegal sports bets currently are placed. Professional gamblers will go the brick-and-mortar route to take advantage of legitimate record-keeping which protects them from IRS issues.

But will Joe Sixpack still want to keep his ill-gotten gains off of Uncle Sam’s books to avoid the IRS from getting their grubby claws on his winnings? Will he continue using “Guido” as his bookie? I tend to think so simply for convenience, not only to avoid taxes.

A quick side-note: The NFL will be pushing for its share of the pie with an “integrity fee” which could see the league getting a slice of the $150 billion pie that’s currently bet illegally. I personally think this is just a cash-grab by the NFL, as they already have measures in place to ensure players aren’t being paid off to throw games or shave points. The NFL is wanting upwards of 1% of the total amount bet. This could be as high as 20% of the profits for bookmakers.


Question: Who is the defensive player who wears the green dot on his helmet and receives def calls from Butler?

Bouchette: I’m guessing Bostic because traditionally it goes to an inside linebacker who stays on the field most of the time.

Flip: Jon Bostic called the defensive plays last season for the Colts and the Steelers do have a propensity to use ILBs to relay the plays from the sidelines and call for any adjustments. Vince Williams served in this fashion last season after Ryan Shazier went down and in prior years. VW played 75% of the total snaps last year on defense but this total should dwindle with more use of sub packages. I believe that safety Morgan Burnett had the sideline communication system in his helmet during his time in Green Bay. But I believe Bostic will be on the field in all sub-packages and he’s the leading candidate.


Bouchette’s snarky comment of the week.

Question: Ed, is this the year Marvin Lewis wins a playoff game. Sorry, that was tough with a straight face.

Bouchette: The Bengals must first find their way BACK into the playoffs.

Flip: The Cincinnati Bengals have been left out in the cold and out of the playoffs the past two seasons. In 2017, the Bengals finished 7-9, but four of those losses were by less than a TD. One obstacle Cincy couldn’t overcome last year was the loss of multiple starting offensive linemen. Will former Pro Bowl left tackle Cordy Glenn bring the line back to being a plus in 2018? I tend to think so and this would bring them back into contention for the 2018 playoffs. But will Marvin Lewis break his winless streak in the playoffs? I’m not holding my breath.


While Bouchette has covered the Steelers for nearly 45 years, fans would appreciate more in-depth analysis. Fans do need to keep in mind that these answers are all off the cuff, which is a tough style to undertake since he has no time to prepare or gather information. Do you read or participate in these chat sessions? What is your opinion of the sessions?