Let's get to it:
STEVE MADDEN FROM ELDERSBURG, MD: One of your responses in the Dec. 14 Asked and Answered was regarding punting and the fact the NFL and colleges use a different ball. What is the difference between a K-ball and the one used in college football? And further, why would college football not use the same ball since it is essentially a "training ground" for the NFL?
ANSWER: You might perceive college football as a "training ground" for the NFL, but college football doesn't see itself as that, nor does it have any interest in furthering that perception. And so, there are differences in equipment and rules, and I believe there always will be differences between college football and NFL football. As for the football used: In overall circumference, college footballs can be up to 1-1/4 inches smaller than NFL footballs. To get more detailed, the circumference of a college football ranges from 20-3/4 inches to 21-1/4 inches lengthwise from end to end, vs. the 21 inches to 21-1/4 inches in the NFL. The NFL ball lacks stripes, and the college ball has two white ones painted halfway around, and although all college footballs have stripes, the balls vary a bit from team to team. That's unlike the consistency of the NFL, where every team gets the same ball.
In 1999, the NFL switched to special "K-balls" for special teams plays because there was a growing concern that kickers and punters were manipulating regular balls to make them fly higher and straighter. In 2015 Vice.com got a bunch of former NFL punters and placekickers to explain some of the "tricks of the trade."
Former NFL placekicker Michael Husted, who played nine seasons with the Buccaneers, Raiders, Redskins, and Chiefs, said he would go into the equipment room every Monday and break in the noses of 36 footballs by slamming them on the end of a table or a door jamb. Husted then would inflate the balls as high as 30 psi (the standard for an NFL football is between 12.5 and 13.5) before putting them in a sauna for two days before letting the air out and putting them in the sun. What that process did was soften the leather and broaden the sweet spot. The ball then would be inflated to normal pressure but was essentially a completely different football at game time.
Three-time Pro Bowl punter Reggie Roby would sit and rub footballs with a piece of Astroturf to break it in. Former Jaguars, Bills, and Giants placekicker Mike Hollis would overinflate balls and then rub them down with a wet towel. He would also take a heavy weight plate, place it on top of the football, and then stand on it and roll it around. Others would soak balls in evaporated milk or lemon juice. Some would microwave footballs or bake them in an oven.
The K-balls (or kicking balls) don't travel as far as game-worn balls, and they can't be "guided" as accurately as roundish, softer balls. The K-balls aren't a different size than a regular NFL football, but players describe them as harder and slicker than the average NFL football. When the K-Ball was first introduced in 1999, the original goal was that every kick had a new ball. When that didn't work, a dozen K-Balls were rotated throughout a game to ensure that each one was kicked the same number of times.
But after quarterback Tony Romo, also the Cowboys holder at the time, was unable to handle a brand-new K-ball in a Dallas playoff game in 2007 against the Seattle Seahawks, and his fumble that cost his team a win, the rules were changed again. The dozen K-balls were numbered 1-12, and ball No. 1 was used on the initial kickoff and remained in play until it was no longer an option, at which point K-Ball No. 2 was used and so on and so forth.
Today, according to Rule 2, Section 2 of the NFL Rulebook, six new footballs are shipped directly to the referee of each game and are opened in the officials' locker room exactly two hours and 15 minutes prior to kickoff. The K-Balls are all specifically marked by the referee and used only in kicking situations.
SCOTT BAUM FROM HILLSBORO, OR: Do you feel Mason Rudolph is the future quarterback for the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger retires, or will they go after a veteran? My buddy thinks Russell Wilson could be a possibility.
ANSWER: Tell your buddy that Russell Wilson has two years remaining on his contract with Seattle, and according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network that contract is to pay him $51 million during that span and includes a no-trade clause.
DENNY BRADLEY FROM TOLEDO, OH: I have no opinion on the following matter. It is being speculated that Russell Wilson will be traded this coming offseason. What is your argument, if you have one, as to why the Steelers should not or will not seek to acquire Wilson in a trade?
ANSWER: My opinion on this issue is that the facts won't allow it to happen. Here's what I mean: Russell Wilson will be 34 in November 2022, and he is under contract to Seattle for those two years for a combined $41 million in salary – $19 million in 2022 and $22 million in 2023 – plus another $10 million in roster bonuses ($5 million each year), which puts his compensation over the next two years at $51 million. Also, Wilson has a no-trade clause in his contract, which means there can be no trade from the Seahawks unless he waives the no-trade clause by approving the team acquiring him in the trade. There has been speculation about Wilson waiving his no-trade clause this offseason, but the teams mentioned as being on his "approved" list do not include the Steelers.
