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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Aug. 25

Let's get to it:

RON MEISER FROM CANTON, OH: After reading about George Pickens staring down some veteran defensive backs after a run of success in a 1-on-1 drill at training camp, I was curious if you have any exciting past stories of rookies vs. veterans in camp? How did their career play out?
ANSWER: In my opinion, there is one such story that trumps all others in the category you describe. It was 1969, Chuck Noll's first summer as the Steelers coach, and No. 1 draft pick Joe Greene did not report when the rest of the team arrived at Saint Vincent College because he and the team had not come to an agreement yet on a contract. Greene was a holdout for a while, but then Art Rooney Sr. intervened and after learning what Greene's camp wanted he instructed the team's negotiator to give him what he wanted. With the negotiation done, Greene signed the contract and reported to Latrobe. When Greene arrived on campus, the Steelers were on the field already for one of the day's two padded practices, and so the rookie went to the locker room, was outfitted with practice gear and proceeded to the field to join his new teammates.

When Noll saw Greene, he immediately ordered the team into place for an Oklahoma drill, now outlawed in the NFL but at the time a drill that coaches used as a tone-setter. The Oklahoma drill pitted a defensive lineman or linebacker against an offensive lineman, who had a running back behind him. The two linemen would engage in hand-to-hand combat between a pair of tackling dummies, and the defensive lineman's job was to shed the blocker and tackle the running back – not an easy assignment. Noll called Greene up and matched him against one of the team's veteran offensive linemen, and the rest of the Steelers gathered around to enjoy the rookie's inevitable comeuppance. Greene came off the ball, threw the lineman aside and stuffed the running back. The veterans weren't necessarily impressed, because anybody can get lucky once. Do it again, same matchup, said Noll. Same result, a quick and violent win for the rookie. Noll called another veteran offensive lineman up to take a turn vs. Greene. The same thing happened. Now, the rest of the players standing around started to eyeball each other. "Who is this guy?" Next up, another veteran offensive lineman, and Greene did the same thing to him. And so it went until Joe Greene had gone through just about the entire offensive line, handled each man and made the tackle. There was a new sheriff in town, and Noll had just given the holdover players a vivid example of what it was going to take to make the team and stay on the team through the rebuilding job Noll had promised them was going to take place. According to linebacker Andy Russell, one of the holdovers from the previous regime, Noll stood in front of the entire team and told them, "Our goal is to win a Super Bowl, but most of you won't be here when we do because you're not good enough." No one may have realized it at the time, but the Pittsburgh Steelers had just turned the corner from perennial losers onto a path that would end with them being a dynasty that was feared as well as respected.

DANIEL DUNMYER FROM FORT MYERS, FL: What I would like to know is if T.J. Watt or Alex Highsmith get hurt early in a game, what will the adjustment be? Add a defensive back, shift an inside linebacker? Something else?
ANSWER: My impression is that it would be "next man up," meaning that the backup to the injured player would go into the game. A team prepares all week for an opponent, and expecting to change an alignment or put a player unfamiliar with the position into a game with no practice is asking for a bunch of mental mistakes. And there's no time during a week for a team to prepare for scenarios that might not happen.

DONOVAN HALL FROM JACKSONVILLE, FL: Is it possible George Pickens may switch to his college jersey number (No. 1) before the regular season? I was hoping he and Calvin Austin would be in their college numbers, No. 1 and No. 4, respectively so I could order their jerseys . I don't want to order a number that is going to change.
ANSWER: I am relatively certain of one thing – George Pickens will not be wearing No. 1, because the Steelers no longer issue that number, and that decision has nothing to do with any player who had worn it previously.

TIM SIVERD FROM SOUTH HILL, VA: Do you see any way the Steelers keep Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett, and Mason Rudolph this season?
ANSWER: I believe it's highly likely, especially in light of the team's decision to waive No. 4 quarterback Chris Oladokun on Aug. 23.

