Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 10

Let's get to it:

BURTON HARRIS FROM GREENSBURG, PA: I have a two-part question: How does it look for rookie Pressley Harvin III to win the punting job; and does special teams coordinator Danny Smith have a big role in that decision?
ANSWER: At the NFL level, jobs are not won or lost during OTAs, and in the case of a punter the most important phase of the competition takes place during the preseason. There is no argument that Pressley Harvin III has a strong, powerful leg, but the Steelers undoubtedly will want to see how he performs under the pressure of game situations, and that will include holding for Chris Boswell. Assistant coaches, as well as in the case of a coordinator such as Danny Smith, are able to make their opinions heard throughout the process, but the final decision will be made by General Manager Kevin Colbert, Coach Mike Tomlin, and Steelers President Art Rooney II.

ANSH PARIKH FROM SOMERSET, NJ: In the June 8 Asked and Answered, you addressed a question about which undrafted rookies could make the 53-man roster. One of the names you mentioned was safety Lamont Wade because of his kick-returning abilities. If he took over that role, what would it mean for Ray-Ray McCloud?
ANSWER: Regardless of what happened during the draft and in the immediate aftermath with the signing of undrafted rookies, Ray-Ray McCloud was going to be in a situation where he was going to have to compete this summer for a spot on the 53-man roster. McCloud's role in 2020 was as an extra receiver who also contributed on special teams, and just looking at the 90-man roster right now my guess is that he's in a similar situation this summer, because I believe JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington all would be ahead of him on the depth chart at wide receiver. As for Lamont Wade, training camp and the preseason will determine his abilities on defense, but it's fair to say that at this point the Steelers have more of a need for depth at safety, especially at free safety behind Minkah Fitzpatrick, than they do at wide receiver. It very well could come down to contributions on special teams, and for that reason it would serve well for both players to approach things with a sense of urgency, but it's also not inconceivable that both McCloud and Wade could end up on the 53-man roster.

NOSFERATU MANN FROM CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO: I still take pride from Steelers history, specially from the 1970s dynasty (even if that was before my time). So my question is, could you give us a scouting report of sorts of Jack Ham to illustrate what made him so special on the field?
ANSWER: The first thing to understand about Jack Ham is that he played the position of outside linebacker in a way that never had been done before. To that point (Ham was a second-round draft pick in 1971), linebackers were not much more than players who backed up the defensive linemen against the opponent's running game. Linebackers were more big and strong than fast and athletic, but Ham was able to be an asset in run defense while providing a unique ability to be impactful against the pass. Ham played 12 seasons, and he was a full-time starter as a rookie. He played in 162 regular season games, with 160 of those being starts.

In his 12 seasons, he had at least one interception AND at least one fumble recovery in every season. In. Every. Season. He finished his career with 32 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries – that's 53 takeaways in 163 career games, which works out to .33 takeaways per game.

Again, it's important to realize that Ham was a linebacker who played in an era where offenses routinely ran the ball on first and second downs, an era when 20 pass attempts for a team in a game was about average. Ham also added five more interceptions and three more fumble recoveries in his 16 career playoff games. He had one interception in the Immaculate Reception game, two interceptions in the 1974 AFC Championship Game victory over the Raiders in Oakland that sent the Steelers to their first Super Bowl, and in the 1978 AFC Championship Game victory over the Oilers he had one interception and two fumble recoveries. Jack Ham was an outside linebacker who was an asset in coverage and made plays on the football like a Pro Bowl caliber defensive back.

My final item that reflects Ham's unique and unmatched skill-set for a linebacker of his era is this: The Pro Football Hall of Fame once selected a 50th Anniversary Team that was made up of the best players enshrined in Canton over the first 50 years of its existence. There were only three linebackers selected, two of whom were outside linebackers – Lawrence Taylor was one, and Jack Ham was the other.

RON PERDUE FROM PARKERSBURG WV: Keeping in mind that the draft met some critical needs for the Steelers (especially in the run game), and the fact that the team had significant salary cap issues going into this offseason, do you feel that we have done enough to correct some of those issues and the loss of valuable starters, or do we have enough left in the pot to bring in a couple of additional quality free agents to improve our team from last year?
ANSWER: Once the pads go on and training camp morphs into the preseason, whether the Steelers have done enough to improve themselves with respect to the competition to be a contender in 2021 will reveal itself. There's no way to predict that as we sit here today. Either way, I don't believe the Steelers will commit any more salary cap dollars to bringing in additional veteran free agents, because I believe they will try to use what money they have under the cap to get extensions done this summer with T.J. Watt and/or Minkah Fitzpatrick.

JAMES HUTCHISON FROM VERO BEACH, FL: I mentioned to my son that we should make a run at signing Richard Sherman to shore up our secondary, and he all but laughed in my face. He said that was absolutely not going to happen and wouldn't even be considered. Is he correct or just being a know-it-all?
ANSWER: As mentioned in the previous answer, I don't believe the Steelers have the kind of salary cap space that would be required to add a high-profile free agent, and I also believe the team thinks it has its starting cornerbacks for 2021 in Joe Haden and Cam Sutton. While it may be fun to imagine Richard Sherman being added to the mix, I don't think he's at the point of his career where he'd be willing to accept a backup role at a bargain basement salary. It's very possible the Steelers considered Sherman at some point, but I just cannot see it happening.

BRIAN REBHOLZ FROM CONCORD, NC: If Ben Roethlisberger retires after the 2021 season and so does Tom Brady, they both would be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the same year. Would there be an issue with selecting two quarterbacks in the same class?
ANSWER: Not in my mind, because worthy of election to the Hall of Fame is worthy of election to the Hall of Fame, but I can see your point. There could be a situation where the Board of Selectors could want to put something of an exclamation point on Tom Brady's election by ensuring that he's the lone quarterback in the class. It shouldn't matter, but I cannot guarantee you that it won't.

JIM ANDERSON FROM TOLEDO, OH: How long has the 53-man roster number been in place? Was it in place before the NFL went from 14 to 16 games in a season?
ANSWER: The final seasons of the 14-game regular season in the NFL were 1976 and 1977, and in both of those years the roster size was set at 45 players. The 53-man roster was established in 1993 when the NFL adopted the system of free agency tied to a salary cap.

DAVID PICKEL FROM SPRING LAKE, NC: Now that Matt Canada is the offensive coordinator, do you think the Steelers will hire a new quarterbacks coach? It would seem a good idea with all the young quarterbacks on the roster and Ben Roethlisberger ending his time pretty soon.
ANSWER: In early February 2021, the Steelers did hire a quarterbacks coach. Mike Sullivan, 54, a West Point graduate, spent the previous two years working for the Army football program. Prior to that he was quarterbacks coach of the Broncos, he also has been a quarterbacks coach for the Giants, and he also served as the offensive coordinator of the Giants and Buccaneers.

FRANK PUNDZAK from DENVER, CO: After reading the last installment of Asked and Answered, here is my question: Are there people out there who really think that getting the COVID vaccine is being self-righteous? Remember the polio vaccine? You took it for yourself, for your family, for your country. Where's that thinking today? Steelers Nation should show everyone what's the right thing to do. Please keep your columns coming. Also, how's the rookie tight end from Penn State looking?
ANSWER: Pat Freiermuth was drafted in the second round because the Steelers perceived him to be the best combo-tight-end available, and what he can contribute on the blocking end won't reveal itself until the pads go on for training camp.

CHARLES DORTO FROM SALEM, VA: Who is starting and who is not starting?
ANSWER: To steal a line from Coach Bill Cowher from a news conference in advance of a preseason game: "The starters will start."