Pittsburgh Steelers: Michael Sam

A big mailbag this week. If you have a Pittsburgh Steelers question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #mail. And away we go.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Ryan Shazier is listed as probable on the Steelers' final injury report of the week and I expect him to play. How much the rookie linebacker plays remains to be seen. I would think Shazier will share snaps with Sean Spence at left inside linebacker. The Steelers need to be smart with their first-round pick, and I would think they would put Shazier on a pretty strict snap count since he still has to work his way back into optimum football shape after missing the last four games because of a sprained knee.

@ScottBrown_ESPN I wondered about that myself while covering the game last Monday night. Sean Spence looked like he got caught out of position a number of times though he did recover a fumble during the pivotal second-quarter stretch when the Steelers scored 24 unanswered points. Vince Williams seems to make plays when he is in the game and he started 11 games last season as a rookie. My guess is Williams isn't good enough in pass coverage, at least in the eyes of the coaches, to play more snaps.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: Well, they aren't exactly the 1985 Chicago Bears or even the Seattle Seahawks from last season. The Colts are beatable but the Steelers are going to have to play their best game of the season to end Indianapolis' five-game winning streak. First and foremost, the defense is going to have to produce takeaways, just as it did in the 30-23 win over the Houston Texans. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck makes questionable throws at times and if the Steelers are in a position to pick him off they have to capitalize. The offense also has to put it together for an entire game. There is no reason why a unit that has the Steelers' talent shouldn't consistently score in the high 20s and low 30s. It is probably going to have to put up a lot of points for the Steelers to beat the Colts.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: It's temporary and a nod to how Brice McCain has played in practice as well as in games and a message to Cortez Allen that he has to be more consistent. The Steelers haven't given up on Allen by any means, and remember Ike Taylor endured a benching in 2006 and it ultimately made him a better player. Plus, it's not like Allen is tethered to the bench. He played a lot of snaps against the Texans because the Steelers frequently used their nickel package. The same could happen Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: I think it's had a big impact. Jarvis Jones is a huge upgrade over Arthur Moats and James Harrison at right outside linebacker. And from a big-picture standpoint it is critical that Jones fulfills the potential that led the Steelers to take him with their first-round pick in 2013. The only way he is going to do that is by getting on the field, something that could happen Nov. 17 against the Tennessee Titans. That is when Jones is eligible to play in a game and he can come off the injured reserve/designated to return list at the beginning of November. Ike Taylor too has been missed given the struggles that Cortez Allen has endured. The Steelers -- and Allen -- might be better off right now to let him watch and regroup a little. They don't have the luxury of doing that because Taylor is out.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: If the Steelers miss the playoffs for a third consecutive season I think the heat gets turned up on general manager Kevin Colbert as well as coach Mike Tomlin. I don't think either loses his job but there is no question that the Steelers have to start drafting better. Like most teams, they've had their share of hits and misses but I'm not sure I'd use the word "poor" to describe his drafts. His overall record is still pretty good and Colbert would be the first to admit he has to do a better job given the Steelers' philosophy of building through the draft. As for Art Rooney II, he wanted an offensive coordinator with a different approach and one who would minimize the punishment absorbed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. We can debate all day whether the Steelers made the right call in "retiring" Bruce Arians, but it's Rooney II's team and he made the decision that he thought was best for the organization.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: That all depends on Martavis Bryant and whether he builds off a promising debut. I think his role will gradually expand and certainly there is an opening for him with Justin Brown seemingly falling out of favor with the coaches and Markus Wheaton trying to work his way out of a funk. Bryant's size and speed needs to be used in the passing game, and what I really liked about the rookie is that it wasn't too big for him last Monday night against the Houston Texans. He got open twice on go patterns and made a really nice catch for the Steelers' first touchdown. His play against the Texans bodes well for Bryant moving forward as long as he can minimize his growing pains.

@ScottBrown_ESPN: No chance. Michael Sam has to play in a 4-3 defense because he can't cover anybody and outside linebackers have to be able to play the pass in Dick LeBeau's defense. Plus, I don't think Sam plays specials teams. He is basically a situational pass rusher who is not a good fit in a 3-4 defemse. 

Bettis, Clark support Michael Sam

February, 9, 2014

PITTSBURGH -- Former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis and free safety Ryan Clark each said the time is right for an openly gay player in the NFL after Missouri defensive end Michael Sams' announcement Sunday that he is gay.

"For him to make it public that he is gay, the key word is he knows who he is and he's comfortable with who he is," Bettis said on ESPN's "SportsCenter" on Sunday night. "I think that sends the message that it is OK and I think that's what everyone needs to take from that. It is OK that he is gay and wants to play football in the NFL."

Bettis estimated that 90 to 95 percent of NFL players will welcome Sam.

"I think this is the perfect opportunity for the NFL to now make this a point to communicate to every NFL team now you have to understand, now you have to bring these players to this moment," Bettis said.

Sam told ESPN and the New York Times on Sunday that he will attempt to become the first openly gay player to play in the NFL after a decorated career in which he earned All-American honors as a senior and was the SEC's co-Defensive Player of the Year.

"If he's willing to put his hand in the pile and be a part of the solution to winning a championship and winning football games, then guys will accept him," Clark said on "SportsCenter" in a phone in interview.

Sam's acknowledgement comes less than two weeks before the start of the NFL scouting combine where he will easily be the biggest story.

Clark said one thing teams will have to gauge while evaluating Sam is how he will be received in the locker room.

"The one thing we know about NFL locker room and NFL teams is it's the ultimate team sport and you want that camaraderie, you want that chemistry," said Clark, a two-time Steelers captain. "I think before he steps into a locker room people will talk to leaders in the locker room, leaders on their team to see how do they plan to accept him as a teammate."

Rookies are not always well received by veteran players. In the case of Sam, that could lead to questions of whether some players are aloof toward him because he is a rookie or because he is gay.

"This is the thing people have to understand about NFL locker rooms: It's a lot of ornery veterans," Clark said. "There's a lot of veterans that don't like talking to rookies. There's a lot of veterans that don't really mingle with guys coming in playing their positions or guys they feel like haven't earned their spots. So we've had situations where there are veterans that don't talk to the young guys or that don't necessarily accept them until they've proven themselves in certain ways.

"I think what we have to be very careful about is making sure that if a guy doesn't come out and say he's in full support just knowing he's not in opposition. Just understanding that for a lot of guys it's going to take some time to get used to that has never been through this situation. For us, it's about being patient with the whole process and allowing the guy to play football."

Bettis said he expects that to happen no matter which team Sam makes history with as the first openly gay player in the NFL.

"You're always going to have one or two guys that feel strongly in a different capacity but that's going to be in any situation you deal with," Bettis said. "You understand that and hope those players allow him to be in that locker room and give him the respect he deserves being in the locker room."