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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Aug. 11

Let's get to it:

DAVID BOGNAR FROM GERMANTOWN, WI: James Harrison is a first-time eligible player for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. What is your opinion of him receiving that honor?
ANSWER: My sense is that James Harrison is going to have some hurdles to overcome when it comes to election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The first hurdle is going to be his statistics, primarily his sack total. Harrison finished his career with 84.5 sacks, and these four eligible players who are ranked among the top 20 NFL all-time career sack leaders never have even been a finalist for election: John Abraham, 13th on the list with 133.5 sacks; Leslie O'Neal, tied-for-14th on the list with Lawrence Taylor with 132.5 sacks; Robert Mathis, 19th on the list with 123 sacks; and Simeon Rice, 20th on the list with 132.5 sacks. The other hurdle I believe Harrison will have to overcome with voters is that he was made the face – unjustly in my opinion – of the 2010 in-season player safety initiative – because he ended up being penalized multiple times and ultimately suspended for playing the game the way he always had played the game. Harrison's two Super Bowl rings and being the author of the greatest play in Super Bowl history – his 100-yard pick-6 at the end of the first half of Super XLIII vs. Arizona – will be items in his favor, but I wouldn't characterize Harrison as a lock for election.

WILLIAM GRAY FROM ALGONQUIN, IL: If role players and backups can enhance their chances of making a roster by playing special teams, how does the team encourage, select, and develop players for those roles – especially when they may have little to no experience doing so?
ANSWER: The encouragement is straightforward and goes something like this: Rookies and young newcomers are assigned a status based on their years of experience, which places most of them on the third team when camp opens. Special Teams Coordinator Danny Smith, in one of his first meetings, will stand up in front of the group and say something to the effect of, "If you're not a starter on offense or defense, you better be a starter on special teams, because come late August/early September, there is no such thing as third-team in the NFL." The selection aspect can happen during the draft or during the time after the draft when undrafted rookies are signed. As an example, linebackers and defensive backs have been trained to find he guy with the ball and get him on the ground, so they usually can be made into quality special teams players provided they have the want-to, and those who don't have the want-to fall by the wayside. From there, it's a lot about coaching techniques, and Smith has a reputation around the league for being a tireless and detailed teacher of that element of the sport. Also, some cooperation from the head coach is necessary, in terms of allotting time to work on special teams during each and every practice, accepting input from his special teams coach/coordinator during the pre-draft evaluation of players, and during both the free agent period and the final roster cut-down to allow for the addition or retention of players whose primary contributions will be on special teams

CHRIS BALMER FROM ALLENTOWN, PA: Have you noticed if DeMarvin Leal has shown he is starter material (I realize it's early)?
ANSWER: With Larry Ogunjobi's return to practice and provided he stays healthy, the top of the depth chart along the defensive line figures to include Cam Heyward, Tyson Alualu, and Ogunjobi, because Ogunjobi already has shown himself to be a strong presence against the run and the fact he can be a positive contributor to the pass rush is found in his 2021 statistics when he recorded 7 sacks for the Bengals. Chris Wormley is a proven NFL player who played 729 defensive snaps last season and contributed 8 sacks while doing it. Isaiahh Loudermilk showed some development during his rookie season of 2021, and Coach Mike Tomlin always is clear with players in terms of what he expects in terms of improvement from an individual's rookie season to his second season. DeMarvin Leal has been someone who has flashed fairly consistently during this training camp, and I don't believe there is anything about him that indicates he's not starter-capable at some point. I just don't know that he will ascend to that level as a rookie.

STEFAN PISOCKI FROM WILMINGTON, DE: What do you make of Devin Bush and Robert Spillane being listed as starters at left inside linebacker on Coach Mike Tomlin's initial depth chart? Is it more a vote of confidence for Spillane or doubt in Bush?
ANSWER: First of all, you're placing way too much importance on Coach Mike Tomlin's camp-opening depth chart. In the past, he has said often, and he repeated a similar sentiment just the other day, that he puts out a depth chart at this time of the year because he is required to put out a depth chart at this time of the year. From what I have seen at training camp during the period in advance of the preseason opener is the Steelers believe they have three inside linebackers who are starter-capable – Myles Jack, Devin Bush, and Robert Spillane – and I believe they will be used based on situations and the offensive tendencies of the upcoming opponent.