WILLIAM GRAY FROM ALGONQUIN, IL: Please don't use "fourth quarter passer rating" to defend questions about Ben Roethlisberger. Regardless of how anyone feels about his play, we'd all take a zero rating from him if the team were running out the clock protecting leads every Sunday.
ANSWER: But that's not the case, and so would you rather moan about the Steelers trailing in the fourth quarter, or have a quarterback capable of bringing a team back in the fourth quarter?
BEN SALURI FROM PLEASANT HILL, IA: I was at the game against the Vikings in Minnesota and noticed several times when a Steelers offensive player went out of bounds, the clock never stopped. Who is in charge of clock management at games?
ANSWER: According to the rules, the clock does not stop on out of bounds plays until the final two minutes of the first half and the final five minutes of the fourth quarter.
PHILIP MEYER FROM TERRE HAUTE, IN: Why isn't someone like Ben Roethlisberger allowed to call his own plays? Judging from his facial expressions after failed plays I think he would have called a different play. Didn't Terry Bradshaw call most of his own plays?
ANSWER: When Terry Bradshaw was the Steelers quarterback, the NFL was a different league, and he called his own plays. Joe Montana did not. Roger Staubach did not. And your assumption that when Ben Roethlisberger is shown after a failed play that the expression on his face is the result of the play-call could be accurate, or it could have something to do with the execution of the play-call. You don't know for sure, and neither do I.
DANIEL McNEEL FROM LONDONDERRY, NH: In the Dec. 14 Asked and Answered, you answered a few questions regarding celebrations. Does it not seem hypocritical for the NFL to penalize players for taunting then promote celebrations? Is it not the same thing?
ANSWER: In the eyes of the NFL, there is a difference between celebrating and taunting. Players may celebrate with their teammates, while taunting involves the opponent and is a penalty.
KEN WESCHLER FROM BEDFORD, PA: Where, in your opinion, does the blame belong for how inconsistent the Steelers are playing this season? Does it belong to both the players and the coaching staff?
ANSWER: I don't really understand why there always has to be blame assigned, that if a team doesn't win, it's somebody's fault. Why can't it be a situation where young players are learning and developing while still competing against teams made up of elite athletes?
KEITH MILLER FROM CANTON, OH: One of the key ingredients to building a winning team is to have its first-round picks be impact players. In the last six years, only T.J. Watt has been a true impact player. Prior to that, the six pics were Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, David DeCastro, Cam Hayward, Maurkice Pouncey, and Jarvis Jones. Five of those six were impact players. What do you see as the reason for the current crop of draftees?
ANSWER: More with the blame game. Drafting college players and projecting how they are going to develop as NFL players is actually nothing but a high-stake guessing game. There is no team, nor any general manager, nor any personnel department, nor any coach, nor any combination of those who have a perfect drafting record, even when that record is limited to including only first-round picks. And when you write, "In the last six years, only T.J. Watt has been a true impact player," I would disagree and point to Najee Harris (No. 1 pick in 2021) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (acquired in a trade for the Steelers 2020 No. 1 pick) as impact players.
LUKE CAMPBELL FROM CARLISLE, PA: Barring unforeseen injury, or a recurrence of one of his previous ailments on the season, how strong of a case do you feel T.J. Watt has to bring home the Defensive Player of the Year Award that has eluded him the past two seasons? Let's say he finishes with around 20 sacks, or even breaks Michael Strahan's record of 22.5, do you think it'll be enough for him to win it, even though the team may not make the postseason? Also, is a postseason berth a make-or-break for his case?
ANSWER: While being on a team that qualifies for the playoffs undoubtedly can help a player's candidacy for individual honors, it's not a make-or-break situation. And remember that there is not a statistical benchmark for winning something like the Defensive Player of the Year Award, and I actually believe the voters are more likely to compare the top candidates and their respective statistics than they are to base their decision solely on a statistical standard. We saw that last season, when T.J. Watt finished with 53 tackles, 15 sacks, seven passes defensed, and two forced fumbles, while Aaron Donald won the award after putting together 45 tackles, 13.5 sacks, one pass defensed, and four forced fumbles. As you can see, there's really no cut-and-dried way to predict how the vote will turn out. I do believe Watt has a strong resume to win it in 2021, and maybe voters have become weary of picking Donald, who has won the award in three of the past four seasons.
TOM NAYPAUER FROM CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OH: Did Bill Cowher ever win the Coach of the Year Award?
ANSWER: In 1992, Bill Cowher won two versions of the NFL Coach of the Year Award, from the Associated Press and The Sporting News, and then in 2004 he won The Sporting News version of the award for a second time.