Let's get to it:
WILLIAM PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, FL: With the number of rounds in the NFL Draft decreasing through the years, what changes, opportunities, and negatives has that produced for the teams and players? How is going to a camp as an undrafted rookie different for the players who maybe would have been a late-round pick in the past?
ANSWER: The main difference in my mind between being a late-round draft pick and an undrafted rookie is that the undrafted rookie has an opportunity to pick his team. Let's use Jaylen Warren as a hypothetical example. Instead of being drafted by a team with a relatively deep pool of running backs, he was able to sign with the Steelers, a team looking for a complement to starter Najee Harris. With an obvious opportunity in Pittsburgh, Warren was able to come to training camp and begin to make the impression that resulted in him first winning a roster spot and then earning a significant role in the offense as the regular season progressed. And that was the basic principle behind the move to shorten the draft from 12 rounds to 8 rounds for 1993 to the 7 rounds it remains today starting in 1994 – to provide more flexibility and choices for players during the selection process.
TONY MODZ FROM SURFSIDE BEACH, SC: With all the fuss about the Steelers not having any picks in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds of the upcoming draft, who are the best players the Steelers have selected in those rounds (post Chuck Noll)?
ANSWER: The Steelers do have a fourth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. It's the 18th pick of the round, and the 120th selection overall. Regardless of that, your question piqued my curiosity, and so here is what I would offer as the Steelers' top picks in the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds of the draft starting with 1992, which was the first following the retirement of Chuck Noll. FOURTH ROUND: Aaron Smith in 1999, and Ike Taylor in 2003; FIFTH ROUND: William Gay in 2007; and SIXTH ROUND: Antonio Brown in 2010 in a landslide.
SAM MIKHAIL FROM BETHESDA, MD: During free agency to date, the Steelers have been proactive in addressing the interior of the offensive line. Do you think the Steelers will prioritize the tackle position in the upcoming draft?
ANSWER: How much of a priority the Steelers end up putting on offensive tackle during the draft, in terms of when the team decides to spend a pick on the position, likely will be influenced by how the players come off the board once the selections begin, but I see offensive tackle as a primary focus of the upcoming draft. And by a primary focus, I mean picking one before the end of the third round.
FRITZ SCHERZ FROM VERONA, NY: Do you have any idea if the Jerome Bettis Grille 36 is going to re-open? I missed stopping there pre-COVID and thought my buddies and I would visit it when we attended the Steelers vs. Browns game during the 2022 regular season, but it was closed.
ANSWER: The following is an excerpt from a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story written by Mark Belko that appeared on Jan. 28, 2023:
"The Bus has left the North Shore. But the cowboy across the street is gearing up to take his place. TC Restaurant Group, the parent company of Tequila Cowboy, has signed a lease to fill the space at 393 North Shore Drive occupied by Jerome Bettis Grille 36, which closed during the pandemic. The company is planning a restaurant and sports bar in the space themed after a 'national entertainer,' said attorney Louis F. Caputo, who is representing TC Restaurant Group in the transfer of the liquor license … The Bettis space is located directly across North Shore Drive from Tequila Cowboy, which has been a popular destination since its opening about six years ago. Jerome Bettis Grille 36, a staple of Steelers fans since its opening in 2007, fell victim to COVID-19. It closed in March 2020 when the pandemic started and never reopened. In August 2021 during an interview with WTAE-TV, Mr. Bettis, the former Steelers running back known as the Bus, acknowledged that the restaurant wasn't coming back."
ANDREW TRAPP FROM SEWICKLEY, PA: The NFL Draft coverage by ESPN and NFL Network broadcasts often show a team's "war room" during its time on the clock. Who from the Steelers typically makes the trip to the draft city? Is a draft card only official if the GM fills it out?
ANSWER: Based on how the Steelers handle the evaluation and grading process of the prospects during the pre-draft process, the people sent to the site are not essential to what needs to get done once the picking begins, and I would believe that's the case for all of the other teams as well. With the Steelers, the final decision on which name to be written on the draft card and then submitted to the "NFL runner," who then presents it to be announced, is handled by the personnel inside the Bill Nunn Draft Room, located in the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Once the card is completed and turned in, it's considered official regardless of who filled it out.
EDWARD WATSON FROM GRAHAM, NC: What was Chuck Noll's all-time record against Dallas Coach Tom Landry and against Oakland Coach John Madden?
