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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: April 11

Let's get to it:

Last season, we started three rookies on defense. Do you see an opportunity for any significant playing time for any rookies this season, or are the Steelers entering the draft looking for depth and the future?

ANSWER: There will be an opportunity for significant playing time for rookies at these positions: outside linebacker, cornerback, and maybe wide receiver, depending upon what ends up happing with Martavis Bryant. And that's only assuming there will be no injuries over the course of the season at other positions, which we all know are going to occur.

Is it legal to draft a player who probably won't come out for two years, so when he does we have the rights to him? Like the Boston Celtics did with Larry Bird? I'm speaking of Sam Darnold, the USC quarterback. He just oozes greatness. Ben Roethlisberger could be done by then, and personally I think Darnold could play right now. Darnold will be the next great quarterback, and I think this would be a genius move. What I don't know is if it's legal by NFL rules.

ANSWER: It's not legal now, but a form of a "future draft pick" once was legal in the NFL. The following is a passage explaining the practice, as taken directly from Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League:

"Throughout the first four decades of the draft, players occasionally (or sometimes frequently) were selected who had not completed their college eligibility. These players were divided into two groups – "future picks" and players ineligible for the draft.

"The future pick was based on an old NFL rule that a player could be chosen if his class had graduated even if he hadn't completed his eligibility. Thus, if a player had been redshirted in college, had sat out a year while transferring from one school to another, or otherwise would have completed his four years of eligibility in five years, he could be drafted after his fourth year, and his rights would remain with the team that selected him, even if he didn't sign for a year.

"Most early future picks were not recorded as such, but they were made as long ago as 1949. In the 1960s, with the NFL and AFL each trying to get a draft advantage, future picks became more frequent; in 1965 and 1966, the AFL actually held separate drafts for futures. At the time of the merger, in 1967, the leagues agreed to eliminate future picks."

Has there ever been a Heisman Trophy winner to play for the Steelers.

ANSWER: The only Heisman Trophy winner actually to play for the Steelers was Johnny Lattner, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1953 while at Notre Dame. A first-round pick of the Steelers in 1954, Lattner rushed for 237 yards and five touchdowns, caught 25 passes for another 305 yards and two more touchdowns. He also had 73 yards returning punts and 413 yards returning kickoffs. Lattner was voted to the 1954 Pro Bowl, but then he went to the Air Force for two years. While in the service, Lattner injured a knee and never played football again.

Could you explain the difference between a half-sack and a sack?

ANSWER: A half-sack is a situation where two players are deemed responsible for getting the passer on the ground, typically related to simultaneous contact with the quarterback by two defensive players. A sack is when one defensive player is judged to be solely responsible for the play. This distinction is determined by the stats crew on site, but all of those situations also are reviewed by the Elias Sports Bureau.

Last Thursday you talked about some jersey numbers that are retired/out of circulation. How does No. 83 not make the cut on numbers that should be out of circulation? Ben Roethlisberger said Heath Miller is the best teammate he's ever had, and you said he's the best tight end in Steeler history. I feel that number deserves a little more respect then to be thrown on a guy like Landry Jones the year after Heath retired.

ANSWER: I'm not going to disparage Heath Miller's career with the Steelers, but the reality is that the franchise has three players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame who wore jerseys with numbers in the 80s, and all three of those have been in regular circulation since they retired. Jack Butler wore No. 80, John Stallworth wore No. 82, and Lynn Swann wore No. 88. Because of the NFL rules governing which players have to wear which numbers, it's very, very difficult, if not impossible to retire/take out of circulation jersey numbers in the 80s. See below.

Hall of Famer Mel Blount honored Joey Porter at the 19th Annual Mel Blount All-Star Celebrity Roast.

When you discussed uniform numbers that are out of circulation, do you have any idea why Mel Blount's No. 47 has been used since he retired?

ANSWER: What fans must understand is that the NFL has rules governing which positions can wear which numbers, and because of the way rosters have evolved over time it's impossible to "protect" as many jersey numbers as the Steelers and/or their fans believe deserve to be protected. According to NFL rules, Nos. 1-9 can only be worn by quarterbacks and guys who kick the ball; 10-19 by quarterbacks, wide receivers, and guys who kick the ball; 20-29 by running backs and defensive backs; 30-39 by running backs and defensive backs; 40-49 by running backs, tight ends, linebackers, and defensive backs; 50-59 by offensive linemen, defensive linemen, and linebackers; 60-69 by offensive and defensive linemen; 70-79 by offensive and defensive linemen; 80-89 by wide receivers and tight ends; and 90-99 by defensive linemen and linebackers.

