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Asked and Answered: Divisional Round Game

Posted Jan 14, 2018

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

Let’s get to it:

JERRY LYNCH FROM FRANKLIN, PA:
Do you have any insight into the team workings that would have had the Steelers believe T.J. Watt was going to be able to step right in and play to the level he has, or has he just been a pleasant surprise even as a No. 1 draft pick?

ANSWER: The Steelers studied T.J. Watt and how he played at Wisconsin, and they also did their due diligence in trying to find out what kind of a person he was. But regardless of the amount of video study and personal research, there is no way for the Steelers, or for any NFL team, to know a No. 1 pick was going to have the kind of season Watt had for the Steelers. No other linebacker in the NFL – and not only rookies – had a final stats line comparable to Watt’s when it came to the number of tackles, sacks, passes defensed, and interceptions. General Manager Kevin Colbert has said that for a team to utilize the draft properly to build a roster, the first-round pick should develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber player. It’s only one season, but I’d say Watt is living up to that expectation.

JON SWEETEN FROM CHESAPEAKE, VA:
Do you think perhaps the team could be using "strategery" in keeping Antonio Brown's status for Sunday's game in the uncertain category, so as to keep the Jaguar's defensive game plan in flux?

ANSWER: I guarantee you that Jacksonville has planned for Antonio Brown to play, and they expect him to play. If he doesn’t, it will be a relief for the Jaguars, and I’m betting it won’t require any adjustment to their defensive game plan.

BOB WOODS FROM TOWACO, NJ:
Why did Franco Harris leave the Steelers at the end of his great career and play for the Seattle Seahawks for a short time? I had a chance meeting with Terry Bradshaw shortly after Franco left, and he would not answer the question.

ANSWER: As the reporting date for training camp in 1984 was approaching, the Steelers and Franco Harris’ agent were negotiating a contract extension that would take him to the end of his NFL career. At that time, Harris was 33 years old and close to the end, but he also was close to breaking Jim Brown’s NFL record for career rushing yards, and the team wanted that to happen for him in a Steelers uniform. Harris was under contract for 1984 – the option year of his existing contract, but the Steelers at that time routinely negotiated new contracts for players in their option years, while depending on the option year to guarantee that the player would report to camp while negotiations continued.

But when Harris’ agent informed the Steelers that his client wasn’t going to report to camp unless he got a new contract, talks stopped. The Steelers said their policy was to not negotiate with a player who had a contract but didn’t report, and Harris’ agent said his client wouldn’t report until he got a new contract. The positions hardened, and eventually the Steelers cut Franco Harris. Eventually signing with Seattle, Harris lasted eight games with the Seahawks, where he rushed for 170 yards on 68 carries, and he never did pass Brown on the all-time rushing list.

And my guess is that Bradshaw didn’t know what was going on with Harris, because he had retired before the Steelers were to open training camp in 1984.

DAVID RUDIN FROM COLORADO SPRINGS, CO:
I enjoyed your explanation of the differences between players being voted into the Pro Bowl vs. being voted All-Pro. Looking to save you the work I looked online to find out more about who votes for the All-Pro designation and found that the most prestigious one is the Associated Press’. What I'd like to know is how many voters the AP uses, how they're chosen, and what are their qualifications?

ANSWER: There are 50 voters for the Associated Press’ All-Pro team, and they are distinguished media members who have covered the NFL for a long time. The Associated Press picks who voters, and the voters are from media outlets all over the country, with each NFL city being represented.

KEVIN EGOLF FROM WAYNESBORO, PA:
As I was listening to Tunch Ilkin scouting the Jaguars defense, I was very impressed with his knowledge of the game. Has he ever coached or been approached by any organization and offered a coaching position? What he does on "Steelers Live", as far as scouting other teams and providing "keys to the game,” are the kinds of things I'd like to hear articulated by coaches Keith Butler and Todd Haley. I realize that would be like the Allied forces giving out detailed info before the D-Day invasion, but it would be nice to hear what's going on in the minds of the talented Steelers coaching staff and might inspire confidence among Steelers Nation in regard to the quality of leadership, because a 13-3 record is not enough to inspire confidence for some people.

ANSWER: Tunch Ilkin has come by his knowledge of football through a lot of hard work, and he’s good at what he does. There have been a couple of instances in Ilkin’s past where he was approached by teams to gauge his interest in coaching. He came close a couple of times to accepting, but in the end it never worked out.

I have no doubt that you and other Steelers fans would like to have the team’s coordinators provide detailed breakdowns on the successes and failures after each game, and I’m even sure some fans would like to have these detailed explanations before a game so as to know ahead of time how the Steelers, as an example, planned to deal with Rob Gronkowski. But what fans don’t understand, and often don’t want to hear, is that the coordinators’ job – and all the coaches for that matter – is to help the Steelers win games, and giving away their plan, or providing candid assessments of previous plans and the skills of their individual players doesn’t help that happen.

And one other thing that fans often find difficult to hear: their opinion doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what they think of Keith Butler or Todd Haley or Mike Tomlin. Their opinion of Kevin Colbert and the team’s draft each year doesn’t matter. Who they want starting at right outside linebacker, or how many snaps they want a 39-year-old to get doesn’t matter either. And if a 13-3 regular season record in 2017 isn’t good enough, if the most wins and playoff appearances and Super Bowl championships of any franchise since the NFL-AFL merger isn’t enough, then their confidence isn’t worth inspiring. That’s my opinion, anyway.

PAUL LUKACS FROM VIENNA, VA:
How do the side judges know where to mark a high punt that goes out of bounds? Is there a sensor, or do they just wing it?

ANSWER: In the situation you describe, it’s actually the referee who spots the ball. On punts, the referee stands behind the punter, and after the ball is away, this position allows him to have the best vantage point of where the ball went out of bounds. When you see a side judge running up the field with his arm in the air after such a punt, he’s actually looking at the referee. When the side judge gets to the correct spot, the referee will make a downward motion with his arm, and that indicates where the ball crossed the sideline.

CLYDE ANDERSON FROM WALLA WALLA, WA:
When creating the game plan, do coaches take into consideration the officiating crews penalty calling tendencies?

ANSWER: It’s not so much when creating the game plan, as it is informing the players about the officiating crew and what that crew’s tendencies are in the kind of penalties they call and the frequency with which they call them. For example, if a crew has been shown to call a lot of holding penalties in pass protection, the offensive linemen are warned and there could be additional technique work done during the individual period of practices that week. But under the same scenario, it’s not as though the Steelers wouldn’t throw the football because the crew calls a lot of holding penalties on the offensive linemen in pass protection.

GERRY MANDER FROM WINDBER, PA:
Is it Foxboro or Foxborough? I've seen both spellings.

ANSWER: Town Historian Jack Authelet provided the following explanation on the town’s website: "When the Massachusetts Legislature finally acted upon the petition of families living in this area, who were residents of Wrentham, Walpole, Stoughton, and Stoughtonham, to be set aside as a town of their own, it was decided to name the new town in honor of Charles James Fox, a British statesman who strongly supported the independence sought by the Colonies. The new town was incorporated June 10, 1778 and it would be called Foxborough. The 'borough' signifies a free-standing entity with its own government. But almost immediately, the name of our town became ‘Foxboro’ in common usage. So from the beginning, we have been Foxborough on official papers and Foxboro on most everything else. But our mail was a mixed bag, and as communities grew in size and number, the United States Postal Service sought some level of consistency in an 1893 directive, asking postal patrons to use the short form for names like Foxborough, Attleborough, Middleborough, etc. The request had no official standing and did not change anything other than how most people would address their mail.”




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