Skip to main content

Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Aug. 28

Let's get to it:

DAVID POLLARD FROM WARRINGTON, ENGLAND: From your memory, who are/were the best Steelers special teamers who weren't kickers/punters or returners?

ANSWER: Many Steelers players were butt-kickers on special teams on the way to earning spots in the starting lineup on either offense or defense, with some of the most notable in recent memory being Orpheus Roye, Brett Keisel, and James Harrison. Going back farther, other guys who stood out were Jerry Olsavsky and Greg Lloyd. But I believe what you're referring to are players whose primary method of earning a paycheck was on special teams, but not as a returner or as a specialist. In that category, one guy stands out: Fred McAfee. Signed by the Steelers in the middle of the 1994 season after being cut by the Cardinals, McAfee played through the 1998 season in Pittsburgh. In his 64 games with the Steelers, McAfee, allegedly a running back but essentially a special teams ace, had 93 total carries, with most of those coming in games after the team had clinched its playoff seeding. For his career, McAfee played 17 NFL seasons, and he appeared in 194 games, but he had only 304 career rushing attempts despite being listed as a running back. Seventeen seasons and 304 career rushing attempts are all the evidence you need to make the case about McAfee's value on special teams.

JOHN NOH FROM CAMPBELL, CA: I was excited about the performances of Matthew Thomas and Ola Adeniyi against the Titans. If it were up to me, I would give both of them roster spots for this season based on what they have shown in camp and in the preseason. That would require really hard decisions, of course. Which of the incumbent players (from last year's roster) in the linebacker corps would you say are in jeopardy of losing their spots this season? For me, Anthony Chickillo and L.J. Fort come to mind.

ANSWER: What fans must understand about making these kinds of decisions is the impact/importance of the players on special teams. Anthony Chickillo and L.J. Fort are core special teams players, and so any assessment of their value has to include that element. If I had to guess, the top seven linebackers would include T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Chickillo on the outside, plus Vince Williams, Jon Bostic, Tyler Matakevich, and Fort on the inside. Then the question becomes how many linebackers the Steelers decide to keep heading into the 2018 season.

MICHAEL SHOTTS FROM INDIANA, PA: Why do you think the Steelers used a substitute kicker in the Packers game instead of Chris Boswell?

ANSWER: The "substitute kicker" to whom you refer is Matt Wile, a second-year pro from Michigan, who was signed during the offseason. Wile is a punter and a placekicker, and because he participated in the entire offseason program, plus minicamp, plus training camp, the Steelers gave him an opportunity to kick in a preseason game. There are two reasons for rewarding guys in this way: the first is that Wile was signed in the first place so that he could share in the workload, so that his presence could help prevent Jordan Berry and Chris Boswell from being overworked to the extent they might enter the regular season with tired legs; and the second is to give Wile a chance to get himself on video so he might get a shot with another team that might be in need for a kicker/punter. When you treat people the right way, and this is the right way, it helps down the road with your credibility when looking to sign other players.

ZACH SHUDER FROM CHANDLER, AZ: It was noted that Matthew Thomas put on a highly rated performance in last week's game. Moving forward and from what you've seen in practice etc., what is the real chance we end up seeing him leap Jon Bostic and Tyler Matakevich on the depth chart? Do you see it being L.J. Fort instead (which is my guess)?

ANSWER: Matthew Thomas is acquitting himself well during this camp/preseason process, but with the preseason finale a couple of days away, it would be premature for him to believe he has the team made, despite what has been "noted" about his "highly rated" performance. The people doing the "noting" are people like me, as in, people whose opinions don't matter. Barring injury, there is no way Thomas vaults Tyler Matakevich and/or Jon Bostic on the depth chart this year.

CHRIS BEZONI FROM INDIANAPOLIS, IN: On Thursday, the new contracts for Vince Williams and Chris Boswell were announced. While the terms for Boswell's deal were released, Williams' were not. Why do teams disclose the terms on some contracts but not on others?

