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Answering the burning questions surrounding the 2018 Steelers heading into training camp

There are a lot of questions surrounding this 2018 Steelers team, and we have answer.

Divisional Round - Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

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. He’s 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 are one-liners. It’s hard to glean useful information from that, so I decided to expand on questions he takes 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’ll include your questions in next week’s article. Better make it good — don’t want the BTSC faithful to chide you.

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Question: Hello Ed, Do you think Jaylen Samuels will make the 53 man roster? I am interested to see if he can do as well in the NFL as he preformed in college. Your thoughts.

Bouchette: He intrigues me as well. They will keep three halfbacks and a fullback. Assuming Bell and James Conner, the third spot will come from him, Fitz Toussaint and Stevan Ridley. Training camp will determine that but I do like Samuels’ chances

Flip: It‘s not a guarantee that Steelers’ fifth-round picks make the final 53-man roster. There have been a few during the past 10 years who haven‘t made it. For example, during the 2014 NFL Draft, the Steelers drafted defensive back Shaquille Richardson in the fifth round. For varying reasons, Richardson did not make the final regular-season roster.

Jaylen Samuels has to stay healthy and show his usefulness on special teams in order to make the final roster this season. Steven Ridley has zero ST value. His chances of making the roster are nearly nonexistent unless Pitt decides to carry four running backs, which rarely happens. Veteran Fitz Toussaint does have ST value and, as I view it, is Samuels’ main competition for the third running back spot. Samuels’ versatility does help his cause.

Working against Samuels are his glaring inexperience as a running back in college. He only had 78 carries in his senior year at North Carolina State. But Samuels’ 78 receptions and his ability to return kicks will be his biggest assets as he looks to make the roster. “Swiss Army Knife,“ as fans have affectionately called him (though I prefer “Pedestal Guy“ because fans are holding him in such high regard), has a better than 50 percent chance of making the final 53.

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Question: Do you really see Big Ben playing for five more years?

Bouchette: It depends on how he does over the next four. Thirty-five used to be the age in which QBs declined. Now we have several over that age performing at top level. I wouldn’t put it past him.

Flip: It‘s hard to see Ben Roethlisberger playing for five more years. Just a year ago, fans were questioning his heart for football as he floated talk of retirement. In 2017, Big Ben remained healthy and played a full complement of games — something he had not done the previous two seasons. Can he avoid the injury bug that has plagued him throughout his career and may prevent those competitive juices from flowing? I believe injuries are going to end up sapping the love of the game from him. As the team should remain largely intact the next couple of years, I believe that retirement will not happen before 2020.

Might his skillset diminish before then? I don‘t think that‘s what will eventually cause him to seek his next career. Roethlisberger had his fourth-most-productive year of his career in passing yards last season and appears not to have lost any arm strength. I don‘t think it‘s out of the question that he plays through the 2020 season, but 2022 is questionable at best. All those hits are going to catch up with him eventually.

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Question: Most exciting rookie to look for during training camp?

Ed Bouchette: The quarterback, Mason Randolph

Flip: Randolph? (I chuckle and think of “Trading Places.”) Clearly, he’s referring to third-round pick Mason Rudolph. Two schools of thought collide here about whom fans are most anxious to see. The “win now” crowd is more anxious to see what Terrelle Edmunds and James Washington will bring to the table in 2018. The “looking to the future” crowd is eyeing Rudolph and eagerly searching for any clues that hint he might eventually be the next face of the Steeler franchise.

I’m part of the “win now” crowd and I’m looking forward to seeing Washington in preseason. The way I see it, he’s the most likely candidate to see the highest volume of snaps compared to the other rookies. Washington’s college tape is tantalizing. In the highlights I’ve viewed, he always seems to be torching the coverage. The question I want answered is whether he’s really that good and fast, or were the Big-12 defenses that bad?

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Question: Does yet another one-and-done this season put Tomlin on the hot seat?

