LATROBE, Pa. – Let’s get to it:
GIO CALABRO FROM EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, NJ: How is James Washington looking so far in camp? Does it look like he'll be able to make an impact this year?
ANSWER: In watching a lot of young players and trying to predict their level of success in the NFL, I have come to believe that if a player wants to succeed and works diligently at his craft then it will happen for him. I see that in James Washington – it matters to him, and he’s a diligent worker. But in terms of how he has been doing at camp so far, I remind you that he did a lot of special things in training camp last summer, and then he followed that up with some amazing things in practices through the early stages of the regular season. With Washington, we have seen him be special in workouts and practices. With Washington, it’s time to start transferring that to games. When the games start, we all will be able to see how much of an impact Washington will make in 2019.
HECTOR CARRANZA FROM OAXACA, MEXICO: Are there statistics regarding the number of Jack Lambert's solo tackles? If so, is he among the Steelers all-time leaders in that category?
ANSWER: Tackle statistics come from the stats crew employed by the home team at each NFL game, and as a result the criteria for what constitutes a solo tackle and what gets credited as an assisted tackle vary greatly from place to place, which makes those numbers generally unreliable. Also, tackle statistics are a relatively new phenomenon in that they were kept rarely even as late as the 1960s, and so there’s no way to know how numbers rank for a franchise that’s been in business as long as the Steelers.
JASON PRASTER FROM SAN ANTONIO, TX: What is the difference between the signing of a free agent and being “awarded” a free agent off waivers? I am referring to the transaction that states Brandon Reilly was “awarded” to the Steelers.
ANSWER: For all players without four accrued seasons in the NFL, and also at certain times during the NFL calendar for all players regardless of experience, the waiver system is in effect. When the waiver system is in effect, there is a 24-hour period after a player is cut where all of the other 31 teams can make a claim on him, and if there is more than one claim the player is “awarded” to the team with the worst record (based on the previous season) of all those making a claim. If there is only one team making a claim, the player is “awarded” to that team. If no team makes a claim, then once the 24-hour period expires the player is free to sign with any team that wants him. Also, any team making a claim on a waived player does so with the understanding that team will accept the terms of the contract the player had with the team that waived him. If a waived player is not claimed during the 24-hour period, a team looking to sign him can negotiate any terms that are acceptable to both parties as long as those terms are legal under the rules of the CBA.
DAVID JONES FROM DANVILLE, VA: What is your opinion of possibly extending the season or adding teams to the playoffs? Expanding the regular season to 18 games and making players sit out two games sounds foolish.
ANSWER: My personal opinion is things are fine as they are, and by that I mean having 16 regular season games and then having six teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs. I also am in favor of the current setup in which division winners are seeded higher in the playoffs than wild card teams, regardless of record, because winning the division should be rewarded. But I also understand the interest in growing the pool of revenue to be split between the owners and players as we are heading into rug-cutting time for negotiating an extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is set to expire after the 2020 NFL season. As for expanding the regular season to 18 games, I doubt whether that proposal will get sufficient support from the Players Association because of safety concerns, and the whole idea of an 18-game regular season where players could participate in only 16 of the games never really made any sense to me. Injuries are a part of football, but asking a coach to sit healthy players while trying to put together a roster capable of winning a game because of some arbitrary rule seems too gimmicky. With all of that, I see the expanded playoffs having the best chance of becoming a reality, but I hope it’s done in a manner that doesn’t really compromise a good setup by making it too easy to get into the postseason.
LENNART GABKA FROM BRAUNSCHWEIG, GERMANY: Could you explain why the Steelers don’t sign free agent tight end Bucky Hodges? His skill-set would make him a good fit to be our No. 2 or No. 3 tight end.
ANSWER: Well, this is a little complicated. Bucky Hodges had been under contract to the New York Jets, but after injuring a hamstring he was waived/injured last Saturday. When no team claimed Hodges, which isn’t surprising since he was injured and NFL teams don’t want to be adding injured players to their roster at this time of the summer, he cleared waivers and was placed on the Jets injured reserve list. It’s likely the Jets will seek to reach an injury settlement with him in the coming weeks and waive him again. Clearly, the issue right now with Hodges is health. After being a sixth-round pick of the Vikings in 2017, he was waived with an injury designation by Minnesota coming out of the preseason. Then he had brief stints with Carolina, Buffalo, the Jets, and the Steelers. The Steelers waived him on April 25, 2019 after he spent the 2018 season on the team’s practice squad, and then Hodges got another chance with the Jets but that ended because of another injury.
MATTHEW TRIEBE FROM FORT COLLINS, CO: Looking at the members of the Hall of Honor, I noticed that Ernie Holmes is the only member of the Steel Curtain not in. Why?
ANSWER: Your premise is incorrect. Dwight White is not yet in the Hall of Honor, either. Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood are.
GRANT BRADEN FROM SOUTH ORANGE, NJ: In your opinion, what is the biggest thing the Steelers need to do differently from 2018 (excluding converting kicks) in order to compete for a championship in 2019?
ANSWER: Regular readers of Asked and Answered know I have been beating this drum all offseason: More takeaways.
PAUL PURCELL FROM LEESPORT, PA: With the personnel the Steelers have on defense, can they become a dominant defense again? Also to become a dominant defense, which player(s) must take their game to the next level or what position needs to excel?
ANSWER: I don’t believe the concept of dominant defense can exist in today’s NFL, at least not in the way in which I believe you are. Offenses are too good and the rules and the way those rules are legislated make it too easy for offenses to move the football, and so the days of a defense consistently dominating opponents are gone. Today’s NFL defenses need to be opportunistic, and if they’re capable of doing that over the course of an entire season then the unit can help its team win a championship. So, to your question, which is a different way of asking what Grant Braden asked, and my answer is the same: More takeaways.