Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Feb. 8

Let's get to it:

DICK VOCHEK FROM PORTAGE, PA: Is there a pecking order among the defensive assistant coaches with regards to being promoted to the defensive coordinator position? Is one position coach given greater consideration based on the position they coach? For example, Keith Butler was the linebackers coach before being promoted to defensive coordinator. Is a linebackers coach held in higher esteem than another position coach?
ANSWER: If the goal is to forecast which assistant coaches on a particular staff might be the ones being groomed for, or might have the inside track to, a promotion to a coordinator position, my advice would be to do it based on titles rather than what position the man coaches. For example, on offense is the guy referred to as the quarterbacks coach, or assistant head coach/passing game coordinator? Is the guy the offensive line coach, or the offensive line coach/run game coordinator? There have been recent reports indicating Coach Mike Tomlin is about to promote Teryl Austin to defensive coordinator to replace Keith Butler, who retired a few weeks ago. Austin's title was senior defensive assistant/secondary. Earlier this season, Tomlin explained the significance of what I'll refer to here as an "expanded title." "You know, Teryl Austin has a cute title of some description here in Pittsburgh (senior defensive assistant/secondary)," said Tomlin, "because he is elite and experienced at what he does and is a central component to the development of plans as it relates to the passing game defense."

ETHAN MARINES FROM NANTY GLO, PA: With the 2022 Pro-Bowl under our belt, why does the NFL even bother with putting players on the field for that game? Why doesn't the NFL award the players something for being a "Pro Bowl" player, cut him his check and forego the embarrassment of what we saw last Sunday? What I watched was embarrassing to the league and insulting to any fan of the game of football.
ANSWER: Yet you watched, at least based on what you wrote in your submission, and that's at the heart of the matter. Personally, I don't watch the Pro Bowl and don't have sufficient interest in anything that happens during the Pro Bowl to watch it live, but millions of people do. And millions of people watch it every year. The numbers pale in comparison to what NFL games draw on television throughout a season that begins annually with the Hall of Fame Game in early August, but the ratings are enough for the enterprise to make money for the NFL and for the network that broadcasts the game. KDKA-TV Sports Director Bob Pompeani tweeted that the ratings for the Pittsburgh television market (households) from 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 6 had the Pro Bowl at No. 1, followed in order by the Winter Olympics, the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and the NASCAR Cup Series Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum. So the numbers might be low, and the numbers might indicate that viewership has declined over the past several years, but the numbers also indicate the Pro Bowl still wins its time period. If you think it's an embarrassment, don't watch, but there are many people who do.

RALPH RUGGIERO from Fanwood, NJ: I have been a Steelers fan since the mid-1970s, and I watched Joe Greene and the Steelers defense dominate like no other team has outside of the 1985 Bears. I believe Cam Heyward is the second-best defensive lineman the Steelers have had since the great Joe Greene. Nobody was better than Greene, but Cam Heyward is as good as anyone else the Steelers have had, and even with his All-Pro recognition and Pro Bowls, he is still grossly underrated around the NFL, in my opinion. I know the Steelers have had some great defensive linemen over the years, including Aaron Smith, but Cam Heyward to me is only second to Joe Greene. Do you agree or disagree?
ANSWER: I agree that Joe Greene was the best and most significant player in franchise history, and by extension that would make him the Steelers' best defensive lineman. And I am right there with you on Cam Heyward, and the statistic I always reference in making the case that the pecking order has Greene at No. 1 and Heyward at No. 2 is that in franchise history no Steelers defensive lineman has been voted first-team All-Pro more than Greene's four times, and second on that particular list is Heyward with three first-team All-Pro awards on his resume. With 10 sacks in 2021, Heyward upped his career total to 68 and passed Greene (66) to trail only L.C. Greenwood (73.5) among defensive linemen on the franchise's all-time list in that category. Additionally, there is another significant category in which Heyward comes in behind only Greene among defensive linemen in franchise history, in my opinion, and that's as a leader.

