Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: July 30

Let's get to it:

DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: Antwaan Randle El was electric during his time in Pittsburgh. How does his play compare after leaving in free agency?
ANSWER: Antwaan Randle El had a nine-year NFL career, and he started more games during his four seasons with Washington than he did in five seasons with the Steelers. In 80 career games with the Steelers, Randle El averaged 12.3 yards on 184 receptions, and those were good for 110 first downs and seven touchdowns. In Pittsburgh, Randle El also averaged 9.1 yards on 182 punt returns with four touchdowns, and he averaged 22.3 yards on 78 kickoff returns with one touchdown. What made Randle El extra special as an NFL player was the passing skills he brought because of his time as a starting quarterback during his college career at Indiana. With the Steelers, Randle El completed 16-of-18 (88.9 percent) for 170 yards, with four touchdowns, no interceptions, and a rating of 145.6. And those numbers don't include the most significant/famous completion in Randle El's career, which went for a touchdown to Hines Ward to clinch the outcome in Super Bowl XL.

After leaving the Steelers as an unrestricted free agent, he signed with Washington and played in 63 games during his four seasons there. He averaged 11.8 yards on 186 receptions, and those were good for 124 first downs and eight touchdowns. Randle El also averaged 7.0 yards on 129 punt returns and scored another touchdowns, and he completed 6-of-9 (66.7 percent) for 153 yards, with two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a rating of 149.3.

BURTON HARRIS FROM GREENSBURG, PA: Without any preseason games will it be hard for the Steelers to decide whom to cut, or do you think they have an idea which players they are going to keep?
ANSWER: I always believe that in whatever the situation is when it comes to football, Coach Mike Tomlin approaches it with an open mind. Based on that, I believe there will be a real opportunity for players to earn spots on the roster and win roles on offense, defense, or special teams, but given the circumstances I also believe it's going to be more difficult for newcomers to make the kind of impression it's going to take to accomplish that. Also, don't disregard the real possibility that spots on the roster and roles within the team can be lost by incumbents just as easily as they can be won by newcomers.

MARK TRIMBLE FROM CHEYENNE, WY: Given that everything is a mess right now in sports, what exactly is the timeline for team activities leading into the season?
ANSWER: Here is a rundown of the rules and regulations negotiated by the NFL and the NFLPA:

Reporting Dates/General: July 28-Aug. 2
All veterans can report to camp beginning on July 28 but must test negative for COVID-19 three times during this window. Virtual meetings will take place during this time. The final two days of this period will include physicals and equipment fitting.

Acclimation Period: Aug. 3-11
During this time, teams will follow the same guidelines as Phase 1 of the offseason program, with on-field activity strictly limited to strength and conditioning and walk-through periods. No conditioning tests are permitted. Only the team's strength and conditioning coaches will be on the field, and no wearing of helmets is permitted.

Gradual ramp-up period: Aug. 12-16
This period will include four days of ramp-up and one day off. The first two days will be similar to Phase 2 of the offseason program. Coaches are permitted on the field, and players can wear helmets and take part in individual player instruction and drills. The final two days the team can conduct full-speed, non-contact practices, including 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills, but no live contact.

Contact Integration Period: Aug. 17-Sept. 6
Teams are permitted to hold their first practice in pads on Aug. 17 with a 90-minute time limit. Practice can be extended by 15 minutes in the following days, with two-and-a-half hours being the maximum time. The Steelers can hold a maximum of 14 practices in pads during this 21-day period. There are also mandatory days off every seven days.

JIM NEAL FROM FAYETTEVILLE, TN: I look around the web, surveying all that I can find, but nothing about how Ben Roethlisberger looks on his first day back. How slim is he really? Slimmest ever? James Conner kind of fit? Did Ben toss the ball? Did the ball really whistle? Fans are dying of thirst out here for news, videos, and pictures. Can you provide a cup full?
ANSWER: Based on the training camp guidelines that are listed in the above answer, I believe you're going to go thirsty for at least the next two-to-three weeks.

