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Asked and Answered: Oct. 13

Posted Oct 13, 2015

Another installment of Bob Labriola answering your questions about the Steelers and the NFL.

Let’s get to it:

DAVID RUDIN FROM MANITOU SPRINGS, CO:
First, Asked and Answered is great. Thanks. Any thoughts on how defensive backs' performances can seem so variable given changing circumstances? For example, Brice McCain was considered the lowest rated cornerback in the league, the Steelers pick him up and he becomes a solid player and goes on to a respectable contract in Miami. Now Ross Cockrell is let go by Buffalo and is now playing important minutes for the Steelers. Is it coaching, the system, or some combination?

Yes. Yes to the factors being some combination of coaching, scheme, and opportunity, and these also are examples of the different way professional football is viewed by those in the business as opposed to the fans. I also remember reading how Brice McCain “was considered the lowest rated cornerback in the league,” but exactly who was doing the considering? A web site? Some talking head on the World Wide Leader who always makes it a point to tell you how much video he watches? There may have been some point in time when McCain was bad, but maybe that was only a snapshot of him and yet to some it became a label. Sometimes the labels prove to be accurate, but often times they are not.

Here’s a story Bill Nunn told me when I was trying to get him to teach me things: He said that with defensive backs, he always believed that you shouldn’t necessarily reject a guy based on what you see on film. And the reason you shouldn’t do that is because you don’t know what he’s being coached to do. If you don’t like that he’s playing off coverage, or that he opens his hips, or whatever, maybe that’s what his coach is telling him to do, and so you end up down-grading a prospect for the wrong reason. Nunn said you look for defensive backs with good measurables – height, weight, speed – who also are football players. If you have that, then YOUR coaches can teach them how THEY want them to play.

When he was coming out for the draft, Ross Cockrell had nice measurables, and he had a degree from Duke, and he looked like a football player. Buffalo picked him before the Steelers had the chance, but Kevin Colbert’s staff of scouts kept track of Cockrell, and so when the Bills cut him following a change from Doug Marrone to Rex Ryan as head coach, the Steelers were able to get him this time. He’s smart, and he has executed his assignments and made some plays. And yes, he is playing important minutes for the Steelers right now. It’s also true that his NFL career still is a work in progress. Too soon for a label.

SCOTT JUNG FROM SEVERNA PARK, MD:
Surely an odd question and likely to be made fun of, but what is up with Ryan Shazier's hair? I figured he shaved his head, no big deal. Just watched an interview with him and he looks like he shaves his eyebrows, too? But he has a peach fuzz 'stache and the patch of hair under his chin? Would love to know the significance if there is any?

Ryan Shazier has Alopecia, which is an autoimmune disease that causes the immune system to attack hair follicles. Shazier talked about overcoming taunts and bullying while growing up in South Florida after he was drafted by the Steelers. “I was probably the only little kid walking around with a bald head,” Shazier said. “It was tough because kids are mean. I just embraced it. I feel like if you didn’t like me for who I am, it’s a problem with you. I feel like it’s my signature now. I love having Alopecia. Having a bald head actually saves me a lot of money.”

JEREMY JAMES FROM CARY, N.C.:
Thanks for Asked and Answered and the witty responses to some questions. My question is about Ben Roethlisberger. Do you have any updates regarding his injury and do you have any idea when he will be back? Also, do you think we would bring back Antwaan Randle El if Mike Vick struggles? Just kidding.

This is what Ben Roethlisberger said about a timetable: “What we’re trying not to do is put a time on it, and (instead) just go week-by-week. Basically say, ‘I’m out this week, we’ll reevaluate it next week and see if and what I can do.’ To me, that’s the better way and maybe the more optimistic way to look at it. Rather than put a number on it, let’s just take it one week at a time.”

This is what Coach Mike Tomlin said: “He’s out this week. That’s all he knows. And that’s all I know. We’re not trying to paint with a broad brush. When he gets healthy, we’re going to play him. It’s just that simple.”

I understand fans’ impatience with injuries, and especially in a case involving Ben Roethlisberger. But the real truth of it is: they really don’t know how long before he can return to play in an NFL game. Anything, absolutely anything said about that right now is a guess, but as soon as a guess is put out there then it becomes a fact. So the moral of this story is: don’t guess.

NICOLAS SAENZ FROM LAS CRUCES, N.M.:
Love your work for the Steelers. I was wondering if you could update me on Lawrence Timmons' contract status. Barring injury, when can you see him getting extension? He is my favorite defensive player. I want to get his jersey, but make sure he is with the team long enough. Almost got a Ryan Clark jersey before he left.

Yes, a Timmons jersey would be a much wiser investment. Lawrence Timmons is signed through the 2016 season, which would mean he could hit free agency as a 31-year-old in 2017. Timmons is expensive, but he’s too valuable to be a salary cap casualty, and if I had to predict I would say the team tries to work out an extension with him before the 2016 season to lower his cap hit and also secure his future with the franchise.

IVAN SOLORZANO FROM SALTILLO COAHUILA, MEXICO:
How difficult is for the offense to adjust, not only to a very different type of quarterback but to a southpaw, and then after four or six weeks get back to what they were doing with Ben Roethlisberger?

It’s going to a an adjustment, for sure, and there will be a lot more issues to resolve than just the spin on the football. And as far as the offense getting back to the level it was with Roethlisberger at the start of the Rams’ game, I’m just hoping it can happen in enough time for the Steelers to use it to get into the playoffs. Then things could get very interesting.

ISAIAH WARE FROM HATTIESBURG, MS:
Do you think second-round draft pick Senquez Golson will see any playing time this year?

Senquez Golson was placed on the injured reserve list on Aug. 31. Look for him in Latrobe next summer.

RYAN LEACH FROM CHICAGO, IL:
Is Shamarko Thomas locked in as a backup this year, or is there still an open competition for that spot?

There is no open competition for jobs in the way I believe you mean at this stage of an NFL season. Coaches are no longer evaluating individuals during daily practices. The only evaluation that matters comes from the game each week. Once Mike Tomlin decided to go with Will Allen at safety over Shamarko Thomas because of poor play at the end of the preseason, Thomas essentially lost control of the situation. If Allen continues to play well and stays healthy enough to keep playing, he will keep playing. The only way Thomas gets another chance is if Allen falters or someone else falters and Tomlin comes back to him. One of the cold realities of being an NFL player is you never know when the opportunity might come, and you never know which opportunity is your last.

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