Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Aug. 27

Let's get to it:

TODD WYNN FROM MANSFIELD, OH: You rightly criticize fans who lobby for position switches. I mean, why couldn't Ben Roethlisberger play safety, right? But could you talk a little bit about Carnell Lake going from linebacker in college to safety in the pros, and then switching to cornerback after Rod Woodson's injury? How special would he have to be to play those positions at such a high level, and why do you think he isn't talked about more when discussing great Steelers players of the 1990s?
ANSWER: I remember once talking to Carnell Lake, and he said all along that he realized he was going to have to switch from linebacker to safety in order to play in the NFL, and during his senior season at UCLA he would spend some time (when he had some extra time) doing defensive backs drills and generally trying to lay some groundwork for what he understood was going to be in his future. Leading up to the 1989 NFL Scouting Combine, Lake said he worked out with the UCLA defensive backs who were preparing for the Combine, even though in those days Combine preparation wasn't nearly as detailed or sophisticated as it is today. Anyway, Lake knew a position switch was going to be in order for him even before his college football career was over.

But even though Lake knew that he was going to have to switch to safety to make an NFL career for himself, that doesn't mean the switch was a simple one. And it's also worth mentioning, I believe, to note that Lake not only made the switch from college linebacker to NFL safety, he did that well enough to be a second-round draft pick and then start the regular season opener of his rookie year. Moving to the 1995 season, Rod Woodson tore his ACL on the first third down play of the opener, and the Steelers stumbled around for the next month trying to find someone resembling a competent replacement. That failed, and after the Steelers lost a Thursday night game to the Bengals at Three Rivers Stadium to drop to 3-4, Bill Cowher decided to take advantage of the extra time before the team's next game to switch Lake to cornerback. Dick LeBeau was the secondary coach at the time, and he told the story that early the morning after Lake was asked if he would be willing to make the move, Lake was at the door of the team's offices asking to be let in so he could start watching video and learning how to play cornerback. During that 1995 season, Lake agreeing to move from safety to cornerback and then his play at the position stabilized the Steelers' secondary, which then allowed the defense to develop into a unit capable of supporting the team's drive to a Super Bowl. People who know football understand this and recognize Lake's contributions to it.

PAT FLYNN FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Do you think the Steelers coaching staff will have Ben Roethlisberger on a "pitch count" with respect to the number of passes he throws during a game to conserve his elbow?
ANSWER: I believe the Steelers are interested in having a balanced offense, and they understand the importance of being able to run the football effectively, because the ability to do that benefits the team in all aspects of trying to win games. They also understand the path to achieving an effective running game is not to abandon it if it's not successful early in a game. But winning games still is the top priority, and no team is going to stop throwing the ball because its quarterback has reached a certain number of attempts. Coach Mike Tomlin has said more than once so far during this training camp than Ben Roethlisberger has been cleared by medical experts, and so there will be no treating him with kid gloves.

BOBBY KNIGHT FROM PURCELLVILLE, VA: Is Ulysees Gilbert showing enough progress that he might be able to get more playing time with Devin Bush this year, at least on passing downs?
ANSWER: The Steelers have said the decision to pair Vince Williams with Devin Bush as the starting inside linebackers has to do with communications skills. Williams' experience and understanding both of the Steelers defense and opposing offenses fill an important need for the unit on the field, and he also is a physical presence in the middle of the field as well as a productive pass-rusher. Coach Mike Tomlin has said that Ulysees Gilbert cannot even really be considered a second-year player (even though he was part of the draft class of 2019) because of all the time he missed last season because of injury. Add all of that up, and I see Gilbert's role in 2020 as being on special teams and as a third inside linebacker behind Williams and Bush.

KEVIN W. MCCARTHY FROM WINTER PARK, FL: Being born and raised in Pittsburgh, I remember when Myron Cope first introduced the Terrible Towel as a way to rally the fans to support the team. I also recall that the Terrible Towel became part of a fundraising effort to support those with mental disabilities because, I believe, Myron had a child facing those challenges. Are the Terrible Towel proceeds still going to charity? If so, how much has been raised for charity?
ANSWER: Soon after it was invented by Myron Cope in 1975 and came to be a commercial item, proceeds from the sale of the Towel went to the Allegheny Valley School, which provides services to individuals with severe disabilities, one of whom is Cope's son, Danny. Regis Camp, the President and CEO of the Allegheny Valley School, told the Post-Gazette this story of a 1996 visit he got from Cope: "One day in 1996, (Myron) visited the school … and casually tossed a packet of legal papers across the desk. "He said, 'I'm giving you The Towel.' I said, 'Thanks, Myron, but I already have a couple of them.' Then he said, 'No, no. I'm transferring the trademark.' It took me one second to understand what he was doing and what it would mean for us. It was incredibly generous and thoughtful."

Champ went on to explain to the Post-Gazette that Cope wanted the money to go not for construction projects, but for individual assistance for residents. Some of the relatively recent purchases made by the school included high-end specialized wheelchairs and sensory programs that allow severely disabled residents, including quadriplegics, to perform tasks such as turning on lights or music with a movement of their eyes. "It's an incredible help for us," Champ said. "We're a nonprofit organization, and our primary funding is through Medicaid. While Medicaid is very good to people with disabilities, it is limited in what it will cover."

According to reports, in the 13 years between 1996 and 2009, Allegheny Valley School received in excess of $3 million in proceeds from the sale of the Terrible Towel. And the way Cope set up the legacy, the Steelers bear all the cost of the marketing of the Terrible Towel. "We get a check from them every month," Champ told the Post-Gazette about the arrangement with the Steelers. "We could not have a better partner than the Steelers. They make us feel like part of their family. It's not a business deal. It's a family deal."

JEFF ELINOFF FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: Congratulations to Bill Nunn on being selected as the Contributor Finalist for election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2021. It is well deserved. I am aware of his many achievements as he scouted the Black colleges, but was he involved in scouting any schools/players from elsewhere?
ANSWER: Allow me to explain the reality of Bill Nunn's contributions to the Steelers. There was not a significant player drafted by the team who wasn't scouted by Nunn at some point during the process. The Steelers don't have only one scout look at a particular player, especially those players it determines are the "A" or "B" players in a particular draft class. Maybe Nunn wasn't the first to evaluate a player and maybe he wasn't the last, but he assuredly was involved in the evaluation, and his opinion mattered.