There was a rule change just adopted that reads: "By Competition Committee; Makes actions to conserve time illegal after the two-minute warning of either half." Will you clarify? What about things like spiking the ball to stop the clock?

ANSWER: This rule doesn't apply to spiking the ball. That is still legal. The way this was explained to me is that there were meetings of the on-field officials at the two-minute mark of each half and then at the one-minute mark of each half during which they would reiterate the situation to each other and remind each other of the special circumstances during the last two minutes of each half. This "new" rule is designed to streamline that administrative process and quicken the pace of the game.

I understand that coaches and the general manager go to meet with college players before the draft, but do players ever get involved? Do players on the Steelers meet with college players, or offer any advice on who the Steelers should draft?

ANSWER: First off, all pre-draft visits are conducted at the team's facility. Coaches and scouts go to college campuses for pro day workouts, but the when the Steelers, as an example, conduct their pre-draft visits, those take place at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. On some rare occasions, a current player might be asked for information on a draft-eligible guy who was a college teammate – such as when Maurkice Pouncey was asked about Marcus Gilbert – but largely the evaluations are handled by the coaches and scouts.

I read last week that there is a 0 percent chance DeAngelo Williams will be re-signed by the Steelers. What are your thoughts on that?

ANSWER: First of all, you didn't read that here. But in fairness to the report/author, if it isn't 0 percent, it isn't much higher than that. DeAngelo Williams will be 34 years old for the 2017 season. and he missed multiple games in 2016 with a knee injury. Not a good combination for an NFL running back, nor for a team looking for a backup running back.

Karlos Williams played some defensive back before they moved him to running back at Florida State. Is it possible the Steelers could try him out as a safety or defensive back again?

ANSWER: No, it's not possible because the Steelers released Karlos Williams back on March 9.

Do you think the Steelers "experiment" in going for two-point conversions in early parts of games is over? Did the coaching staff realize it was too risky in games that really mattered?

ANSWER: When the offensive personnel grouping included Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton, and Heath Miller to go along with Ben Roethlisberger, it was definitely not an "experiment." The Steelers got away from that because they didn't have those players to deploy against the opposing defense.

If Jabrill Peppers is available by the time the Steelers are up to pick in the first round, do you think they will draft him?

ANSWER: I hope not. He's a safety, and the Steelers have two starting safeties. Their first-round pick in this draft should be someone who can start this season, in my opinion.

Do you feel the Steelers may still have an interest bringing back Justin Gilbert? He hasn't lost his athleticism, and he did a super job on Travis Kelce during the regular season game against Kansas City.

ANSWER: The Steelers have said the door is not closed on a return for Justin Gilbert, but it won't happen until the tam sees what it gets in the draft, and it won't happen until some determination is made on whether Gilbert wants to play.

Haven't seen any pre-draft visits from tight ends yet. I would love for the Steelers to pick Mississippi's Evan Engram in the first round or maybe Ashland's Adam Shaheen in the second. Do you think the Steelers will have any Day 1/2 interest in this epic tight end class?

ANSWER: With Rounds 1-3 being picked over the first two days of the NFL Draft, I will admit to hoping against hope the Steelers don't use any of their selections in those rounds on a tight end.

To the Eric Green comment in this edition, your readers may be interested in knowing the player the Steelers could have gotten instead of Eric Green in that 1990 draft. I agree with your assessment of Eric Green, thus the question: who was drafted in the Steelers' slot when the Steelers traded down and ultimately took Eric Green?

ANSWER: He was a nobody who ended up with the Dallas Cowboys. Some obscure running back by the name of Emmitt Smith.

Would trading David DeCastro for Richard Sherman be an actual possibility? Sherman doesn't seem like Steelers material.

ANSWER: Where do you people get this stuff?

On April 6, Tom Trin of Jacksonville asked if you thought the Steelers should trade Le'Veon Bell for Jacksonville's first-round pick. I think its a great idea. Why keep a player who gets hurt every year? The Steelers should get what they can in a trade. The passing game opens up the running game, and if the Steelers lose Ben Roethlisberger and they don't pick up a good passer Bell won't last for long, the Steelers will hit bottom, and it will be a long road back to the top.

ANSWER: To summarize, your "idea" is to trade Le'Veon Bell and use the pick on a quarterback who may not play until 2019 or 2020, instead of trying to improve a team that advanced to the conference championship round last season. That has less of a chance of happening than Ryan Shazier lining up at safety in 2017.

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