LASZLO SOMLAI FROM BELLREGUARD, SPAIN: I love Asked and Answered, easily the most interesting part of I really think it is highly unlikely that a 16-game regular season can be played without some major COVID-related problems. Don't you think that planning for eight or 10 games would be smarter from a competitive point of view?
ANSWER: What you "think" about the prospect of a full 16-game season is just as much of a guess as what the NFL "thinks" about the prospect of a full 16-game season. What Commissioner Roger Goodell said recently is that he's confident the league can have a complete season in 2020, but he never mentioned how many games would constitute a complete season. I believe the NFL has contingency plans in mind, but at this point it is choosing to be optimistic.

JOE ASHER FROM TAMPA, FL: In the July 9 installment of Asked and Answered, you described Joe Greene as the alpha male who helped reinforce Chuck Noll's message. From what you saw during his tenure, did Bill Cowher ever benefit from a similar individual whose leadership reinforced a winning attitude and resulted in a winning team?
ANSWER: While not in the same category as Joe Greene because the Steelers franchise was in a much different place when Bill Cowher was coach compared to when Chuck Noll was hired, but Jerome Bettis was the main guy in that locker room during Cowher's tenure. And the run to Super Bowl XL is all the evidence you need to support that point.

JOHN PADDOCK FROM INDEPENDENCE, MO: Has the league increased the size of teams' rosters or practice squads for the upcoming season to account for potential COVID cases and also a lost preseason?
ANSWER: As of right now, the roster size for the 2020 season remains at 53 players, but practice squads have been expanded to 16 players as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And of those 16 practice squad slots, six of them are open to players with any amount of NFL experience.

WAYNE CREESE FROM BOYNTON BEACH, FL: Have any Steelers players opted out for the 2020 season?
ANSWER: As of this writing, no. The deadline for NFL players to opt out of the 2020 season has been reported as Tuesday, Aug. 4 at the earliest.

RAYNE KNIGHT FROM SHERIDAN, WY: Will players who opt out for the 2020 NFL season still be counted toward the allotted number of players on a team's roster?

BILL NICHOLS FROM BOISE, ID: With players opting out of the 2020 season, this is starting to feel like a strike year. Will there have to be an "asterisk" on individual/team records and on the eventual Super Bowl champion?
ANSWER: Not a fan of asterisks. In fact, I am of the opinion that what MLB Commissioner Ford Frick did in 1961 in assigning an asterisk to Roger Maris' 61 home run season was reprehensible. Getting back to the NFL, there are no asterisks placed on the 1982 season, the 1987 season, both of which either were shortened by player strikes, or included games played by replacement players, or both. The Steelers, I believe, were helped in 1974 by the strike that kept many of the veteran players away from the bulk of training camp, because that allowed for the rookies – Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, and Donnie Shell, among others – to get more practice time and enabled them to enter the regular season more ready to contribute than they otherwise might have been. Whichever team overcomes the obstacles presented by this season impacted by COVID-19 doesn't deserve to have its accomplishment tainted by an asterisk.

ED SWARTZ FROM NORWICH, OH: Training camp is being held at Heinz Field. Why wouldn't they have it at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex? Aren't their more fields and more space/area to work in, instead of just the one field in the stadium?
ANSWER: The Steelers have two grass practice fields at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, but there is far more overall space at Heinz Field when it comes to all of the other amenities involved in a training camp for a team with an 80-man roster. There are more locker rooms at Heinz Field to allow for social distancing, more space to feed the players, more space for position meeting rooms and for team meetings, a large outdoor area for a weight room, places where the players will be able to go to relax between meetings and workouts. And also, Pitt shares the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, which means that in the building there would be approximately 80 Steelers players plus 100 Pitt players, plus coaches for both teams, plus athletic trainers for both teams, plus staff for both teams, with only one cafeteria for both teams, one locker room per team, and one parking lot for both teams. The decision to have training camp at Heinz Field was the right one. In fact, it was the only one.