Bob Labriola is currently away on vacation. Below are some notable submissions – and Bob’s answers – from the 2019 offseason.
From March 12
BRIAN WILSON FROM BUENA PARK, CA: In your opinion, who have been the Steelers best draft picks in rounds 4-through-7 since 2010?
ANSWER: In the nine drafts from 2010-18, I would identify Joshua Dobbs as the best fourth-round pick; Jesse James as the best fifth-round pick; Antonio Brown as the best sixth-round pick; and Kelvin Beachum as the best seventh-round pick.
Delving a little deeper into this issue: Dobbs (135th overall in 2017) gets chosen even though his playing time has been quite limited, with him having taken only 20 meaningful snaps in his young career, but the way he stepped up and overtook Landry Jones for the backup job in the summer of 2018 gives him the nod.
James (160th overall in 2015) has played in 55 games with 36 starts, and he has 120 catches for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns. But as an unrestricted-free-agent-to-be and reported to have agreed to terms on a contract with the Detroit Lions, James looks to be at the end of his Steelers career, while Jaylen Samuels (165th overall in 2018) is at the beginning. But for right now, James gets the nod over Samuels as the best fifth-round pick of the last nine years.
Despite what fans may think of Brown as he’s about to be traded, he has to be the selection as the best sixth-round draft choice from 2010-18, and it’s possible that he and Tom Brady are the best sixth-round draft choices in NFL history. But the Steelers also found a quality starter in the sixth round of the 2013 draft in Vince Williams (206th overall). With 47 starts among his 93 career games played, Williams has 318 tackles, 15 sacks, two interceptions, three passes defensed, and three fumble recoveries.
NFL talent evaluators will tell you that it’s difficult to find starting-caliber left tackles in any NFL Draft, let alone in the seventh round, but that’s exactly what the Steelers did in 2012 when they used the 248th overall pick on Beachum. During his four seasons in Pittsburgh, Beachum played in 39 games, with 36 starts, and in those 39 games he was flagged for only seven holding penalties.
From April 4
ROBERT NUNLEY FROM LEBANON, VA: Can you give us some insight into the feeling around the team regarding offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett? I am excited to see a young man have the opportunity he's been given to advance his career, and I hope to see that offensive line group continue to dominate.
ANSWER: What the Steelers’ football people long have said about Shaun Sarrett is that whenever you arrive at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, his vehicle already is in the parking lot, and whenever you leave for the day, his vehicle is still in the parking lot. Maurkice Pouncey is the unquestioned leader of the unit and one of the alphas in the locker room, and here’s what he told Missi Matthews about Sarrett shortly after he was promoted to replace Mike Munchak:
“He’s a guy who learned a lot from Coach Munchak,” said Pouncey. “But first of all, he played football, and so he knows the ins and outs of it. He played offensive line, so he knows the grit of it, the pass protection and the run blocking and things like that. He’s really honed in on technique, and (when you’re) playing football on the offensive line, that’s the one thing you have to teach guys is being a technician and playing the game the right way. He has that, and I think he’s learned from one of the best – a guy who was a Hall of Fame player and obviously a Hall of Fame coach in my opinion. He has a lot to lean on, and we have a lot to look forward to with him being our offensive line coach.”
As to Sarrett’s methods, Pouncey said, “He’s really big on tape study and pushing the envelope on showing things about the guys you’re going against each week. He details his work a lot, and you can appreciate that when you’re playing – a guy who’s detailed and works his butt off for you, you see all the work that he’s putting into it, but you still have to go out on the field and perform. I think he’s the right guy to lead us in the right way.”
BILL PALAICH FROM CLERMONT, FL: Do you think that Xavier Grimble is good enough or has the potential to replace Jesse James as a No. 2 tight end, or will the Steelers be looking for a talent upgrade behind Vance McDonald?
ANSWER: I believe it’s possible the Steelers will look to draft a tight end, but I would hope that doesn’t happen until Saturday (Rounds 4-7) if at all. If the Steelers don’t draft a tight end, maybe they sign one in the later stage of free agency, but I do believe there would be some players added there before the team heads to Latrobe, for the simple reason of having enough bodies for practices. And let’s be real about James – last season he caught 30 passes and scored two touchdowns. The Steelers aren’t faced with replacing John Mackey.
From April 23
DON DOWEY FROM PUYALLUP, WA: Now that the 2019 schedule is released, what do you see as the toughest three-to-four week span of the Steelers schedule? Any part of the schedule that could make or break the Steelers season?
ANSWER: In terms of immediate reaction to a team’s schedule, I have to agree with Vic Fangio. A defensive coordinator in San Francisco and Chicago from 2011-18, Fangio was hired this offseason by the Denver Broncos to be their head coach. When he was asked for his reaction to his team’s newly-released schedule, Fangio said, “I had no reaction, really. I’m only interested to see who we play the first two weeks because that’s who you’ll start planning on in the offseason. Other than that, the schedule at this point in the season is really kind of irrelevant. Where the schedule does matter sometimes is during the season you may play teams that might be missing players. That helps you. Or, you might be missing your own players. That hurts you. Or, you get a team that’s on a hot streak and you get them right in the middle of their hot streak, or you get them when they’re playing down a little bit. There’s no way to predict what’s a good schedule.”
CRAIG MAYLE FROM PROVO, UT: I’ve seen a few questions about the Steelers’ coldest games. Well, what are a couple of the hottest games the Steelers played in?
ANSWER: The Steelers have played in seven games during which the recorded temperature at kickoff was at least 90 degrees. Those games include: a 31-14 loss to the Cardinals in Phoenix on Oct. 9, 1988 where the kickoff temperature was 94-degrees; a 24-20 win over the Chargers in San Diego on Oct. 12, 2015 where the temperature was 93-degrees; a 23-6 victory over the Chargers in San Diego on Sept. 20, 1992 where the temperature was 92-degrees; a 20-13 victory over the Ravens in Baltimore on Sept 6, 1998 where the temperature was 91-degrees; a 23-10 loss to the Dolphins in Miami on Sept. 18, 1995 where the temperature was 91-degrees; a 27-7 win over the Texans in Houston on Sept. 18, 2005 where the temperature was 90-degrees; and a 38-13 victory over the Buccaneers in Tampa on Sept. 26, 2010 where the temperature was 90-degrees.
JOHN TESEROVITCH FROM DAYTON, OH: While looking over the past draft picks archive on Steelers.com, I noticed that third-round picks in both 2001 and 1979 were “forfeited.” How did that happen?
ANSWER: The Steelers lost that third-round pick in 1979 as punishment from the NFL when they were found to have had players wearing shoulder pads during minicamp in 1978. During the 1998 season, as part of a verbal agreement Dan Rooney had with Will Wolford, the Steelers paid a bonus to Wolford that was ruled to be a salary cap infraction. The punishment was the forfeiture of that 2001 third-round draft pick. The NFL informed Dan Rooney that if he paid Wolford the bonus, the Steelers would be punished with the loss of a draft pick, but Rooney told the NFL that he had given the player his word and that his word was more important to him than a draft pick.