Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Aug. 18

Let's get to it:

GREGG CHARLTON FROM MERIDEN, CT: Do you think James Harrison's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII belongs in the same category as the Immaculate Reception in terms of historical significance in franchise history?
ANSWER: It does not, and here's why: When James Harrison was returning that interception for a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Steelers were established as one of the league's most successful franchises. From the time of the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, they had won more games than any other NFL team. They already had won five Lombardi Trophies and six AFC Championships and many, many division titles. They had played in countless postseason games. They had been acclaimed the Team of the 1970s after winning four Super Bowls over a six-season span. When Franco Harris was running with the ball down the sideline at Three Rivers Stadium after catching it off his shoe-tops following a collision at midfield between French Fuqua and Jack Tatum, the Steelers had won no championships, no playoff games, and only one division title. The Immaculate Reception paved the way for the Steelers' success that too often now is taken for granted, and Harrison's spectacular play in Super Bowl XLIII is a part of that. Allow me to compare it to American history: Abraham Lincoln was a great president, but he doesn't get a chance to be great unless George Washington did what he did to pave the way for him. Abraham Lincoln is the 100-yard interception return in Super Bowl XLIII. George Washington is the Immaculate Reception.

STEVEN LINDSEY FROM MATTESON, IL: Like you, I was excited about the Eric Ebron signing. It's just that I keep thinking back to the Ladarius Green debacle. Was it just a physical ailment that downed Ladarius Green because I don't recall him playing at all for the Steelers?
ANSWER: When Ladarius Green was waived by the Steelers just one season after they added him, he immediately became a candidate for recognition as the worst free agent signing in franchise history. His injuries included a surgically repaired ankle and reported headaches stemming from concussions. In a story that appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette when Green was waived, a source indicated that Green's issues had more to do with his headaches/concussions than anything involving the surgically repaired ankle. To my knowledge, Eric Ebron does not have a concussion history similar to the one Green had when he came to Pittsburgh.

KEN WILSON FROM MILTON, PA: With a lot of college conferences canceling their football seasons and maybe hoping to play a limited spring schedule, most pundits believe that star players will opt out to prepare for the NFL Draft. Can these players forfeit their college eligibility and effectively become free agents to sign with any NFL team?
ANSWER: Those college football players to whom you are referring only will be able to enter the NFL after going through the draft process. Any college players who choose to opt out of spring football and also are eligible to enter the NFL Draft, they would become part of the pool of players eligible to be selected during the 2021 NFL Draft. If they enter the draft pool and are not picked, only then could they sign with a team as a free agent. Certainly, none of the star college players would go undrafted, and so they would be bound to whichever team picked them in the 2021 NFL Draft.

JOHN FRECH FROM ROCHESTER, NY: Ben Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph are locks at the top of the depth chart at quarterback. Has there been any news on how Paxton Lynch is doing at camp while he competes with Devlin Hodges for the No. 3 spot?
ANSWER: The first practice in pads was yesterday, and so I'm of the belief that roster spots and roles within the team haven't been won or lost just yet. The Steelers long have been believers in keeping three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster, and their typical procedure has had them not keeping a fourth on the practice squad. That might change this year, not only because of COVID-19 but also because practice squads have been expanded to 16 players for the 2020 season with liberalized movement rules in effect as far as players being added to the active roster and then being returned to the practice squad. Because of that, I'm thinking, as of now anyway, that the Steelers might keep four quarterbacks this season – three on the active roster and one on the practice squad.

JEFF ELINOFF FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Can you tell me about a free agent running back named Gordon Brown. I know he played on some bad Steelers teams in the late 1980s. He played college ball at Tulsa.
ANSWER: A former Tulsa running back named Gordon Brown played for the Indianapolis Colts in 1987 as a replacement player during the players' strike that season. There never has been a Tulsa running back with that name, or any player with that name, who ever played for the Steelers.

JOHN MAIR FROM RIDGE, NY: I have a really good feeling about this upcoming season. But after the 2020 season, things will get a little murky. We could have eight significant unrestricted free agents hitting the market in March 2021: Cam Heyward, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Bud Dupree, James Conner, Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Cam Sutton, and Mike Hilton. With the uncertainty surrounding the 2021 salary cap due to COVID-19 revenue losses, it appears that the Steelers are going to lose a ton of talent next season. How are the Steelers going to address this problem?
ANSWER: You're asking me to answer a question about something that's seven months away. Think about this: Seven months ago, if you had to answer questions about the prospects for an NFL season, what form is was going to take, and the state of the Steelers entering it, would your answers even remotely resemble what's happening now? The moral of the story is: things are changing rapidly, and they still could change significantly between now and 2021. Relax, or at least try to relax, and enjoy the 2020 NFL season. Then you can worry when it's time to worry.

