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Asked and Answered: April 10

Posted Apr 10, 2018

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

Let’s get to it:

JOHN KUN FROM FREDERICK, MD:
With the re-signing of Steven Ridley, does this suggest that the Steelers might be concerned with how James Conner's rehab might be going, especially given they already re-signed Fitz Toussaint, or is this more likely about having another running back in camp to compete for a position?

ANSWER: Fitz Toussaint will earn a roster spot or not based on his contributions to special teams. Stevan Ridley and James Conner will be competing for playing time behind Le’Veon Bell. And the difference between Ridley and Bell is NFL experience, both in the running aspect of the position and in the protection requirements of the position. Ridley is a more proven player than Conner, simply because in 2012 he had 1,263 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns during a 2012 season in which he started 12 games for the New England Patriots. Because of his experience and track record, I can see the Steelers looking at Ridley in a way that is similar to the way they viewed DeAngelo Williams.

But don’t read too much into things that happen in early April. Signing Ridley wasn’t a pronouncement. It was a team taking advantage of an opportunity to add a young veteran running back to the 90-man roster at an affordable price. Now the Steelers can allow the competition to sort things out from there.

JOSH OSTEN FROM MECHANICSBURG, PA:
Were there any players we had who were first thought of as busts, but then turned their careers around?

ANSWER: The unknown here is this: thought of as busts by whom? Media? Fans? As I’ve mentioned many times, those kinds of opinions really don’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and to prove my point, I’m going to cite a couple of examples where certain factions of each of those two groups were fantastically wrong about a couple of recent Steelers players, because there is a vast difference between a guy who is going through the natural process of learning his craft and a guy who actually is a bust.

In chronological order, those recent players were Troy Polamalu and Cam Heyward. Both were first-round draft picks, Polamalu in 2003 and Heyward in 2011, and neither were starters as rookies. Polamalu struggled throughout the 2003 season, with one of the lowlights being a game in which a potential interception went through his hands near the goal line only to be caught by an opposing player in the end zone for a touchdown. Heyward had the misfortune of entering the NFL during the summer of the lockout, and so he had to play his rookie season without the benefit of an offseason program or much of a training camp.

Polamalu came around in his second NFL season, which coincided with Dick LeBeau’s return for his second stint as the team’s defensive coordinator. He finished 2004 as a full-time starter who had five interceptions and 14 passes defensed. Heyward burst onto the scene in his third NFL season, when he started 13 of the 16 regular season games and contributed five sacks and eight passes batted down at the line of scrimmage.

I use these players as cautionary tales because some people simply are too anxious to put labels on players, both good and bad, but most often bad.

DEREK LAKE FROM BUSHNELL, FL:
When I hear a draft “expert” say that a team doesn’t have a player on its draft board due to character or off the field issues, and that player has a first-round grade, is he really off the board, or is he moved down into a different round? I know the Steelers love good character, but wouldn’t they take a chance on a player with a first-round grade in the fourth or fifth round?

ANSWER: If said player truly is not on the draft board because of character, then the answer is no. Sometimes character issues can downgrade a player as you describe, but there are no absolutes. It depends on the character issues and the severity of those character issues that would be the determining factor.

MATHEW MCKENNA FROM CLEVELAND, OH:
Just finished reading your column headlined, “Labriola on ‘winning the draft’” that appeared on Steelers.com on Friday, April 6. Sad to say I was one of those fans who was high on the idea of taking a quarterback in the first round, but after reading your article it finally dawned on me that while drafting a quarterback may help us in a few years, it does nothing to help us now. I really wanted to thank you for opening my eyes and helping me realize that “winning the draft” means nothing if you can’t win the Super Bowl. Also, can you please put my mind at ease and tell me that Ben Roethlisberger does more to help his teammates than Terry Bradshaw did?

ANSWER: For those who didn’t see that column – you still can find a link to it on the Steelers.com home page – I relayed an anecdote to refute the popular fan sentiment that it’s necessary to draft a quarterback this year “so he can learn from Ben.” Here is that anecdote once again:

“Mark Malone told the story of being in that very situation as a young quarterback with the Steelers when Terry Bradshaw was in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career. The way Malone told it, one day at training camp, for the quarterbacks the morning practice was spent teaching the concept of tandem coverage, which was cutting edge in the NFL at the time. Tandem coverage had the safeties lining up one in front of the other, as opposed to the more traditional way that had safeties lining up next to each other in the defensive backfield.