KEVIN D'ANGELO FROM LAUREL, MD: Now that Detroit has stated it is willing to trade out of the No. 2 draft position in the first round, do you think Pittsburgh would be interested in swapping first-round picks and giving our second-round pick to Detroit in order to select Kenny Pickett from Pitt?
ANSWER: You cannot actually believe an NFL team would trade the second overall pick of a draft in exchange for the 20th overall pick plus a second-round selection that would be the 52nd overall selection. That's the problem with these kinds of fan-proposed trades – they rarely are fair to both sides.

BERNARD SCHIKES FROM LINDAU, BAVARIA, GERMANY: Kenny Pickett seems to be a star in the making. It seems a lot of marquee quarterbacks are from the Pittsburgh area, such as Dan Marino and Johnny Unitas, both of whom Pittsburgh could've had on the team at one point. Do you think it would be a mistake to pass on Kenny Pickett?
ANSWER: If Kenny Pickett has not been picked by the time the Steelers' turn comes at No. 20 in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, he should be – and I believe he would be – a strong consideration to be the Steelers' selection. But I have made this point before, and I will make it again here, the biggest mistake regarding Pickett is for fans to compare him to players the caliber of Dan Marino and Johnny Unitas. Those guys are Hall of Fame players who not only were great quarterbacks but also transformative in the way they played the position. It is completely unfair to saddle Pickett with that level of expectation before he has taken his first snap in the NFL. By the way, of the 27 quarterbacks currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, six have their roots in Pittsburgh, or the Western Pennsylvania region. They are: George Blanda (Youngwood, Pa.), Johnny Unitas (Pittsburgh), Joe Namath (Beaver Falls, Pa.), Joe Montana (New Eagle, Pa.), Dan Marino (Pittsburgh) and Jim Kelly (Pittsburgh/East Brady, Pa.).

DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: The small town that I call home recently reached an unfortunate temperature of minus-33 Fahrenheit. What are some of the coldest games in Steelers history?
ANSWER: The five coldest games in Steelers history are: Dec. 10, 1977, at Cincinnati when the recorded temperature was 2-degrees; Dec. 17, 1989 vs. New England at Three Rivers Stadium when the recorded temperature was 5-degrees; Dec. 31, 2017 vs. Cleveland at Heinz Field when the recorded temperature was 11-degrees; Jan. 23, 2005 vs. New England at Heinz Field (2004 AFC Championship Game) when the recorded temperature also was 11-degrees; and Dec. 10, 2009, at Cleveland when the recorded temperature was 15-degrees.

TONY STEPHENSON FROM POLAND, OH: Since Mike Hilton has again had a great season , was there any discussion by the Steelers to try to get him a contract?
ANSWER: If you're referring to the 2021 offseason when Mike Hilton became an unrestricted free agent and ultimately signed a four-year contract worth $24 million, you should remember that was when the salary cap dropped nearly 8 percent from its 2020 level of $198.2 million per team to $182.5 million per team. That drop forced the Steelers into some difficult decisions, and there ended up being some of their own unrestricted free agents who received offers from other teams they simply could not match. Mike Hilton was in that group, as were Matt Feiler and Bud Dupree, who might have been the recipient of the franchise tag under normal financial circumstances.

ROBERT LOOP FROM AURORA, CO: Does a player who sits out a year for personal reasons, Stephon Tuitt for example, get paid?
ANSWER: Stephon Tuitt was placed on the injured reserve list as the result of a surgical procedure he had on his knee during the late summer period of the 2021 season. Since Tuitt was on the initial 53-man roster at the start of the regular season and then placed on the injured reserve list, he was eligible to come off the list and return to play. Tuitt never came off the injured reserve list and spent the entire season there. All players on the injured reserve list are paid their salaries as called for in their contracts.

