Bob Labriola is currently away on vacation. Below are some notable submissions – and Bob’s answers – from the 2019 offseason.
From May 9
JERRY AVERS FROM LANCASTER, PA: Is the running back position going to be an open competition since we added possibly a better one in the draft?
ANSWER: I don’t understand why you have such a low opinion of James Conner, but allow me to refresh your memory with some statistics: In 2018, his second NFL season, Conner rushed for 973 yards and averaged 4.5 per carry doing it; he also caught passes for another 497 yards, which gave him 1,470 yards from scrimmage; and in addition he scored 13 touchdowns. To put this into further perspective, this is a list of the NFL running backs who finished with more yards from scrimmage in 2018 than Conner: Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott, Christian McCaffrey, Todd Gurley, and Alvin Kamara. The one negative that can be associated with Conner’s performance in 2018 was his four fumbles, and if that continues to be an issue for him, well, suffice it to say he would discover that Coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t have a bottomless well of patience for running backs who cannot hold onto the football. But as of right now, James Conner is entering his third NFL season, and he has improved consistently over that time. If Benny Snell Jr. can find a way to carve out a complementary role as a rookie, the Steelers backfield – Conner, Jaylen Samuels, Snell, and fullback Rosie Nix – could be a real force during the 2019 season.
From May 16
LANCE CONTRUCCI FROM NEW YORK, NY: Your assertion that Jack Lambert was not as vital to the 1970s Steelers as Joe Greene (April 30 Asked and Answered) is dubious. Lambert averaged 146 tackles a year from 1974 to 1983 and had 28 career interceptions. While Joe Greene was inarguably one of the best ever, his performance dropped off significantly due to injury in 1976. A case could definitely be made that Lambert was the more dominant force during their Super Bowl years.
ANSWER: You can make any case you like, but you would be wrong. One of the reasons Jack Lambert had all those tackles was because of Joe Greene occupying multiple offensive linemen to keep the middle linebacker clean and able to roam freely and find the ball carrier. Lambert was able to play in the middle of the field and be highly productive even though he typically weighed less than 220 pounds. Why do you think that was? Also, Greene was the guy who changed the culture within the Steelers franchise. Changed. The. Culture. Thirty-seven seasons of losing only began to change with the drafting of Greene. Lambert was a great, great player. No argument there, but he wasn’t even the best linebacker on those 1970s Steelers teams. Jack Ham was. When Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II decided to retire Greene’s No. 75, Ham, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris, Mel Blount – all great players in their own rights – said publicly that it was fitting No. 75 was the first jersey to be retired from among the Hall of Fame players from the 1970s because Greene was the best of them all. I believe they know what they’re talking about, beyond simply reciting statistics.
JOSIAH ROMAN FROM CHICAGO, IL: What are the odds that the Steelers go out and trade for a big-name talent to fill a need at positions like safety and tight end?
ANSWER: First of all, it’s your assessment that the Steelers have needs to fill at safety and tight end, because as the draft ended Coach Mike Tomlin said this when asked about the numbers at safety: “We're comfortable with the number of people that we have working. We're also comfortable with the versatility of some of the corners. You've seen Cam Sutton play some safety. You've seen Mike Hilton play safety on our football team in the past. I'm sure there are others who are capable as well. So, we're comfortable, not only with our numbers, but with the flexibility of others who may not be ‘safeties.’” So, what are the odds the Steelers make a trade for a safety or a tight end? The odds are better that I am elected Pope.
From May 21
KEN MAULDIN FROM CLYDE, PA: The Steelers have not had a home opener since 2014. Does the NFL pay any attention to those kind of trends during scheduling?
ANSWER: What the NFL pays attention to in situations such as the one the Steelers have on the North Shore, meaning an NFL team and a Major League Baseball team sharing the same general geographic area and parking lots, is when the Pirates are at home or on the road during the months when baseball and football both are being played. This September, the Pirates are at home on Sept. 8 and Sept. 29, and so the Steelers are on the road on the first weekend of their regular season and then have a Monday night game at Heinz Field on Sept. 30.
From May 28
FABIAN KOBALD FROM INNSBRUCK, AUSTRIA: Why is Mark Barron allowed to wear No. 26? I thought a linebacker had to wear a number between 40-59 or 90-99?
ANSWER: When Mark Barron entered the NFL as a first-round draft choice in 2012, he did so as a safety, and so during his time with Tampa Bay he wore numbers in the 20s. Then when he was traded to the Rams, his position was defined as LB/CB and then LB/SS, and that allowed him to stick with a jersey number in the 20s.. Because of that, plus the fact he will play the hybrid position of inside linebacker/safety with the Steelers – which is sometimes referred to as dime linebacker – he is permitted to continue to wear jerseys in the 20s.
HUMBERTO NUNEZ FROM WEST NEW YORK, NJ: Can we see a depth chart in the coming months for the different defensive packages – the nickel, dime, and dollar defenses?
ANSWER: The Steelers release a depth chart based on what’s required by the NFL. The first depth chart will be released in advance of the preseason opener, and it will include the base formations on offense and defense, plus a depth chart for the specialists in the kicking game. There is no depth chart for the personnel packages you describe in your question.