Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Aug. 31

Let's get to it:

DALE GELLER FROM CAPE CORAL, FL: Since Calvin Austin III was on the injured reserve list last year and didn't play at all, is he still considered a rookie?
ANSWER: Calvin Austin III was a member of the initial 53-man roster before being put on the injured reserve list. He is classified as a second-year pro for the 2023 season.

ED JOHNSON FROM GERMANTOWN, OH: What do you think about the Steelers signing Desmond King? I wanted them to draft him back in 2017. He was voted first-team All-Pro in 2018 when he finished with 3 interceptions and 10 passes defensed as a cornerback and had 840 yards and a touchdown returning both punts and kickoffs. I remember watching him play at Iowa and how he was always around the football.
ANSWER: On the surface, there is a lot to like about the Steelers adding cornerback Desmond Kind, who last played for the Houston Texans. He's experienced – 4,651 defensive snaps during 6 NFL seasons – and still relatively young – he turns 29 in mid-December. I also believe he represents an upgrade at the No. 4 cornerback spot on the roster. Knowing how the Steelers operate, because King came out in the 2017 NFL Draft, Coach Mike Tomlin undoubtedly has a feel for the kind of player/person he is based on the draft preparation that took place at that time. But of course, the proof is in the playing, and it might take a little while for King to show the kind of player he is now at this stage of his NFL career.

SAM KENNEDY FROM RICHMOND, VA: Regarding the tackles statistic question from last week, if tackles are unofficial stats, what does that mean for sacks? Unofficial as well? Also, is there an established baseline among all of the stats crews for what is a tackle vs. an assist?
ANSWER: When it comes to official sack statistics, the NFL didn't begin recognizing sacks as an official statistic until 1982, and so sack totals before then have been compiled "unofficially." To cite the most glaring example in my opinion, the player who coined the term "sack" was defensive end Deacon Jones, who appears on "unofficial" lists with 173.5 sacks, but on the NFL's official list of all-time sack leaders, he doesn't appear at all. We can talk about a baseline for unassisted tackles and assists until the cows come home, but until the NFL comes up with a way to make those numbers official, it's nothing but lip service.

BRADLEY DYLL FROM HERMITAGE, PA: I was listening to the NFL channel on Sirius, and during a discussion of cut-down day, someone said you could take a player from one team's practice squad and put him on your practice squad. I thought if another team takes a player from the practice squad, he has to put on the 53-man roster. Did they change the rule?
ANSWER: I don't know whether you misunderstood what was said or whether the information was wrong, but here's the rule: If Team A signs a player off Team B's practice squad, that player must be on Team A's 53-man roster for three games, not three weeks. Even if that player is waived/released, he still must be paid for three games, and Team A must account for that player on its 53-man roster until the three-game period is over.

MIKE PALOMBO FROM MCMURRAY, PA: When making a trade like the Kevin Dotson deal right before the roster cut-down, how much do the Steelers weigh if their trading partner is in their division, their conference, a playoff contender, etc.? Or do they just look for the best deal they can make?
ANSWER: Generally, a team will try to avoid trading a player to a team within its division, and there can be instances where it's advantageous to trade a player out of the conference. But there is no strict rule about any of this, and it often can depend upon the player, the position he plays, his years of service to his original team, etc. And while I'm not saying this was the case in this particular example, sometimes it comes down to the belief that trading away an individual is viewed as addition by subtraction.

OWEN O'CEALLAIGH FROM CORK, KILKENNY, IRELAND: With my Black & Amber Kilkenny hurling jersey being put away until next season, I hauled out my Steelers jersey for this season. I'm looking forward to the regular season so much. I listen to almost all of the games on the radio (SNR) because announcers Bill Hillgrove and Craig Wolfley are excellent. When was the last time you listened to a game on the radio? Did you listen to games more than watch them as a kid going up?
ANSWER: Once the NFL lifted the blackout rule that prohibited the telecast of games within the boundaries of a team's home market, all Steelers games were on television and that's how I followed the team. But I specifically remember sitting in the family room of our home and listening to the 1972 Divisional Round Playoff Game vs. Oakland on the radio, because that game was blacked out in the Pittsburgh area. And of course, that game became famous for the Immaculate Reception.

KURT RINGELING FROM CHARLOTTE, NC: During the season does the practice squad travel with the team on away games, and are they on the sideline and locker room during home games?
ANSWER: NFL rules prohibit practice squad players from traveling to road games. For home games, because of league rules governing the number of people permitted in the bench area, practice squad players usually watch the games from the stands.

