LATROBE, Pa. – Let's get to it:
CHRIS FACKLER FROM PHILADELPHIA, PA:
First off, I look forward to these segments every week. I know you are not in the business of making roster decisions, but I would like your opinion on our inside linebacker situation. We are very deep there, with some good talent behind Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons. Who stays, who goes, and why?
The Steelers indeed have a wealth of depth at inside linebacker, with four players who have starting experience in the NFL – Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, Sean Spence and Vince Williams. I have seen nothing during training camp to indicate any of these four players' performances is falling off to the degree his roster spot is in danger. I see the delineation between these four to be clear, however, with Shazier and Timmons having the more special individual skills to keep them atop the depth chart, but Williams and Spence are very valuable, too. Last year, the Steelers came out of the preseason with five inside linebackers, because Terence Garvin is simply too important to special teams. He has improved as a position player, but special teams are where Garvin establishes himself as a keeper. Now, there have been some stretches this summer when Jordan Zumwalt really looks like an NFL player, but he has had problems with groin injuries. A groin injury last summer put him on the injured reserve list, and Coach Mike Tomlin said Zumwalt injured a groin during the Tuesday, Aug. 11 practice. We'll have to see how much time Zumwalt misses with this latest groin injury, but I see Garvin right now as being difficult to unseat, regardless. It's still early though. Four more preseason games left as you read this.**
MIKE KEPPEN FROM CLEVELAND, OH:
As an ex-Pittsburgh native living in Cleveland, you can imagine how starved I usually am for good conversation on football that doesn't degrade into insults and arguments about 40-year-old championships. I caught the second half of the Hall of Fame Game and was really impressed by Alejandro Villanueva and wanted your opinion on him and his chances of making the final cut.
Today, Alejandro Villanueva is the No. 3 tackle, behind starters Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert, with veteran Mike Adams still on the physically unable to perform list after having a medical procedure done on his back on July 20. Against the Minnesota Vikings in what was his very first action as an offensive tackle against NFL competition, I also left with a positive opinion of what Villanueva showed. I was talking to Tunch Ilkin, the former Steelers tackle who's now the color analyst on the team's radio network, and he said one issue inexperienced offensive linemen face is that as they fatigue over the course of a game they lose sharpness in their technique, which is when they get beat on a play. Villanueva played 39 snaps against the Vikings, more than any other offensive lineman except B.J. Finney, who played 49. Not a finished product, not a guy realistically ready to challenge for a starting spot, Villanueva is continuing to develop and improve. As of the moment, I'm finding a way to keep him on my 53-man roster.**
PAUL ADAMS FROM LAS VEGAS, NV:
I have been following the Steelers since 1974. My question: why does Terry Bradshaw not get enough credit for winning four Super Bowls and being a two-time Super Bowl MVP like Tom Brady and Joe Montana? Also, when ESPN talks about the great NFL head coaches, their commentators don't speak enough about Chuck Noll. Why is that?
Just to be accurate, Terry Bradshaw won two Super Bowl MVP awards, while Tom Brady and Joe Montana each won three. That aside, I agree that Bradshaw isn't held in the same high regard as Brady and Montana, and it likely stems from the perception the Steelers won two of their four Super Bowls during the 1970s with a great defense and the running of Franco Harris. To some, Bradshaw simply was along for the ride during those two championship seasons. Bradshaw might not have been the focal point of the Steelers offense until 1978, but he made big plays throughout those first two championship seasons, and then when Chuck Noll opened up his offense in 1978 in response to the NFL rules changes opening up the passing game, Bradshaw became a dominant player. And remember, Bradshaw called his own plays.
Take a look at a collection of photos of Chuck Noll, In one of 22 galleries featuring all Steelers Hall of Famers.
As for Noll being snubbed in most conversations about all-time great NFL coaches, Joe Greene once said, "I think he's acknowledged when his name comes up because they have to acknowledge the winning and the tradition and the style of play he put together. That's why the fondness for the Steelers of the 1970s has had such a long life – because we played with a style that was his. It was amazing to me that people would confuse Chuck Noll with another football coach named Chuck (Chuck Knox of the Buffalo Bills and the Los Angeles Rams), and that they would spell Chuck Noll's surname with a K. Maybe it was because he didn't cater to the media. He was respectful, and that's what he always told us, that the media had a job to do even though it was different than our job, and that we should respect them. He had an appreciation for the media, but he never played up to them, and maybe that's why he's underappreciated."**
BRENDAN MULCAHY FROM NEW YORK, NY:
The Steelers have put it out there that they will play the cover-2 defensive scheme, which has the cornerback jam the receiver at the line. How will the addition and presence of the many 5-foot-10-and-under players (who might not have the size and strength to jam successfully) help the defense if they just rely on athleticism alone?
A couple of things: First of all, don't think of "jam" in the sense of what Mel Blount used to do to receivers during the 1970s; in today's NFL it's more a "re-direct." The idea is to prevent the receiver from getting a free release off the line of scrimmage, but the cornerback doesn't continue to engage after a brief initial contact because he has to get back into the area of the field he's assigned to cover. The is how Coach Mike Tomlin explained it: "It's an umbrella of defense that keeps the ball inside and in front. It disrupts the normal flow of the offense by re-routing the perimeter receivers, and the pass rush is a tremendous part of the coverage. The ball has to come out of the quarterback's hand on time. If it doesn't, it breaks the coverage down." The ability of a cornerback to re-route a receiver is a function of strength, not height. I guarantee you Brandon Boykin, Antwon Blake, and William Gay are strong enough.
TOM DRISCHLER FROM PITTSBURGH, PA:
How many top-three draft picks of the last 10 years are still with the Steelers or are with other NFL clubs?
The draft picks of the last 10 years span 2006-15, and the Steelers chose 31 players in the first three rounds. Sometimes there were multiple picks in the third round, but I believed it fair to include the top three rounds, regardless of how many players were selected. Of those 31, there are seven who are out of football: Santonio Holmes, Anthony Smith, Willie Reid, Rashard Mendenhall, Limas Sweed, Bruce Davis, and Jason Worilds. Holmes, Smith, and Reid all were picked in 2006, which would make them 10th-year players at this point, and there just aren't a lot of NFL players who ever get that far. Mendenhall and Worilds both retired to pursue other interests. Of the 24 still in the league, four are with other NFL teams – Curtis Brown with the Jets, Mike Wallace with the Vikings, Keenan Lewis with the Saints, and Kraig Urbik with the Bills – and the rest are on the Steelers' roster.
RUSSELL POLLOCK FROM ZANESVILLE, OH:
We know how many players the Steelers have in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but which franchise has the most? Enjoy your column and all news I get on the team.
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Chicago Bears franchise has 27 inductees "who made the major part of their primary contribution" for that franchise. Next are the Green Bay Packers with 23, then the Steelers with 21, and the New York Football Giants with 20. Other franchises in double digits include the Redskins with 19, the Browns with 16, the Raiders with 15, the Cleveland-Los Angeles-St. Louis Rams with 15, the Cowboys with 15, the Lions with 14, the 49ers with 14, the Vikings with 13, the Cardinals with 12, the Colts with 11, the Chiefs with 11, and the Bills with 10.