Bouchette: You need to read up on your Steelers coaching history. Start with Chuck Noll.

Flip: Mike Tomlin is only the third head coach Pittsburgh has had since 1969 — the Rooney family is not in the business of changing head coaches willy-nilly as their forefathers did in the 1940s and 1950s. Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll was on a long leash, even late in his coaching career despite making the playoffs only one time during the last seven years of his career. The Rooneys treated the legend with the respect and dignity that his long tenure deserved, and Noll left the Steelers on his own accord.

Tomlin has missed the playoffs only three times during his 11-year coaching career. For a number of Steelers fans, though, making the playoffs isn‘t enough. Winning the Super Bowl is the only outcome that’s acceptable year in and year out. But I don’t think current Steelers’ team president Art Rooney II sees things that way. Winning the Super Bowl might be a team goal every year — but for him, winning isn’t everything. No doubt he had that virtue instilled in him by his grandfather, “The Chief,” Art Rooney, Sr.

Fans may grumble about unforeseen playoff losses or media-driven drama and ignore the past Super Bowl win and the number of playoffs wins Tomlin has under his belt, but he doesn’t have the league‘s second-highest regular-season winning percentage because he‘s a failure.

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Question: I hear Watt and Dupree are switching sides, is that true?

Bouchette: They have in practice, yes. It may not be permanent, but they may switch on and off during games

Flip: This is going to be a major story heading into training camp: Is the switch just a gimmick, or is it a legit change? Former first-round pick Bud Dupree was a disappointment last season, and he hasn’t shown the skill set that landed him in the first round in 2015’s draft. Could a switch be beneficial to him?

On the flip side (no pun intended), will 2017 first-rounder T.J. Watt feel comfortable enough to switch to the other side without a drop in production?

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Question: I read articles from other Steeler websites that use your article as a basis for theirs. Is that OK with you or are they “cheating?” Seems like they’re getting around the rules by a technicality.

Bouchette: That’s what bloggers do who cannot or will not get their own stuff. It’s the way of the world. We used to call them “columnists.”

Flip: I‘ve made it abundantly clear why I do these — Bouchette doesn‘t use his vast knowledge and perfect platform to provide fans with useful, valuable information. Snarky comments and one-sentence answers to legitimate questions leave not only me wanting more, but no doubt other Steelers fans who also read his chat.

Ray Fittipaldo, filling in for Bouchette for the weekly Pittsburgh Post-Gazette chat, did a chat a couple of weeks ago that I never went through and commented on as I do with Bouchette’s chats. That‘s because Fittipaldo’s answers to questions posed by fans were complex and informative. I don’t write about Asked and Answered by Bob Labriola at Steelers.com, either, and it’s for the same reason. These other reporters/journalists actually give fans useful information, and usually more than one line of it.

I cherry-pick questions from these chats because I find it interesting to get the pulse of what Steelers fans are interested in, give my spin, and bring conversation to BTSC. I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable as any of the gentlemen listed above. I will, however, give more informative answers and will only answer valid questions (Bouchette answers some far-out questions that have nothing to do with the Steelers during his sessions).

Writing for BTSC is a fun hobby for me, but it’s just a hobby. I know my place in the writing world. Unlike Bouchette, for me writing isn’t a career. If these weekly-chat breakdowns were the only thing I wrote for BTSC, he would have a valid point. How great would it be if bloggers received access and were able to gain information for their valued readers without having to sift through the internet to find scraps of information?

So, here I’m throwing down the gauntlet for Bouchette: Give out more useful information during your chat and put these weekly articles of business. The team’s fans would appreciate it.

While Bouchette’s answers are off the cuff, fans would appreciate these sessions if snarky answers were tossed out and replaced with relevant ones that showcase 45 years of knowledge. I‘m a simple blogger who‘s never even been to Pittsburgh, but I care what readers think and provide actual answers to the questions posed.

Do you read or participate in the chat sessions? What’s your opinion of the sessions?