DAVE ZIPPARO FROM ROCHELLE, IL: I saw a video on YouTube of the 1991 game against the Bengals where the Steelers came back from a 17-3 deficit and won in overtime. During that game, the broadcaster said after one of Louis Lipps' catches that he now was second to John Stallworth on the Steelers' all-time list of receptions. Has anyone passed Stallworth? And where does Ernie Mills rank on the team's all-time list of receptions?
ANSWER: The Steelers' all-time leader in receptions is Hines Ward with 1,000, and he's followed by Antonio Brown with 837, Heath Miller with 592, John Stallworth with 537, Louis Lipps with 358, Lynn Swann with 336, Elbie Nickel with 329, Le'Veon Bell with 312, Franco Harris with 306, and Plaxico Burress with 264. With 127 career receptions, Ernie Mills ranks 38th.

WILLIAM FITZHARRIS FROM MOORESVILLE, NC: Can you briefly explain how the roster cuts are made?
ANSWER: On cut-down day, players who are to be released are notified by someone in the personnel department that Coach Mike Tomlin wants to see them. The players understand what this means, and so it's no big surprise when Tomlin officially delivers the news. At that point, players are given the opportunity to talk, ask questions, or simply accept the news. Players who make the team are not notified that they have made the team. For them, it's a situation of "no news is good news."

TOM MCCORMICK FROM FINDLAY, OH: I know that there are practices in full pads, but are there any rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that prevent a scrimmage? Without preseason games, I wanted to understand if they could simply line up on the 20-yard line and attempt to drive the ball down the field to the end zone to simulate a game day drive?
ANSWER: There are no rules prohibiting that.

AARON BREEZE FROM FRESNO, CA: If you had to guess based on the little bit of training camp that has happened so far, who do you have winning the starting right tackle spot?
ANSWER: The first practice in pads was yesterday, Monday, Aug. 17. If you're asking me to guess based on that, flip a coin.

GEORGE SLATER FROM FORT MYERS, FL: I was born in Pittsburgh and lived there until I was 21. Now retired and living in Florida, I still follow the Steelers closely and enjoy the insight you provide. I have two original commemorative cans of Iron City beer, unopened, one honoring Super Bowl IX and the other honoring Super Bowl X, with team pictures on the cans. Are they of any value to increase my retired standard of living?
ANSWER: Based on the cost of living in Florida, I doubt it. Your best course might have been to enjoy the beer when it was fresh and then save the cans, but I believe that ship has sailed as well. But maybe some collector disagrees with me. Good luck.

TIMOTHY PREGANA FROM KAPOLEI, HI: Can you provide on any insights on Zach Gentry for this coming season?
ANSWER: With Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron ahead of him on the depth chart, Zach Gentry's first assignment would be to beat out Kevin Rader and Dax Raymond for the No. 3 spot on the 53-man roster. I do believe that Gentry showed enough improvement as a rookie that if for some reason he doesn't make the 53-man roster that he would be kept on the 16-player practice squad. But Gentry not making the active roster in 2020 would be considered a step back in his development, in my opinion.

MARK ADKINS FROM ST. AUGUSTINE FL: In the past I have asked why certain Steelers are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and there is no sane reason why L.C. Greenwood and Alan Faneca have not been elected. With that being said, I saw in a recent Asked and Answered where you wrote that your vote in 2021 would be for Bill Nunn. Does that mean you have given up on getting Greenwood or Faneca elected?
ANSWER: Let's begin with some clarifications. First thing: I don't have a Hall of Fame vote, and so I have no impact on who does or does not get elected. Second: I was asked who I would vote for in 2021 besides Alan Faneca. That was the context in which I listed Bill Nunn, and let me be clear: With all due respect to all Steelers who currently are eligible and not yet in the Hall of Fame, none are more worthy than Nunn. Don't forget, Nunn was the one whose scouting and relationship with the HBCUs brought Greenwood to the Steelers in the first place. Bill Nunn is a historically significant individual when it comes to how and why the NFL is what it is today. He deserves to have a bust in Canton.

KEVIN HUFFMAN FROM NORWALK, CT: I'm wondering how you feel about the narrative that coaches will miss on a player because of the lack of preseason games? It's an unprecedented situation, for sure, but I would like to believe that coaches and players – like all of us – can adapt and recognize big league talent when they see it.
ANSWER: I cannot image there not being misses on players during this unprecedented training camp/preseason process simply because there have been misses on players every year since the NFL came into existence. There are countless examples of teams-scouts-GMs-coaches missing on players during the draft as well as missing on players during the cut-down process. Missing on personnel throughout the various stages of the team-building process has been and will continue to be as much a part of football as blocking and tackling.

TIM KISSELL FROM STREETSBORO, OH: I was talking with a good friend and fellow Steelers fan the other day. He is one of those "never positive, always something wrong" fans. He asked me some questions that I tried to talk to him about, but he remained firm in his negative ways. We agreed that I would send them to you, and I am hoping that you will set him straight. His questions were: How many games will Stephon Tuitt play before he is injured for the remainder of the season? How many games will JuJu Smith-Schuster play before his fumble loses the game? Will James Conner be injured for the remainder of the season and fumble away a victory in the same game? My question: Do you think I should find new friends?
ANSWER: With my Magic 8-Ball currently in the shop for repairs, the only question posed in your submission I can answer with anything beyond a wild guess is the last one. That answer: Yes!

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