Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 6

Let's get to it:

JOE ASHER FROM TAMPA, FL: It seems the Steelers like to grow the team through the draft. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jerome Bettis are two exceptions, and both worked out great for the Steelers. Who do you think was the greatest player ever to play for the Steelers who was acquired through trade?
ANSWER: Maybe I'm just getting old, but this fascination with trying to pinpoint "the greatest of the greats" in a specific category for a franchise that has been doing business in the NFL since 1933 befuddles me when it would seem to be just as gratifying to recognize all of the things/people the Steelers have done that are worth celebrating. The Steelers are a storied franchise with a long, rich, and interesting history, so I will throw out a few names and leave it at that. It wasn't until Chuck Noll was hired in 1969 that the Steelers switched their business model to utilizing the draft as the primary method of roster building, and throughout the NFL of the 1940s, 1950, and 1960s, players were traded more routinely than they have been during the modern era when teams began to recognize and understand how valuable draft picks were. For the Steelers, there are three players who were acquired via trade whose careers set them apart from all of the others, and what set them apart is that each of the three was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In chronological order, those three are Bobby Layne, John Henry Johnson, and Jerome Bettis.

• The Steelers acquired Layne in a trade with Detroit on Oct. 6, 1958, and he posted a 27-19-2 record as the team's primary starting quarterback through the 1962 season. In 1962, Layne quarterbacked the Steelers to a 9-5 season, which was the second-best winning percentage (.643) in franchise history to 1947's 8-4 finish (.667). Layne's individual statistics during his Steelers career could be judged as mediocre – 49.2 percent completions, 66 touchdowns, 81 interceptions, 65.5 passer rating – but he was a leader, a player who could drag the rest of the team to victory, and the best quarterback to that point in franchise history. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 1967.

• Johnson was a second-round pick (18th overall) by the Steelers in the 1953 NFL Draft, but he opted for the Canadian Football League where he played for one year. He then signed with the San Francisco 49ers in 1954, where he played for three years before being traded to Detroit in 1957. When the Lions mistakenly believed he was on the downside of his career, he was traded to the Steelers in 1960. After arriving in Pittsburgh, Johnson posted the most productive years of his career, with two 1,000-yard seasons to become the oldest player to record a 1,000-yard rushing season as well as the oldest player to rush for 200 or more yards in a game, each at age 34. A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Johnson ranked third on the NFL's all-time rushing yards list when he retired. He was a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 1987.

• On the day of the 1996 NFL Draft, the Steelers acquired Bettis and a third-round pick from the St. Louis Rams in exchange for a second-round pick in 1996 and a fourth-round pick in 1997. In 10 seasons with the Steelers, Bettis rushed for 10,571 yards and 78 touchdowns; he was influential in the locker room as a team leader; and he was a driving force behind the team's run to Super Bowl XL and the fifth Lombardi Trophy in franchise history. Bettis was enshrined in Canton as part of the Class of 2015.

There are the candidates in my opinion. I will allow you and other interested fans to determine "the greatest."

RILEY HANN FROM TAMPA, FL: Patrick Peterson recently talked on a podcast with Bryant McFadden about the similarities between the 2005 Super Bowl Champion Steelers and the team this year. One of the notable similarities being that Ben Roethlisberger was entering his second season, just as Kenny Pickett is this year. I know this is a lofty comparison, but what similarities do you see with his comparison?
ANSWER: Whoa. Woah. Woah. Pump the brakes on this whole line of thinking/conversation/comparison. I didn't hear what Patrick Paterson said, but if there is a comparison to be made between the 2023 Steelers and the 2005 Steelers, there also has to be some semblance of comparison made between the 2022 Steelers and the 2004 Steelers, because NFL teams cannot be remade in a single offseason. As you may recall, the 2004 Steelers – like the 2022 Steelers – started a rookie quarterback who had begun the regular season listed No. 2 on the depth chart. But that's about it for similarities. The 2004 Steelers finished 15-1, and in back-to-back weekends soundly defeated undefeated opponents – the 6-0 New England Patriots by 34-20 followed by the 7-0 Philadelphia Eagles by 27-3. The 2004 Steelers finished No. 1 in the NFL in scoring offense and No. 1 in the NFL in scoring defense. The team was No. 2 in the NFL in rushing offense and No. 1 in the NFL in rushing defense. The team outscored its opponents by a combined 372-251, posted 41 sacks and 32 takeaways, was plus-11 in turnover ratio, scored 41 touchdowns and allowed 26. The 2004 Steelers started 1-1 and then won 14 games in a row. A lot of what happened in 2004 led to how the 2005 season transpired, and assuming you were a Steelers fan last season you understand that the 2022 team was nowhere near as dominant and therefore incapable of contributing to 2023 in the same manner and to the same degree as the 2004 Steelers were the foundation for what happened in 2005. Please continue to listen to podcasts and enjoy them, but don't mistake the conversation you may hear as being prophetic.