CHRIS WELBURN FROM GLASTONBURY, CT: It shouldn't have taken the recent "uncovering" of one of the most obvious known facts that some teams take actions to lessen their chances to win in order to improve their draft order. I understand the great impact parity has had in the NFL, but shouldn't we at least have a weighted draft lottery moving forward (only teams not in the playoffs) to decide drafting positions?
ANSWER: Maybe I was naïve, but I believed every owner would have sufficient interest in the integrity of the sport to refrain from deliberately losing games to improve draft position. I always believed tanking was much more likely in a sport such as basketball (five players on the court at a time) or hockey (six players on the ice at a time) because one individual could have a much more significant impact on a team's fortunes. And remember, basketball players and hockey players play both offense and defense in games, which also allows each individual to have a greater impact on the outcome of each game. In football, a team uses a minimum of 22 "starters," and the impact of a single individual is lessened just as a result of that single fact. I have no way of knowing whether the allegations made recently by Brian Flores that he was offered $100,000 for every game he purposely lost during the 2019 season are true, but it's troublesome especially in light of the NFL's growing relationship with legalized sports betting. I'm not smart enough to know how NFL ownership should approach the issue, but what would be disastrous would be for fans and bettors to lose confidence in the integrity of the outcome of NFL games.

BRENDAN DANES FROM DIAMOND, OH: Do you think that there is potential for the Steelers to move up to select a Kenny Pickett or Malik Willis in the NFL Draft?
ANSWER: The Steelers have too many needs and not enough draft capital to move up in the 2022 NFL Draft. I don't see that happening.

DRU TAYLOR FROM MYRTLE BEACH, SC: With the recent reports from Senior Bowl practices, do you believe we now have a similar prospect situation this year with Malik Willis like we had last year with Najee Harris? I know it's super early, but I noticed the pictures of Coach Mike Tomlin talking to Willis' family and several members of the scouting department seeming to pay more attention to him than any other player so far.
ANSWER: You are correct about one thing: It is super early. The Steelers are still very much in the information gathering phase of the process , and Coach Mike Tomlin is tireless when it comes to this part of the process. To refresh your memory, in 2007 many draft prognosticators were matching the Steelers with an Auburn linebacker named Quinton Groves because the team had a perceived vacancy at the spot following the release of Joey Porter. Tomlin made a big deal of showing up at the Auburn Pro Day and spending a lot of time with Groves, but when the draft rolled around, the Steelers selected inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and filled Porter's spot with a former undrafted free agent named James Harrison. The thing to remember about all of the days and weeks and months of the predraft process is don't believe everything you think you see.

EDDIE NESTER FROM HOLCOMB, MS: Do you think in your expert opinion if we signed a quarterback in free agency like Marcus Mariota would it be likely to still draft a quarterback such as Sam Howell, Malik Willis, or Desmond Ridder with 20th overall pick?
ANSWER: My opinion is that's too much capital (salary cap space and a premium draft pick) to spend on one position when the team has so many other needs, and there is no guarantee that any of the guys you mentioned would be an upgrade over Mason Rudolph and/or Dwayne Haskins.

ROB JAMES FROM WATERBURY, CT: Many people have been talking about the need to draft a center. I think a right guard is a higher priority and maybe right tackle. What position on the offensive line would you address first in the draft?
ANSWER: The position I would address first in the draft would be an interior defensive lineman who's good against the run and also is able to provide some oomph to the pass rush.

MICHAEL JEFFERSON FROM NORCROSS, GA: I believe that you select a majority of the questions for entertainment purposes. No one with a human mind could formulate such ridiculous questions.
ANSWER: Wanna bet? See below.

RAYMOND GATTER FROM TOLEDO, OH: What do Yinzers have against sticking with Mason Rudolph, restricted free agent Dwayne Haskins, Josh Dobbs (or if he goes to NASA, trade for Cooper Rush); bumping Coach Mike Tomlin to general manager; giving Omar Khan a bump in pay and a fancier title to keep the salary cap in good shape; and hiring either Byron Leftwich, Hines Ward, or Mike Munchak as head coach? Then we can draft Kenny Pickett if he falls to us, or we could hold out a couple of years for a quarterback while the line gets stronger.
ANSWER: I'm sure you and your Yinzer buddies think that's a capital idea, but every night before I crawl into bed I get on my knees and thank God that no one who might think that's a solid plan is calling the shots for the Steelers.