Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: July 23

Let's get to it:

HERMAN KANE FROM NEW YORK, NY: Mel Blount and Rod Woodson have been considered the best cornerbacks in the history of the franchise. I believe that Jack Butler is the only other Steelers cornerback in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I don't know what individual stats were recorded for defensive backs in the era in which Butler played, but to the extent possible could you compare his career to those of Blount and Woodson?
ANSWER: Jack Butler is the Steelers' third cornerback to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he is there on merit. Butler's statistics are remarkable given the era in which he played, which was during a time when an NFL season was made up of 12 regular season games and a defense might face only 300 pass attempts the whole year. Butler played in 104 games for the Steelers, and he recorded 52 interceptions and recovered 10 fumbles to finish with 62 takeaways, which worked out to an average of .6 takeaways per game. In 1953, Butler had nine interceptions in 12 games with Steelers' opponents combining to attempt 372 passes; and in 1957, Butler led the NFL with 10 interceptions in 12 games with Steelers' opponents combining to attempt 234 passes.

Clearly, passing offenses were not nearly as sophisticated during Butler's time, and throughout the 1950s quarterbacks and receivers were nowhere near as proficient at pitch-and-catch. The speed and athleticism of wide receivers was exponentially better during the time Blount and Woodson played, and then once Blount's excellence at bump-and-run forced the league to disallow defensive backs to contact receivers beyond 5 yards of the line of scrimmage it became significantly more difficult to stop the great quarterback-receiver combinations. But even with the variance of the rules, and allowing for the normal evolution of athletes and their individual skills, Butler was highly productive and completed the decade of the 1950s as one of the top defensive playmakers of his era.

MARK O'MALLEY FROM MANTUA, OH: Do you think the Steelers will be allowed to play their home games with masked fans in the stands? The Eagles, Jets, and Giants have just been told by their governors they will not be allowed fans for the "foreseeable future."
ANSWER: Let's begin with a note of caution for you and other fans when it comes to things you've "heard" or "read" related to this subject, because there is a lot of misinformation floating around right now, and even if it isn't incorrect information it's usually incomplete information because things related to COVID-19 are not cut and dried. Here's just a quick example based on this particular question: The governor who supposedly informed the Eagles "they will not be allowed fans for the 'foreseeable future'" is the same governor with jurisdiction over the Steelers since both teams operate in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

As for the situation regarding fans attending Eagles games at Lincoln Financial Field, the City of Philadelphia issued a statement on July 15 that read, in part: "Specifically, with regards to the 2020 NFL season, the Eagles and the City of Philadelphia remain in close communication. Both entities are committed to the health and safety of the players, employees, fans and community. The City and the Eagles have been working together during this time and will continue to do so. The Eagles have been planning for a variety of scenarios in accordance with League protocols, as well as local and state guidelines." To translate, the City is acknowledging that the situation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic can change quickly and because no one knows for certain what might happen in the near future there will be no broad pronouncements made at this time, but many contingencies remain on the table.

As for the Steelers, their interest in having fans in the stands for games at Heinz Field while also being sympathetic to those ticketholders who might feel unsafe in that atmosphere were expressed in this July 8 statement: "Our goal is to still have fans at Heinz Field this year with the understanding that social distancing, as well as all fans being required to wear masks, will play a role in the capacity to ensure a safe atmosphere. We will continue to work with the NFL and public health officials to finalize plans for fans to attend our home games. We are communicating with our season ticket holders to make them aware of the digital ticketing process we will employ this season at Heinz Field for a more flexible solution as we prepare for potential reduced capacity. We will continue the process of allowing our fans to opt out of their 2020 season tickets if they feel they are uniquely affected by the current situation. At this point, we would like to make you aware that you have the option to apply for a full refund for the 2020 season while still retaining the ability to renew your season ticket location in 2021, and if applicable, any associated seat licenses."

CHARLIE GOLLMAR FROM KENNESAW, GA: With training camp about to start up, we know that (sensibly) fans aren't going to be allowed to attend, but will the media still be allowed to observe? Can you think of any significant changes/challenges that might come with having to conduct training camp at Heinz Field that we should look out for? Basically, I'm so starved for some "real" Steelers developments that I feel like a guy who's about to finish the three-day cleanse his girlfriend made him do with her and can smell the double-cheeseburger he's having for dinner at the end of it.
ANSWER: The NFL has come up with a series of protocols for the media to watch training camp practices and then report on them, and without diving too deep into what those are (for the sake of keeping the readers from dozing off) I can tell you it's not going to be the same set of wide-open procedures in place during those many previous summers at Saint Vincent College. Nevertheless, there is a plan in place to allow the media to keep fans informed of all of the developments during training camp, and fans will be able to find daily coverage on Steelers.com as well as on the team's other digital platforms. Being that the Steelers have been spending the entirety of their training camp at Saint Vincent College for every summer since 1967, I have no experience with it being held at any other location and therefore have no way of knowing in advance what challenges might be posed by having it moved to Heinz Field. This is going to be uncharted territory for everyone – players, coaches, fans, and media.