ANSWER: Chuck Noll's career with the Steelers spanned 1969-91; Tom Landry's career with the Cowboys spanned 1960-88; and John Madden's career with the Raiders snapped 1969-78. Noll's record vs. Landry was 6-4, including 2-0 in Super Bowls; and his record vs. Madden was 5-6, including 3-2 in the AFC Playoffs, which reflects a 2-1 mark in AFC Championship Games.
JOSE VILLARREAL FROM CRYSTAL CITY, TX: The latest moves by first-year GM Omar Khan are excellent, in my opinion, and I am excited for his first draft. Who were the picks made during former GM Kevin Colbert's first draft, and when do the Steelers draft picks start working?
ANSWER: Starting with your second question, the Steelers rookies will get their first opportunity to show themselves to the coaches during rookie minicamp, which will be held on May 12-15 at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. The Steelers' 2000 Draft was Kevin Colbert's first with the Steelers after being hired from the Detroit Lions. The picks, in order:
No. 1, Plaxico Burress, WR, Michigan State
No. 2, Marvel Smith, OT, Arizona State
No. 3a, Kendrick Clancy, DL, Mississippi
No. 3b, Hank Poteat, CB, Pitt
No. 4, Danny Farmer, WR, UCLA
No. 5a, Clark Haggans, LB, Colorado State
No. 5b, Tee Martin, QB, Tennessee
No. 6a, Chris Combs, TE, Duke
No. 6b, Jason Gavadza, TE, Kent State
No. 7, Traded to Washington
RODGER SHAFFER FROM PLUM, PA: Flashing back to the Steelers in the 1970s, I often wondered what it would have been like to be a guard on the opposing team and know that every time your center snapped the ball, Ernie Holmes was going to head-slap you as hard as he could? Was Holmes the reason this was outlawed?
ANSWER: The NFL outlawed the head-slap in 1977, and the player considered the primary practitioner of that tactic was Deacon Jones, who played 14 NFL seasons, was voted first-team All-Pro 5 times, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 1980, and retired following the 1974 season, which was 3 years before the head-slap became illegal.
JOHN CURLEY FROM CHAPTICO, MD: I recently learned that during World War II the Steelers and the Eagles combined to create a team that was called the Steagles due to the military draft and the lack of players. Can you provide some history on how the combination of the teams got worked out, and some stats for their seasons?
ANSWER: It was 1943, at the height of World War II, and the NFL was trying to offer the country some normalcy via professional sports. In a 1974 interview with Ray Didinger, who was inducted into the writer's wing of the Pro Football Hall of Fame after winning the Dick McCann Memorial Award for long and distinguished coverage of pro football, Art Rooney Sr. said, "It was done out of necessity. The war was going on and most of the players were in the service. A lot of the coaches, too. We didn't have the manpower to field a team and neither did the Eagles, but we thought we could make it work if we pooled our resources."
The first issue to be resolved after the decision to merge the teams had to do with the coaching, and Rooney and Eagles owner Bert Bell decided on co-coaches – Walt Kiesling, the coach of the Steelers, and Greasy Neale, the coach of the Eagles, would serve as co-coaches. The arrangement didn't go smoothly, to say the least, because Kiesling and Neale did not get along.
Eagles Hall of Fame tackle Al Wistert was a rookie on the 1943 Steagles, and he told Didinger, "It sounds like we had a big advantage, putting two teams together as one, but all it meant was we had twice as many lousy players. Look at the teams. The Eagles had never had a winning season and the Steelers were almost as bad."
The Steelers had posted a 7-4 record in 1942, which was their first winning record in franchise history, but their best player on that team – Bill Dudley – was serving in the Pacific as a pilot with the Army Air Corps. The Eagles, who had entered the NFL in 1933 along with the Steelers, finally were a part of a winning season when the Steagles finished 5-4-1. The only NFL veterans who were playing in 1943 were those who failed their military physicals or overage players like end Bill Hewitt who came out of retirement to play for the Steagles, which gives you some idea of the talent level of the rosters during that era.
In 1944, the Eagles broke off the "partnership" and fielded their own team that finished 7-1-2, while the Steelers merged with the Chicago Cardinals to form a team called Card-Pitt that finished 0-10. "That was the worst team ever. The Steagles were world beaters compared to that team," said Rooney.
GENE GREY FROM MORENO VALLEY, CA: What does a 24-year-old Kenny Pickett wearing a ball cap backwards say about his maturity?
ANSWER: Not nearly as much as an adult being sufficiently fixated on something so insignificant to take the time to submit a question about it.