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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 15

Let's get to it:

Hello, I am currently stationed in Germany. Hoo-ah. I was wondering who would be your personal top five Steelers defensive players of all time.

ANSWER: I will begin with the following disclaimer: This is a very subjective list, and I will do it with the understanding that there is no correct answer, that there is plenty of room for disagreement and debate. But you asked, and so here it is: Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Mel Blount, Jack Lambert, and Rod Woodson.

By way of explanation, any list of "best" or "most influential" or "most significant" or any other compilation of great players in franchise history, for me, always will begin with Joe Greene. His impact is undeniable, and in my mind he was to the franchise's all-time players what Chuck Noll was to the franchise's all-time coaches. In short, nothing that the Steelers are today would have come to fruition without Joe Greene.

Jack Ham, Mel Blount, and Jack Lambert all were transformative players, in my mind. Ham never made a mental error, always was in the right spot, and he was an outside linebacker who could, and did, cover wide receivers. In 162 career regular season games, Ham had 32 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries, which means he personally accounted for 53 takeaways. He added another five interceptions in 16 playoff games, and he was voted first-team All-Pro six times in his 12 seasons. And the first-team All-Pro team consisted of only two outside linebackers.

Blount was the 1975 NFL Defensive Player of the Year after he posted 11 interceptions in a 14-game season. He played 200 regular season games and finished with 57 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries, for a total of 70 takeaways. Blount added four more interceptions in 19 playoff games, and he was voted first-team All-Pro twice. The definitive element in the case for including Blount is the fact the NFL changed its rules governing pass defense because of his dominance.

Lambert was a pioneer at the middle linebacker position in that he was the first man to weigh less than 220 pounds and thrive in the middle of a defense. Certainly, the Steelers defensive line's ability to protect him was a factor, but Lambert's range, aggressiveness, and instincts allowed him to make the kinds of plays against the run coaches had come to believe only 240-pound guys could make. And then his speed and athleticism allowed him to give the Steelers an element in pass coverage that no other middle linebacker could provide. Lambert had 28 interceptions and 17 fumble recoveries (45 takeaways) in 146 regular season games, and he was a six-time first-team All-Pro.

My pick for No. 5 on the list goes to Rod Woodson, simply a spectacular athlete and a difference-making cornerback. Woodson played for four NFL teams – San Francisco, Baltimore, and Oakland after leaving the Steelers in 1997 as an unrestricted free agent – and I'm only counting his career in Pittsburgh for the purposes of this discussion. In 125 starts for the Steelers, Woodson had 37 interceptions, 19 fumble recoveries, and 13.5 sacks. He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1993, and he also contributed four touchdowns as a punt and kickoff returner. Woodson was voted first-team All-Pro five times.

Do you think Troy Polamalu is the best safety you have seen play, and that after Joe Greene he is the best defensive player the Steelers have had?

ANSWER: Troy Polamalu was a great player, a dynamic player who was a significant part of the Steelers teams that won Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII. But as you could discern from my answer to the previous question, I don't consider him among the top five Steelers defenders in franchise history. As for whether he was the best safety, well, even that is arguable in my mind because Donnie Shell was a great player and a significant part of Steelers teams that won championships as well.

Statistically, Shell finished with 51 interceptions and 19 fumble recoveries, while Polamalu had 32 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries. Shell was a three-time first-team All-Pro, while Polamalu was a four-time first-team All-Pro and also the 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. I believe the younger generation of Steelers fans all would point to Polamalu as the franchise's all-time best safety, but I'm just here to remind everyone that Donnie Shell was a helluva player, too.

What are the best biographies written about Steelers players and management? I started following NFL in 2010 and I am from Denmark, so I have just tried to watch, read, and learn from websites besides watching the games. Would love to learn more.

ANSWER: I would highly recommend these books: "Dan Rooney: My 75 Years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL" by Dan Rooney as told to Andrew Masich and David Halaas; "Chuck Noll: His Life's Work" by Michael MacCambridge; "Three Bricks Shy of a Load" by Roy Blount Jr., and "The Color of Sundays" by Andrew Conte, which is the closest thing in print to a biography of Bill Nunn. Enjoy.

If I'm not mistaken, after playing special teams as a rookie and nickel linebacker during his second year, Lawrence Timmons missed only two games as a starter, which occurred during his third year due to a high ankle sprain. Am I wrong? I like Vince Williams a lot, and I have to agree with what he said about the consistency of Timmons. Any other "Ironmen" other than Mike Webster who played for the Steelers?

ANSWER: You are correct about Lawrence Timmons in that he missed two games in 2009, but one of those was because of a hamstring injury while the other was the result of an ankle injury. The three Steelers with the longest streak of consecutive games played are Ray Mansfield with 182 from 1964-76, Mike Webster with 177 from 1974-85, and Dermontti Dawson from 1988-99.

My daughter's nickname is Juju. Naturally I have to buy her a Smith-Schuster jersey. I saw T.J. Watt and James Conner jerseys are available, but not JuJu Smith-Schuster. Any word when his jersey will be available?

ANSWER: Because of the manner in which Nike manufactures jerseys per team, I doubt they will mass produce any JuJu Smith-Schuster jerseys. The only way you'll be able to get your daughter one of those would be to go to and order a jersey that you can customize with his name and number.

What are your thoughts on T.J. Watt? I know it is early still, but what is your assessment of his work ethic and skill-set? Also, as either unfair or unwise as this next question is, but do you see Cam Sutton out-performing Artie Burns?

ANSWER: So far through the offseason program, some of T.J. Watt's veteran teammates have remarked on his preparedness, and Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about it on Tuesday, the first day of minicamp. "Keep watching," said Tomlin. "We haven't hit anybody yet either. Guys tend to get less prepared as the contact increases. We will see."

As for the second part of your question, my answer is a simple: no. Artie Burns is a good player, in fact he's one of nine players in franchise history to record three or more interceptions in his rookie season with the team. I understand the enthusiasm over what Cam Sutton might bring to this team, but Burns is ahead of him in experience and production.

With such a plethora of talent at wide receiver and not enough space on the roster to keep all of them, does it make sense to put a package of extras together and make a trade for a man-to-man coverage cornerback, instead of losing them for nothing?

ANSWER: This is misguided on a bunch of levels. First of all, do you actually believe there is an NFL team that has more man-to-man coverage cornerbacks than it can use? And if there was such a team, which I can assure you there is not, do you believe that team would trade a man-to-man coverage cornerback for a "package" of wide receivers the Steelers plan to cut? The wide receivers on the roster who could fetch a quality cornerback in a trade are ones the Steelers wouldn't trade in the first place. Getting quality in return for scraps is delusional.

Will the Steelers wear all black again this year? If so when?

ANSWER: The Steelers will wear their color rush uniforms for the game against Tennessee on Thursday, Nov. 16.

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