JOHN MILLER FROM FT. MYERS, FL: Looking at the roster after mandatory cut-down day (Aug. 29), I saw we kept two punters. Obviously one of them is going to be traded, and I believe it will be Braden Mann since Pressley Harvin III solid and a great holder for Chris Boswell. Can there be a wink and a nod agreement to bring a player back after cutting him? There will be a roster spot available and obviously we have someone in mind. I believe it to be Zach Gentry. Can Gentry turn down any claims made on him by another team?
ANSWER: At the time of this submission, much of what you included in your question is speculation, but the way to answer your question is that players who are vested veterans are not subject to the waiver system when they are released at this time in the NFL calendar. To refer specifically to the player you mention, Zach Gentry is a vested veteran, which means he is free to sign with any team willing to have him, or to decline any offer from any team he is not interested in joining. Vested veterans are defined as having four or more accredited seasons in the NFL.

JOHN MOT FROM SEBRING, FL: I remember when teams only had 40 players but had something referred to as a taxi squad. How many players were on it, and was there a significant difference than today's practice squad?
ANSWER: Even I am not old enough to know the intricate details of the taxi squad and how players on that specifically differed from players on what now is referred to as the practice squad. But here's an interesting tidbit about the origin of the name "taxi squad." Back in the 1940s, during a time when the All-America Football Conference existed as a competitor to the National Football League, Cleveland Browns Coach Paul Brown wanted to keep a promising group of players who did not make the roster and have them in reserve. In order to get around the All-America Conference payroll rules, Browns Owner Mickey McBride put them on the payroll of his taxi company, Yellow Cab of Cleveland. Those "reserve" players never worked for Yellow Cab of Cleveland and never drove cabs, but they remained available in case Brown ever needed them.

KAREN ADAMS FROM BENTON HARBOR, MI: Why did the Steelers cut Derrick Watt?
ANSWER: This is the final time I answer this question. Derek Watt became an unrestricted free agent in March 2023, and he has not been signed by any team since then. He remains an unrestricted free agent. He was not cut by the Steelers.

DENNY CLEARY FROM LOUISVILLE, KY: Could it be that the Steelers tried Kendrick Green at fullback to create or enhance his trade value?
ANSWER: I would find it a bit of a stretch to believe the Steelers' experiment with Kendrick Green at fullback in early August at Saint Vincent College was some part of a grand plan to trade him at the end of the preseason.

JOHN RUFF FROM CALHOUN CITY, MS: Didn't we just sign Zach Gentry to a nice extension, so I don't understand why we cut him, yet we kept two punters?
ANSWER: Zach Gentry became an unres
tricted free agent in March 2023, and the Steelers re-signed him to a one-year, $1.4 million contract that included a signing bonus of $152,500. In the world of the NFL, that hardly qualifies as a "nice extension," and I also find it curious that fans are so quick to go from heaping lavish praise on General Manager Omar Khan for his wheeling and dealing to having no patience to allow the Braden Mann situation to play itself out. As an update, on Aug. 30 the Steelers announced they had released Mann, and the timing of that indicates the final spot on the 53-man roster is to be filled by cornerback Desmond King. But who knows, there could be more moves in the offing as well.

TOM MCCORMICK FROM FINDLAY, OH: I tell my friends that preseason is formalized practice, and I stick with that perspective so that my own expectations don't become unreasonable. However, the Steelers have impressed me with their preseason play. In your view, how encouraged should the fan base be?
ANSWER: I just don't feel comfortable telling people if they should be encouraged, or how encouraged they should be about the Steelers' chances for the upcoming regular season. I'll leave that to each individual, and his or her individual level of optimism. And let me remind you, I am notorious for being someone who lives in his fears.

LUIS GABRIEL SOSA FROM EL PASO, TX: Did any of the Steelers last three head coaches ever play college or professional football and if they did, where did they play and what position?
ANSWER: Chuck Noll entered the NFL as a 20th-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns in the 1953 NFL Draft. He played for Coach Paul Brown for 7 seasons as a guard/linebacker when he started 56 of 77 career regular season games. Noll was a member of the Browns teams that won back-to-back NFL Championships in 1954 and 1955. Bill Cowher was signed as an undrafted rookie by Cleveland in 1980, and he played two seasons with the Browns and then two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles as a linebacker and special teams player. Cowher appeared in 45 regular season games with 2 starts during his 4-season playing career. Mike Tomlin was a 3-year starter at wide receiver during his college career at William & Mary, where he was voted first-team All-Yankee Conference when he set a single-season school record with a 20.2 average-yards-per catch.