Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: July 22

Summer vacation is over, so let's get to it:

If you had to pick a pure fullback for the All-Modern Era team, who would it be?

Just as a refresher for those who may not have been following along on, I picked an All-Modern Era team that included 26 players – 11 on offense, 11 on defense, and four specialists. The Steelers' Modern Era was defined as 1992-present. With that re-explained, there would be three candidates at fullback, and in chronological order of their playing careers they are Tim Lester, Jon Witman, and Dan Kreider. Of those, I would choose Kreider, and I believe Jerome Bettis would concur, even though Lester was a teammate and friend from their time together with the Rams. Kreider was a very good lead blocker in that he could root defensive players out of the hole, and he also was adept at getting blocks on defensive players in space – by that I mean he didn't whiff on blocks in the open field. Finally, during Kreider's eight seasons with the Steelers, the team's rushing attack ranked in the top five in the NFL in 2000, 2001, 2004, and 2005.

Fifty years of Steelers football at Saint Vincent College.

I want to attend some of the training camp practices this year for the first time. What are the chances of getting any autographs?

The setting for Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College has been described by many as among the most fan-friendly in the entire NFL. Admission is free. Parking is free. There are stands as part of Chuck Noll Field, from which fans can watch practice without having to sit on the hillside. There are conveniently located concession stands for refreshments, and for fans looking for gear, Steelers merchandise operates a tent on campus that's located on the walk from the parking lots to the practice fields. As for autographs, there are some designated areas in some prime locations that always fill up shortly after the gates to campus open to the public every day. As a rule of thumb, players sign autographs every day, but not every player signs every day. Coach Mike Tomlin signs autographs every day from a designated area located between the practice fields and Rooney Hall. Also, there is an autograph session preceding the Friday, July 31 practice at Latrobe Stadium that begins at 7 p.m. Good luck, but don't let chasing autographs spoil your chance to get an up-close taste of an NFL training camp practice in pads.

How about Joey Porter's effectiveness as a coach? Sure, he was a good player, but is he a good coach? If our linebackers don't get to the quarterback this season, does he get the boot?


Top photographs of Joey Porter.

Joey Porter played 188 games over 13 NFL seasons, plus 11 more in the playoffs, and he finished his career with 98 sacks and 12 interceptions, plus another six sacks in the playoffs. A guy cannot play 13 NFL seasons and be that productive without being a student of the game and understanding how to prepare himself for each individual opponent. In other words, Porter didn't accomplish what he did as a player on physical ability alone. On top of what he knows about football and the credibility he brings as a former All-Pro at the position, Porter also is passionate about the sport, something he also communicates to the players. Mike Tomlin must have liked what he saw from Porter when he was a defensive assistant in 2014, and that's why he was promoted to outside linebackers coach as part of the move of Keith Butler to defensive coordinator. Being a "good coach" is something that develops over time, and so we'll see how he fares as he gets deeper into that part of his career. But for the life of me I cannot understand fans' perceptions that any and all deficiencies in players is the coach's fault, or the rush to judgment to proclaim a coach a genius if his guys produce. Did Joey Porter the player achieve what he did on the field because he was talented and a dedicated professional, or was it all because of his linebackers coach at the time? Sure, there are tips a coach who played the position can give to his players, and I have no doubt Porter has been communicating these since he joined the staff last year. If the Steelers linebackers "don't get to the quarterback this season," that's going to make more of a statement about the players than about an assistant coach.**

With the lack of veteran depth at offensive tackle, do you think the Steelers will look to sign a veteran offensive tackle before the preseason begins?

I disagree with your contention that the Steelers have a lack of depth at offensive tackle. In my mind, Mike Adams is a very respectable option as the No. 3 tackle behind starters Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert. It's also important to realize that competent offensive tackles do not grow on trees, and there are many NFL teams lacking the Steelers' depth you are discounting. But beyond that, there is some arithmetic to consider: there are 32 NFL teams, and right now rosters are set at 90 players. That means there are 2,880 players under contract right now, and I have to believe with the league-wide shortage of offensive tackles there isn't much left on the open market to get excited about. When the 2014 season opened, the Steelers had three tackles among the nine offensive linemen on their 53-man roster – Beachum, Gilbert, and Adams – and all three are back for the start of this camp. Certainly, injuries during the training camp process can impact their plans, but in looking at the group of offensive linemen the Steelers will bring to Saint Vincent College I see a decent group of tackles. Keep an eye on Alejandro Villanueva and Mitchell Van Dyk through the early stage of training camp as guys with some potential to develop, but the idea of finding offensive tackles on the street or on the waiver wire who could step in and play just isn't realistic.

Considering the need to improve defensively, having quality depth is vital to that improvement. What do you think about having Devin Gardner or Tyler Murphy as the No. 3 quarterback and the No. 5 wide receiver in order to free up an extra roster spot for the defense?

First things first. Devin Gardner and/or Tyler Murphy have to show they belong in the NFL, and that hasn't happened yet, regardless of position. If, over the course of training camp, Gardner and/or Murphy develop and get themselves up into, say, the top 60 players overall, then maybe, maybe it becomes time to start thinking about keeping one as a dual position player to save a roster spot. Personally, I don't see that happening this summer, because I believe the team will end up cutting more polished receivers than Gardner and Murphy, and neither Gardner nor Murphy attracted any attention around the NFL as a quarterback during the pre-draft process. If one of them makes the practice squad, that would be an achievement.

Who would you consider the better wide receiver for the Steelers of the 1970s, Lynn Swann or John Stallworth?

Both are in the Hall of Fame. Both have four Super Bowl rings and made significant contributions in the games that won the Steelers those Lombardi trophies. Because you asked me to pick one, I will do so, and there are a couple of factors that led me to John Stallworth. The first is longevity, with Stallworth having played 14 seasons and Swann only nine. Now, in bringing up longevity I understand Swann's career was cut short by some illegal blows to the head, but I also believe some credit is due to a player who achieves at a high level over a longer period of time. The other factor is that while Swann's entire career came as a receiver with a Hall of Fame quarterback, Stallworth played for four years after Terry Bradshaw retired. Over the 1984-85 seasons, Stallworth caught 155 passes for 2,322 yards and 16 touchdowns with Mark Malone as the starting quarterback. For those reasons, I pick Stallworth, but I also don't dispute there is a compelling case for choosing Swann.

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