Let’s get to it:
JASON PURDUE FROM BERLIN CENTER, OH: When was the last time the Steelers had more then one pick in the first round of the draft? And how did they acquire the extra pick?
ANSWER: The last time the Steelers had more than one pick in the first round of a draft came in 1989. They acquired that extra pick by trading Mike Merriweather to Minnesota in exchange for the Vikings’ No. 1 pick, which was the 24th overall. With their own pick that year – seventh overall – the Steelers chose Georgia running back Tim Worley, and with the extra pick acquired from the Vikings they took Pitt offensive lineman Tom Ricketts.
LES CLEMENS FROM FORT WORTH, TX: Do you think the Steelers will address the kicking game in the draft?
ANSWER: Unlikely. They have two veteran placekickers under contract – Chris Boswell and Matt McCrane – and there will be a competition between those two throughout the summer for that job. If the Steelers end up using all of their 10 picks in this draft, it’s possible they could spend one on a punter, but I would guess they might bring in competition for Jordan Berry by signing someone who already has been in an NFL training camp.
NATHAN LANCE FROM INMAN, SC: Something other than a draft question: A few weeks ago, in your article headlined, “Labriola on getting lucky in Round 1” you mentioned the Tommy Maddox mistake. I believe you have referred to it being a mistake before. Could you please expand on this? I’m just curious about what the mistake was and your thoughts about it.
ANSWER: First, it’s my opinion that the decision to go with Tommy Maddox as the starting quarterback three weeks into the 2002 regular season and then catering the offensive personnel to him through the conclusion of the 2003 regular season was a mistake of significant proportions. After an 0-2 start in 2002 that was more about opponents solving the Steelers defense, Bill Cowher pulled Kordell Stewart and replaced him with Maddox, who would go 7-3-1 in 11 starts that season. While completing 62.1 percent of his passes, Maddox and the “new” offense really seemed to be humming along, but when it was all said and done, he had thrown 16 interceptions, fumbled eight times, was sacked 26 times, and his 85.2 passer rating was only slightly better than Stewart’s 82.8. Later that season, the Steelers lost to the expansion Texans in a game where they ended up with more first downs (24-3), more total yards (422-47), and more time of possession (39:41-20:19), but they lost because Maddox had two interceptions returned for touchdowns and lost a fumble that also was returned for a touchdown.
Then in 2003, instead of pulling the plug on this, Cowher stuck with Maddox, and also benched Jerome Bettis in favor of Amos Zereoue in a move designed to complement this new offensive style. Maddox’s completion percentage dropped to 57.4, he threw 18 touchdown passes but also 17 interceptions, and his passer rating dropped to 75.3 in what ended up being a 6-10 season.
The next season, 2004, Cowher began a program that carried over to training camp carrying the slogan “re-establishing the mind-set,” where practices were physical and the offense spent a lot of its on-field time coming off the ball and being physical at the line of scrimmage. During the goal-line drill that summer, the offense once ran the football 14 straight times, because coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said it was more important to establish a physical style than it was to score a touchdown during an August practice by using play-action and throwing the ball from the 1-yard line. The only good thing to come from the Tommy Maddox mistake was that it caused the Steelers to lose enough games in 2003 to have a chance to draft Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
ANDREW SCHEIDT FROM LOCK HAVEN, PA: With Jon Bostic, Vince Williams, and now Mark Barron all playing inside linebacker, who do you foresee being the two starters against the Patriots?
ANSWER: Vince Williams and Mark Barron.
THOMAS FUDENS FROM MIDDLE ISLAND, NY: Do teams give a refund to season ticketholders when their team plays in London, and there are only seven home games even if the London game could be considered a home game?
ANSWER: My guess would be that it’s not so much a refund as it is the customers are only charged for seven games in the first place.
BRETT BILLEC FROM CAMPBELL, OH: Considering the Steelers have the full complement of five primetime games on their 2019 regular season schedule, is it possible to be flexed into more night games late in the season if they haven't been flexed out of any of the originally scheduled night games?
ANSWER: The one instance where that can happen is the final weekend of the regular season. All teams are aware they could be flexed into primetime on Week 17.
CHRIS WILLIAMS FROM CASPER, WY: Let's say there is a run on defensive playmakers, and the Steelers’ highest rated player at pick No. 20 plays offense. Do they make that pick or do they pick a lower rated defensive player? What would you want them to do in this situation?
ANSWER: The pertinent question for me would be: how much lower rated is the defensive player? If it’s a matter of fractions, then I personally would lean toward the defensive player, because by the time it comes for me to make my second-round pick, how many more of the better defensive playmakers will be gone by then? This is what would be motivating me: Another season that ends with only eight interceptions and 15 takeaways isn’t going to be good enough to contend. It doesn’t matter how many sacks are recorded or how many points are scored, eight interceptions and 15 takeaways are simply not enough. Not in today’s NFL.
REED OVERAND FROM STAR JUNCTION, PA: Are the Steelers eligible for a 2020 compensatory draft pick from Jesse James signing with the Detroit Lions?
ANSWER: Yes, losing Jesse James as an unrestricted free agent will be part of the formula, as will losing Le’Veon Bell and L.J. Fort. But on the other side of that formula will be the signings of Steven Nelson, Donte Moncrief, and Mark Barron. It’s not a one-for-one situation, but more of an overview of who was lost and who was signed.
SCOTT GROTHOUSE FROM FT. JENNINGS, OH: When it comes to the coldest games in Steelers history, where does the 2009 Thursday night game in Cleveland rank?
ANSWER: That game was played on Thursday, Dec. 10, and the Browns won, 13-6. Temperature at kickoff was recorded as 15-degrees, which would rank as the fifth-coldest in franchise history.
BRIAN BOYCE FROM SPRINGBORO, PA: “Seeing the young guys, the older guys. It’s great to be back,” said James Conner. Conner is now in his third year. When does a player become an "older guy," and which is Conner?
ANSWER: Often when it comes to football-speak, young is synonymous with “new,” or “still working to establish himself.” James Conner is a full-time starter and a Pro Bowl player. With someone in his situation, age is less significance than status gained via accomplishments.
GLENN DEL FAVERO FROM COLUMBIA, MD: It seems that teams have strengths at certain positions when it comes to scouting, drafting, and player development. For example, the Steelers have excelled at developing running backs and wide receivers. And not so well with cornerbacks. Are there NFL scouts who have expertise in specific positions?
ANSWER: I will admit to having grown weary with this narrative, that the Steelers have some magic touch when it comes to picking certain positions and are ham-handed when drafting others. During the Dick LeBeau era, his defensive scheme required a certain type of cornerback, and the Steelers won a lot of games and some championships with guys like Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden playing the position. Big, physical, good tacklers, punishing. Because of the rules changes, the most effective cornerbacks now have to rely more on making plays on the football instead of being physical with the receivers, because being physical with the receivers often will draw a penalty flag. So, first of all, the Steelers have had to change the way they have been evaluating the position, and then they have had to reevaluate when to pick players at the position, because waiting until the fifth round and then expecting to find cornerbacks who could make the roster, let alone make significant contributions on defense, is a pipe dream. The Steelers had to change the kinds of cornerbacks they were drafting and re-think when they were drafting players at the position. That was what was at the crux of the issue.
WILLIAM NANOOK FROM SPARTANBURG, SC: Have you ever known anyone to get a first-round mock draft correct?
DAVE SCOTT FROM ROWLETT, TX: Do you feel there are any of the AAF guys, former practice squad players, or those who signed futures contracts who might make an impact this season?
ANSWER: First things first when it comes to those players, and the first thing with each of them is to show enough to make the 53-man roster.