ROBERT WOLKEY FROM SPOKANE VALLEY, WA: I agree with you that the Steelers cannot retire so many of their players' jersey numbers, but I think one more should be added: No. 32. With the 50th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception coming up this year during the game against the hated Raiders on Dec. 24, do you think this is the time the Steelers will retire number No. 32?
ANSWER: It is certainly not my decision, but I would not retire No. 32, nor any other jersey numbers. The decision to retire No. 75 made sense because Joe Greene clearly was the player-cornerstone of the Steelers renaissance, and Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II consulted with other Hall of Fame players from those 1970s teams and found them in agreement with the premise that Greene was special even in such esteemed company. But once you get past Greene, how do you then distinguish among such greats as Franco Harris, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, Terry Bradshaw, and Jack Lambert? I believe that's part of the reason why the Steelers developed the concept for the Hall of Honor, because it's a way to recognize the great players, coaches, and administrators in franchise history in a permanent and classy manner.

PAT FLYNN FROM OAKDALE, PA: It is no secret the offensive line has to improve. Do you think the current players on the roster can improve?
ANSWER: They have to improve. There is no other realistic alternative.

DAMIEN FRANK FROM QUINCY, CA: During preseason games, are there any limits in rotating quarterbacks in and out of games like in regular season games? It seems as though once the starting quarterback comes out of the game he is done for the day, and once the backup quarterback comes out he is done as well.
ANSWER: The rule restricting free substitution with quarterbacks during regular season NFL games was scrapped several years ago. There is now no such restriction on quarterbacks going in and out of games in the regular season, and there never was such a rule regarding the preseason.

MATTHEW BALOURIS FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: When the Steelers make final roster cuts, is there a set time frame to get the practice squads set before the season begins? Is there any specific number of players they try to sign at each position?
ANSWER: There is no deadline for forming a practice squad, but there is a 24-hour waiting period following the final roster-cut-down before the process can begin. While there is no specific breakdown as to the number of players signed to the practice squad at a particular position, coaches do take into consideration that these players are used to facilitate practices throughout the season, so trying to strike a balance in terms of numbers at the various positions only makes sense.

DEREK LEWIS FROM POINT MARION, PA: When the roster is cut down to 53, do those who are cut automatically go to the practice squad if not signed by another team?

ROD KEEFER FROM EDMOND, OK: I struggle to understand why the Steelers would sign someone who was cut from another team's 80-90 man roster, with just one or two preseason games remaining. Such a player wasn't close to making the prior team's final 53. Can you think of any recent examples of someone claimed at this stage who went on to make the team, let alone contribute in a significant way?
ANSWER: Zach Banner was added to the Steelers roster one summer on the final day of training camp at Saint Vincent College. Banner went on to make the 53-man roster, spent a season utilized as a swing tackle and an extra blocker in running situations, and won the starting right tackle job the following year before sustaining a torn ACL in the regular season opener. Had that injury not happened, maybe Banner is still on the roster as a backup offensive lineman.

BENJAMIN SMITH FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: With Tyler Vaughns having come up huge in the first two preseason games, what are your thoughts on him making the initial 53-man roster?
ANSWER: Through two preseason games, Tyler Vaughns leads the Steelers in receiving with six catches for 88 yards, plus a touchdown against Seattle that provided the decisive points in that 32-25 victory. He certainly is in the mix to be the sixth receiver on the 53-man roster if, as expected, the Steelers decide to keep that many. One of the other players in the mix for that spot is veteran Miles Boykin, who has three catches for 26 yards but has shown himself to be an asset on special teams with two tackles so far and has played 17 special teams snaps this preseason. Vaughns has one kickoff return for 27 yards and has played two special teams snaps this preseason. The ability to contribute on special teams is going to be a significant part of the decision-making when it comes to that sixth receiver spot.

JIM WOLFE FROM ARLINGTON, TN: How are preseason games selected?
ANSWER: The NFL sets the preseason schedule for all 32 teams.