“Malone was having trouble with the intricacies in attacking this new coverage alignment, and so he said he walked to Bradshaw’s room after lunch with the idea of getting the veteran’s insight. Malone said Bradshaw was sitting on his bed, strumming a guitar when he walked into the dorm room, his playbook thrown into a corner and buried under a pile of laundry. After asking him about how to attack tandem coverage, Malone said Bradshaw told him something to the effect of: ‘I don’t care where those safeties line up. I just throw it high and hard to Swann or Stallworth, and one of those guys will go up and get it for me.’”

That story wasn’t meant to indicate that Bradshaw was unwilling to help a teammate, but rather that he was so talented that he had a way of getting something accomplished that wasn’t possible for another player who lacked his special abilities. The point being that just because a young player might be given the chance to watch Roethlisberger ply his craft doesn’t mean the young guy necessarily will have a better chance to master the art of playing quarterback in the NFL, because he won’t have the same unique set of skills as Roethlisberger.

JERRY GRAY FROM TILBURY, ONTARIO, CANADA:
Love Asked and Answered, but I am getting tired of all the mock draft/Le’Veon Bell/changing position questions. (Honestly how do you do it and keep your sanity?) So my question: Who would be your top three picks to go into the Steelers Hall of Honor next?

ANSWER: Sorry, but I’m going to have to dodge this question. As one member of a five-person selection committee, I don’t believe it’s proper for me to air my opinions in public because as a member of the committee I believe part of it is to support the decisions made by the committee once those decisions are announced.

It’s similar in my mind to the way the Steelers make their draft picks. Opinions can be expressed behind closed doors, but once a consensus is formed and the pick is made and announced, then everyone involved stands behind the pick. That’s the right way to handle these kinds of things, in my opinion.

TONY LIPINSKI FROM CLARKSVILLE, TN:
If I remember correctly, once Le’Veon Bell signs the franchise tender, his money will be guaranteed. If that is the case, why wouldn’t he sign the tender, make the $15.45 million guaranteed and then show up for training camp? I feel this would show that he has some sort of team loyalty.

ANSWER: This is professional football, a business, and so the concept of loyalty is not that significant to me. But my view of this is that if Bell were to injure himself in the offseason while getting his body ready for the 2018 NFL season, if he had signed the tender, he would get every penny of that $14.54 million. If he hadn’t signed the tender, who knows? What if it’s a serious injury? The way I see it, that’s an awfully big risk to take, and I’m willing to bet that the offseason work Bell does to get himself in shape is tougher and more physically demanding than an NFL training camp these days. Just makes no sense to me to risk all that money to be able to skip OTAs and training camp.

KEVIN STAATS FROM FREDERICKSBURG, VA:
Who would you say is/was the baddest Steelers player of all time, and by that I mean a player nobody messed with? I'd have to go with Greg Lloyd. I remember an interview with Levon Kirkland where he said he was even scared of Lloyd.

ANSWER: Joe Greene. Joe Greene. Joe Greene. To back up my choice, I refer to a story Myron Cope included in his book, “Double Yoi:”

“It was the mid-1970s before a regular season game at Three Rivers Stadium. The team had a stereo in the locker room, and the music was playing. One hour before kickoff, Jackie Hart, one of the equipment men, came out of his office and turned off the stereo. Ernie Holmes got up from his locker stool and went back to the stereo and turned it back on.

“Hart went back to the stereo, turned it off and said, ‘You know Chuck’s rule. Stereo goes off one hour before kickoff. Holmes snarled, ‘I don’t care about any $%^#@ rule. I wanna hear more music,’ and he turned the stereo back on.

“Joe Greene got up from his stool, walked over to the stereo, ripped all of the wires out of the back of it and threw them into a corner.”

Problem solved. The stereo was off, and Chuck Noll’s rule was followed. Even Ernie Holmes knew better than to mess with Joe Greene.




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