DANIEL UTLEY FROM EUDORA, KS: If you were court-ordered to make a selection based on everything you've seen/heard, who is the most likely underdog/darkhorse player who makes the 53-man roster?
ANSWER: To pick one – and remember, this pick is being made before a single snap of the preseason – I would go with Jaylen Warren – the undrafted rookie running back from Oklahoma State. The Steelers are looking for backups to Najee Harris, and Warren has been consistent in all phases of playing the position – running, catching, and blocking – but he's going to have to make himself valuable on special teams to increase his chances. Benny Snell was tied-for-sixth on the team with 7 special teams tackles in 2021, and Anthony McFarland Jr. is listed on the current depth chart as the No. 3 kickoff returner. If Warren is to replace one of them on the roster, he's going to have to find a way to contribute on special teams.

DAVID POWELL FROM ALBUQUERQUE, NM: Thus far, Chris Oladokun has not seen a single snap in team drills. Why do you suppose he was drafted in the seventh round if the Steelers have no intention of using him? Seems like a waste of a pick.
ANSWER: There are still a lot of things that could happen between now and the final roster cut-down, or even before the NFL trading deadline on Nov. 1 at 4 p.m. EST that would counter your contention that Chris Oladokun was a wasted pick. First of all, it should be remembered that Oladokun was a seventh-round pick, the 241st overall selection in a draft that contained 262 selections. Also, Oladokun was the seventh of nine quarterbacks taken in the three-day draft, which means two were drafted after him. The NFL Draft is a high-stake guessing game as it is, and the seventh round of an NFL Draft is akin to trying to toss a ping-pong ball into a goldfish bowl at your church's carnival. The Steelers always bring four quarterbacks to camp, and it's possible the team had Oladokun graded as better than the 241st player in the draft, and since the team was definitely going to bring four quarterbacks to camp, is it so much of a waste to draft one rather than try to bid for one as an undrafted rookie? I believe the team didn't want a repeat of 2019, when they ended up starting a quarterback during the regular season who first was signed as a tryout after rookie minicamp. And Oladokun is better than Devlin Hodges, even if he doesn't have a catchy nickname.

What if there's an injury to one of the top three quarterbacks? What if a quarterback needy team makes an offer for Mason Rudolph that the Steelers like? Having Oladokun is insurance should either of those things happen. If Oladokun doesn't play during the preseason, he would be less likely to be claimed by another team should he be waived, and if he spends time on the Steelers practice squad maybe he could develop into a competent backup a few years down the road. In the meantime, he's practicing every day, attending meetings, and working with quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan on the fundamentals of the position. During Kevin Colbert's tenure with the Steelers, the team made 28 picks in the seventh rounds of drafts, and only two became quality NFL starters who weren't punters – Brett Keisel and Kelvin Beachum. The decision to draft Oladokun didn't bother me when it happened, and it doesn't bother me now, because after seeing him in camp I don't know whether the Steelers could've picked anyone else at that stage of the draft with more potential to develop.

TIM GOLDSMITH FROM ORANGE, NSW, AUSTRALIA: I'm so eager for the start of the regular season that I'm even excited about the preseason games. During the regular season, the Steelers have 53 players suit up for games, right? Do they allow more in the preseason so they can evaluate more people during the game?
ANSWER: There is no game day roster limit for preseason games, but during the regular season there is a game day roster limit of 47 players.

JACOB DREW FROM ROULETTE, PA: Since George Pickens and Calvin Austin III are looking like good candidates for Offensive Rookie of the Year, I'm wondering how many times a Steelers player has won the honor?
ANSWER: There have been three Steelers who have been voted the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, which was instituted in 1967. Those players are Franco Harris in 1972, Louis Lipps in 1984, and Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

JAMES WILLIAMS FROM PITTSBURG, CA What will it take for LC Greenwood to be voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
ANSWER: If I had the answer to that, if I believed there was a specific answer to that, I would do what I could to try to make it happen.