ANSWER: The Steelers never make any official announcements on players' contracts, except to disclose the length of the deal. The rest of that information is gathered by the media using other sources, such as player agents.

VINCENT PIRAINO FROM STROUDSBURG, PA: Is Christian Scotland-Williamson eligible for the 53-man roster this year? I say he's not. Now I'm not in favor of it, because, let's face it, he might be big and athletic, but that doesn't even get him close to being ready for real NFL ball.

ANSWER: You're wrong. He is eligible for a 53-man roster, not only the Steelers' but also any team in the NFL that would have him.

ERIC COFER FROM ANNAPOLIS, MD: Haven't seen a lot of looks for Cam Sutton on defense. Your thoughts?

ANSWER: Since Cam Sutton has played more than 90 snaps combined in the first three preseason games, my thoughts are either you need to pay closer attention, or you're unaware that Sutton now wears No. 20.

PETER CONDO FROM DUNCANNON, PA: Given the near universal feeling that Bud Dupree is not quite up to par at outside linebacker, the near universal feeling that Jon Bostic and Tyler Matakevich are really not making it at inside linebacker, the reasonably consistent pressure on the quarterback by Keion Adams and Ola Adeniyi, and the good pass defense and size of Dupree, does it make sense to move Dupree to inside linebacker alongside Vince Williams?

ANSWER: Not to the Steelers. While there are going to be some alignment variations as to where players are standing before the snap of the ball in certain game situations and/or within certain sub-packages, the idea of actually making whole changes to an individual's assignments by switching his position at this late stage of the preseason evaluation process would be foolish for a team looking to get off to a good start in September. And here is a further suggestion to you: when watching preseason games and the players' performances in them, take note of the competition they're going against. Bud Dupree, in the two most recent preseason games, went against David Bakhtiari and Taylor Lewan, two Pro Bowl-caliber left tackles. Keion Adams and Ola Adeniyi went against guys who may not even make the 53-man roster. That is a factor in the results, too.

ROBERT NEIR FROM STUTTGART, GERMANY: Joshua Dobbs appears to be very athletic and at times, a Houdini in escaping sacks. Any chance Steelers keep him on the roster for trick plays, or even occasional tight end duties?

ANSWER: No, because as soon as his baseball injury heals, that's going to be Tim Tebow's role.

H.C. PETLEY FROM CORTEZ, CO: It's that time of year. Why does the 53-man roster make sense? So much new talent on display and yet by the end of this week, seven good men who need the work will looking elsewhere, men who could be employed if the roster was upped to 60. Same holds true for every team in a league awash in cash. Seven players-times-32 teams equals 224 good-paying jobs that don't exist because of some arcane fixation with an odd number. Why do the players and the players union accept a 53-man cap on employment?

ANSWER: Your argument ignores some very relevant facts, but let's start with this: every union in America accepts a cap on the number of employees. Steelworkers, Teamsters, AFL-CIO, United Auto Workers, all of them at some point accept a cap on the number of employees. There are only so many jobs available, and at some point union and management agree on the number. OK, with that out of the way, allow me to point this out: The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement provides for a method of revenue sharing, and from that revenue sharing comes the salary cap, which is the number allocated to each team for players' salaries. At 53 players per team, each piece of the salary cap can be larger than it would be if there were 60 players on a team. Fewer slices from the same-sized pie. Get it? If I'm in the NFLPA, why would I want more mouths feeding on the same-sized pie? In that case, there's less for me. So I would argue that the players and the NFLPA might in fact not be in favor of more players on each teams' roster, because for the team owners, their player payroll cost is a static number, regardless of how many ways it is to be divided.

THAD SPREG FROM MAKAKILO, HI: I'd like a way to make sure I see every Asked-and-Answered. Can I get it emailed to me?

ANSWER: During the regular season, Asked and Answered appears on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and on the day of the Steelers game each week. It appears on on each of those occasions at 6 a.m. Eastern time. It is not emailed, not even to my wife.