Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Aug. 20

Let’s get to it:

STEVEN HVOZDIK FROM KINGSLAND, GA: Looking at the roster, it appears that it will be very difficult for Roosevelt Nix to make the 53-man roster. I know he is an important part of the special teams, but is that enough for him to make the team? Would it be more prudent to keep an extra wide receiver, defensive back, or linebacker in place of Nix?
ANSWER: Your question indicates you have little understanding of the significance of special teams when it comes to making out an NFL roster and no appreciation for the kinds of contributions Rosie Nix can make to the offense as a lead-blocking fullback. I have no idea how you are configuring the roster where it becomes “very difficult” for Nix to make it, but I can assure you that whichever player you have replacing him better be capable of having a comparable impact on special teams, and here is the production on special teams that would have to be replaced: In 2018, Nix finished second on the team in special teams tackles with seven, he also forced a fumble, and blocked a kick; and in 2017, Nix finished tied for second on the team in special teams tackles with 10. In this preseason, Nix saw his first action on special teams vs. the Chiefs, and he had one tackle in nine snaps. That’s highly productive play on special teams and not something the Steelers consider insignificant. Nix will be on the 53-man roster.

DOUG FAIRMAN FROM CONCORD, NC: Whatever happened to the darling of last year’s training camp, Matthew Thomas? Haven’t heard a word about him this year.
ANSWER: Matthew Thomas, the undrafted free agent linebacker from Florida State who made the Steelers’ 53-man roster last summer and appeared in 10 games for the team before ending the season on the practice squad, signed a futures contract with the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 2, 2019. He was waived by the Ravens on Aug. 1, 2019. He was not picked up by another team and currently is out of the NFL.

JOHN SCIARRINO FROM DELAND. FL: Have the Steelers ever considered wearing their white jerseys at home during the preseason or for early regular season games when it's hot? If I'm correct the last time they wore white at home was during the 1960s?
ANSWER: Yes, the Steelers used to wear their white jerseys at home during the 1960s, but that ended once the team moved into Three Rivers Stadium for the 1970 season. Neither Chuck Noll nor Bill Cowher nor Mike Tomlin was/is the kind of coach to believe that the color of the team’s jerseys needs to be changed to help with conditioning. The Steelers wear their black jerseys at home, and I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which that would change because of weather.

KEITH MILLER FROM WAYNESVILLE, NC: How many times in Steelers history have both the first string and backup quarterbacks been hurt at the same time? If the answer is, zero, then I see no reason to keep both Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph until Ben Roethlisberger retires. Trade one for the best deal and keep Devlin Hodges.
ANSWER: How many times in Steelers history? What possible relevance could what happened in the 1980s or 1990s have to today? Here’s some Steelers history: back in 1955, the No. 3 quarterback was expected to play another position, and that’s why Walt Kiesling kept Vic Eaton, because he could play safety, instead of John Unitas. Not a smart decision. In 2015, there were five NFL teams, including the Steelers, that had to play three different quarterbacks in the regular season because of injuries. Heading into December 2015, four of those five teams – the Steelers, Cowboys, Ravens, and Browns – had a combined 17-35 record, and the Steelers at 8-5 at the time were the only ones to have a winning record. At the end of that season, the Steelers made the playoffs, while Cleveland, Baltimore, and Dallas did not, and the Steelers made the playoffs in no small part because they were 2-2 without Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers are not going to trade Rudolph, and what they could get in return for Dobbs wouldn’t even come close to replacing the fourth-round pick they spent on him in the 2017 NFL Draft.

RICHARD FABER FROM JACKSON, MI: Can you tell us what happened to Sutton Smith?
ANSWER: There was a lot of pre-camp buzz about rookie Sutton Smith, because of his speed and the pass-rushing ability he showed in college, as well as the athletic ability that had the Steelers thinking it might be a good idea to try him some on offense as a fullback as well. But Smith was injured shortly into the start of training camp, which began on July 25, and he has been largely a spectator since. Half of the preseason is now over, and Smith remains a mystery in terms of whether he deserves to be on an NFL roster and what he might be able to contribute if he is. And the worst thing about it from his personal perspective is that his absence has allowed other players – notably Ulysees Gilbert and Tuzar Skipper – to get a lot of practice time that has allowed them to improve and have chances to impress the coaches to this point in the camp/preseason process.

OLIVER PAYUMO FROM PASSAIC, NJ: When answering a question about the players trying to make the 53-man roster, Mike Tomlin used the term “Mendoza Line.” What is that in reference to and how did it originate?
ANSWER: Once upon a time, there was a baseball player named Mario Mendoza, who played for three Major League teams from 1974-82, including the Pittsburgh Pirates. Mendoza’s big-league career resulted from his ability to be a defensive shortstop, because his hitting was not good – hence the term, the “Mendoza Line,” because it was believed that anyone with a lower batting average than Mendoza’s career .215 could not make it in the Major Leagues. So when Coach Mike Tomlin referred to the “Mendoza Line,” he was giving a standard of performance below which would not be good enough to play professional football.

CONNIE L. LEWIS FROM SANDY LAKE, PA: When do the roster cuts take place? And on the final roster cut, how many of each position will the Steelers keep? I know this number is not set in stone, but can you give an approximation?
ANSWER: There used to be two roster cuts – from 90 to 75, and then from 75 to 53 – but a couple of years ago the NFL changed the procedure so that now there is just one cut, from 90 players to 53, and those moves have to be completed by 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 31. If you want me to guess as to the number of players to be kept at each position, here goes: three quarterbacks; four running backs (and Rosie Nix is included in the four), with the possibility of a fifth provided he’s a significant contributor on special teams; three tight ends; six wide receivers, with the sixth being a significant contributor on special teams; nine offensive linemen; six defensive linemen; some combination of 19 linebackers and defensive backs; and three specialists. Variations to these numbers would be caused by minor injuries over the last couple of weeks of the preseason, which might force the Steelers to keep an extra player at a position, or by the emergence of a player as a dynamic special teams contributor.

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