Labriola On

Asked and Answered: April 21

Let's get to it:

Given all the discussion about defensive backs recently and the pass-happy state of modern offenses, if you had your choice, would you rather have a shut-down cornerback like Darrelle Revis, who essentially takes away half of the field, or a ball-hawk like Rod Woodson, who delivers high impact takeaways? Just a hypothetical question on what makes for a good defensive back in today's game.


Check out photos of Steelers' Hall of Famer Rod Woodson

ANSWER: As you state early in your question, this is a highly-subjective issue, because it would be possible to construct a championship-caliber defense with either Darrelle Revis or Rod Woodson. But my preference always is for defensive backs who take the ball away, which is one of the reasons why I would choose Woodson. In 134 games with the Steelers, Woodson had 38 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries, and in 238 career NFL games, he finished with 71 interceptions and 32 fumble recoveries. Revis is a great player, but Woodson was more my type of player, because if you combine Woodson's skills with a decent pass rush, the defense has a better chance at a takeaway.**

As of right now the Browns are looking to trade down in the draft, so do you think the Steelers can give up their No. 1 pick and a No. 2 to get the best cornerback in the draft? Would that be possible?

ANSWER: That trade never gets made the way you describe it. For the Steelers to move up from No. 25 overall to No. 2 overall, the cost is going to be way, way more than a second-round pick plus their own No. 1.

My question is based on a movie I came across the other day about Rocky Bleier that is titled, "Fighting Back." While I knew the story, the movie stimulated a "then vs. now" question: Then, the Steelers showed a lot of "patience" in the development of a player who had a tremendously long healing, rebuilding, and development process ahead of him; now with free agency, more teams, heightened injury concerns, etc., do you think it would be possible for an NFL team to have such "patience" with a young player today?

ANSWER: You answered your own questions when you typed, "now with free agency …" Because of free agency, because a player becomes an unrestricted free agent after four seasons in the league, teams have to make quicker decisions because four years after a guy enters the league a team either pays him seven-figures and keeps him or cuts the cord and goes in another direction. Long developmental periods aren't possible anymore because of free agency.

I was just looking at the #Ultimatedraft: Round 2, and even though I agree it is nearly impossible to choose one from all those great names, in the end I went with my all-time favourite player: Jack Ham. Do you think I made a good choice? Who would you choose? Love #UltimateDraft, by the way.


ANSWER: Anytime you're making a choice among football players and you pick Jack Ham, you've made a good choice. Andy Russell played six seasons opposite Ham as part of the all-time great corps that also had Jack Lambert in the middle, and he told me this story about Ham:**

It was 1975, and the Steelers were having their way with the San Diego Chargers in the regular season opener. Protecting a big lead in a game they eventually would win, 37-0, the Steelers coaches had just told Jack Ham and Andy Russell they were through for the rest of the day, and so Ham had begun to tell Russell about the coal business he had gotten into during the offseason. In the middle of the story, the Chargers returned an interception to the 3-yard line, and with the idea of protecting the shutout Ham was sent back onto the field. Said Russell, "The first play the Chargers ran was a sweep to the right. Bad idea. Ham took their giant tight end, threw him aside, speared the runner behind the line of scrimmage causing him to fumble, which of course Jack recovered. As he slowly walked off the field, he casually flipped the ball to the ref. Returning to our position on the sideline, Jack turned to me smiling and said, 'Where was I?'"

Ham was a transcendent player in that he changed the position. In his 162 career games with the Steelers, Ham accounted for 53 takeaways, on 32 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries. That is spectacular production for his position during the era in which he played, where offenses came into the stadium every Sunday planning to establish the run.

While at a different position, Dermontti Dawson also was a transcendent player, because he was a center who combined the strength and power of Mike Webster with the athleticism of Dwight Stephenson, both Hall of Fame centers themselves. And also on the list of the franchise's all-time second-round picks was Ernie Stautner, who was the franchise's all-time best player until Joe Greene was drafted.

You and I, along with a large amount of Steelers Nation want a playmaking defensive back. I am all for drafting one in the first round, but are you opposed to picking up a veteran free agent? Tony Jefferson seems to have a good nose for the football, and not starting for the Arizona Cardinals, I think we could get him for cheap. What're your thoughts on that?


ANSWER: Tony Jefferson played three seasons for the Cardinals, and he started 17 of those 48 games. He had 181 tackles, two interceptions, four forced fumbles, and three sacks during his time there. Following the 2015 season, Jefferson became a restricted free agent, and the Cardinals tendered him at the "low level" of $1.67 million for the 2016 season. Jefferson recently signed that tender, and he is bound to the Cardinals for the 2016 season at $1.67 million.**

Would we consider drafting Christian Hackenberg? He could be a gem in the draft if he develops into what he was supposed to be in college. Is it safe to say the Landry Jones experiment is over?

ANSWER: You have to be a Penn State fan. Do you have any idea how much better Landry Jones was at Oklahoma than Christian Hackenberg was at Penn State? Jones passed for 16,646 yards over four seasons as a starter to 8,457 yards over three seasons for Hackenberg. Jones completed 63.6 percent of his 2,183 pass attempts at Oklahoma, while Hackenberg never has completed 60 percent in any season, college or high school. Graded by the NFL's passer rating statistic, Jones' was 95.7 for his college career; Hackenberg's was 79.9 for his. The Landry Jones experiment? Hackenberg cannot be a better backup for Ben Roethlisberger than Landry Jones is in the here-and-now, and if you believe Hackenberg is the next Roethlisberger, as I typed earlier, you must be a Penn State fan.

I understand that players receive full medical attention from team doctors. What about immediate family members? Say a kid has a cold – does the kid see a team doctor? Or if a wife is pregnant – does she get full prenatal care? I am intrigued by the "business side" of pro sports.

ANSWER: NFL players have a health care plan negotiated for them by their union, the NFLPA. In many ways, it's similar to health care plans other businesses offer their employees, just better and more inclusive. Team doctors only handle the kinds of issues related to their specialties, and even with that players are permitted to solicit outside opinions on all medical issues. But, for example, the Steelers orthopedic surgeon wouldn't be involved in any prenatal care for a player's wife, and there is no obstetrician on the team's medical staff. For obvious reasons. Or at least I hope the reasons are obvious.

Do we take the best player on the draft board or do we reach for a DB?

ANSWER: It can be both. No rule against it. I looked it up.

With all of the numbers being thrown around over possible draft picks, can we please have your measurables? Maybe we would all be better served with you patrolling the Steelers' secondary than writing about it.

ANSWER: My measurables: too short, too fat, too slow, too old.

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