DANIEL CHIATTO FROM SCHAUMBURG, IL: I grew up in Pittsburgh, and I remember as a kid back in the 1960s the Steelers used their first-round pick on an Ohio State running back named Bob Ferguson. I may have misspelled his name, but it was said that he never lost a yard in college. Wasn't he a bust with the Steelers?
ANSWER: The Steelers used the fifth overall pick of the 1962 NFL Draft on Ohio State running back Bob Ferguson, and in 18 games with the team over two seasons he gained 208 yards on 63 carries (3.3 average) and scored one touchdown. Ferguson also caught four passes for 13 yards, and after spending two games with the Minnesota Vikings at the end of the 1963 season, he was out of football. Based on his numbers with the Steelers, I cannot say whether he was able to maintain his "never having lost a yard" designation in the NFL, but I can confirm that he was a bust.

JOE WERNER FROM WEST HENRIETTA, NY: I enjoyed the recent roundtable discussion that had you, Stan Savran, and Mike Prisuta debating which of the Steelers' six Super Bowl winning teams was the best. To flip the script a little, which would you say was the best of the six opponents in those Super Bowl victories?
ANSWER: Based on the fact the 1978 Dallas Cowboys were the defending Super Bowl champions, and had posted a 12-4 regular season record, and brought a team into Super Bowl XIII that contained a Hall of Fame coach (Tom Landry) and six Hall of Fame players (Tony Dorsett, Roger Staubach, Randy White, Rayfield Wright, Cliff Harris, and Jackie Smith), I would list that group as the best opponent.

KEN WALDROP FROM ONTONAGON, MI: No preseason games this summer means it's going to be very difficult for undrafted rookies to earn a spot on a roster. If the future of the NFL is no preseason, do you think this increases the demand for an NFL minor league?
ANSWER: I don't believe for a minute that "the future of the NFL is no preseason," because preseason games are a source of revenue that impacts the salary cap.

FRED BURFICT FROM PETERSBURG, VA: Who you think will be the No. 2 and No. 3 quarterbacks on the roster in 2020?
ANSWER: Barring injuries of course, I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which Mason Rudolph is not Ben Roethlisberger's backup this season. As for the No. 3 spot, I believe it will come down to a competition between Devlin Hodges and Paxton Lynch.

HUGH STEVENS FROM ARLINGTON, VA: Do you think Cam Sutton has a chance this season to get more playing time and beat out Mike Hilton? Also do you think the Steelers will exercise the fifth-year option on his rookie contract?
ANSWER: Cam Sutton has had a chance to earn more playing time every year he has been on the Steelers' roster, but he hasn't been able to do that either by unseating Mike Hilton or someone else. I believe there's a decent chance Sutton could end the summer as one of the backup safeties behind Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds, because Hilton simply has been the team's most effective slot cornerback for a couple of years now. The fifth-year option only exists on the rookie contracts of players drafted in the first round, and since Sutton was a third-round pick, he can become an unrestricted free agent after the 2020 season.

JOSE NETO FROM SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL: Why is T.J. Watt not on Madden's list of top 10 pass rushers?
ANSWER: Again, Madden is a video game that has no relevance to what happens when real human beings play real football against real opponents on real fields. I couldn't care less about Madden ratings, and neither should you.

TOM CESARIO FROM ROCHESTER, NY: I persevered through my first live Steelers game in Cincinnati back in 1989, and after that decisive defeat it's hard to believe at the time they would make the playoffs. How do those 1989 Steelers compare with all-time Steelers teams in terms of fortune-reversal and finishing strong?
ANSWER: After the Steelers lost their second game of the 1989 season in Cincinnati, 41-10, after losing to the Browns, 51-0, at Three Rivers Stadium in the opener, Chuck Noll said to Director of Football Operations Tom Donahoe, "We either just lost to the two best teams in the AFC, or this is going to be a long year." With the national media descending on Pittsburgh to write an obituary on that team and on Noll's future as an NFL coach, the Steelers rose up and upset the Minnesota Vikings the following Sunday, 27-14, and began the long climb back to relevance. That team fell to 4-6 after being shut out by the Bears in Pittsburgh, 20-0, but the Steelers won five of their last six games to squeeze into the playoffs. From there, they upset the Oilers in Houston in the Wild Card Round and then came within a dropped pass of upsetting the Broncos in Denver in the Divisional Round.

The other Steelers team that comes to mind in terms of a dramatic in-season turnaround is the 1976 edition that started 1-4 and lost quarterback Terry Bradshaw to an injury before going on a nine-game winning streak in which the defense posted five shutouts and allowed 28 total points to finish 10-4 and enter the playoffs as the winners of the AFC Central Division. In the Divisional Round, those Steelers crushed the Colts in Baltimore, 40-14, while losing both starting running backs – Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier – to injuries. The 1976 season – and the quest for a third straight Super Bowl title – ended the following week in Oakland, and then the Raiders advanced to Super Bowl XI and bludgeoned the Minnesota Vikings.

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