TRACY THOMPSON FROM WEST MIDDLESEX, PA: I want to visit the Hall of Honor. Can I see it at my own pace, or do take a tour and then I'm done?
ANSWER: Tours of the Hall of Honor Museum are scheduled for one hour, but the only part of the experience that is timed is the introductory video in the theater. That lasts for around 12-to-15 minutes, but once that is over the attendees are released into the Museum. From there it becomes something of a self-tour. If some fans want to soak in the exhibits for more than one hour, they typically are allowed to do that and not hustled out the door.

MICHAEL COOK FROM CHATHAM, UK: I've been seeing a lot of talk about how strong the teams in the AFC North Division look this coming year, so that there might even be a very strong team finishing at the bottom of the division standings. With the recent expansion to the Wild Card Round, is it technically possible that a team could finish last in the division and still qualify for the postseason?
ANSWER: Technically possible? Yes. There are no rules prohibiting every team in a division from qualifying for the playoffs in the same season, and the primary category that determines which teams qualify for the postseason is overall record. But I would expect it would be extremely unlikely for all teams in one division to qualify for the playoffs in the same year, because if all of the teams in said division are "very strong," they likely would be doing a pretty thorough job of beating each other up during the regular season, which would tend to hurt all of their winning percentages. The other thing to consider is that while the good teams in the AFC North are beating up on each other there's a chance that another division in the conference might be top-heavy, which would allow a couple of those teams to post a big number of wins. The bottom line is that since playoff teams are determined by won-loss records and not by some arbitrary measurement of what a good team is, it's unlikely the mathematics would work out over all 32 teams in an entire conference to allow for all of the teams from a single division to make the playoffs the same season.

JIM ANDERSON FROM TOLEDO, OH: During training camp, does the depth chart change daily or weekly and is it posted for players to see?
ANSWER: Coach Mike Tomlin is not a big fan of putting a depth chart on a piece of paper during training camp, because in his opinion it's something that can change daily and often does change daily. The Steelers will issue depth charts in accordance with NFL requirements, but those are primarily for the media and are distributed through press releases. Posting depth charts for players to see could result in some guys at the top of them becoming complacent and others toward the bottom of them giving up hope. The competition during training camp is a marathon, and the race isn't over, nor is it won or lost, until the finish line is crossed.

JIM GRAVES FROM WATERTOWN, NY: In the June 1 edition of Asked and Answered you replied to a question about what you think needs to happen for Broderick Jones to be named the starter. You answered that he would not only need to play well in preseason, but that he would need to outperform Dan Moore Jr. at the same time. Shouldn't a player you traded up to draft No. 14 in the first round be expected to beat out a guy who is seen as underperforming?
ANSWER: Once again I find myself making the point that a fan's assessment of a player's performance – or a fan's regurgitation of a media outlet's assessment or Pro Football Focus' assessment – isn't necessarily shared by the Steelers' coaching staff. Whatever you might think of Dan Moore Jr., or what you might have read or heard about him, he is a starting-caliber NFL offensive tackle. The Steelers spent a first-round pick on Broderick Jones to add top-of-the-depth-chart talent to the offensive line, and he certainly will be expected to crack the starting lineup, but allow me to remind you that the Steelers traded up for Troy Polamalu in the 2003 NFL Draft and him being unable to supplant starting safeties Mike Logan or Brent Alexander as a rookie didn't mean he was a bust nor did it prevent him from induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2020. And to reference an offensive line situation, Hall of Fame center Mike Webster didn't become a full-time starter until 1976, which was his third NFL season.

CHRIS GUFFEY FROM MARBLE , NC: Being born in the mid-1970s, the first football game I remember watching was the victory over the Rams in Super Bowl XIV. I've been a diehard Steelers fan ever since. Through the years I've followed the Steelers, they have had a lot of great assistant coaches. In your opinion, who's the best assistant coach to ever work for the Steelers?
ANSWER: There is no way to pick one assistant coach from Steelers history and identify him as the best. Dick Hoak appropriately was voted into the Steelers Hall of Honor as part of its inaugural class for his long and distinguished service to the franchise as both a player and an assistant coach. Also during the 1970s, assistant coaches Bud Carson, Lionel Taylor, and Dan Radakovich made significant contributions. Also on that staff was George Perles, who was a defensive line coach and then a defensive coordinator. John Mitchell served the franchise for 30 seasons and turned out a lot of quality defensive linemen during his decades of service. Dick LeBeau during his two separate stints, first as the secondary coach and then as a defensive coordinator. Mike Munchak had a relatively short but impactful career here. And I know I'm not remembering all of them. Picking one would do a disservice to so many.

RICHARD ROMERO FROM CLOVIS, CA: In the June 1 Asked & Answered, you wrote that Minkah Fitzpatrick is the "best free safety in football." How do you feel he measures up to Troy Polamalu?
ANSWER: Troy Polamalu was not a free safety during his career with the Steelers, and so Minkah Fitzpatrick is playing a different position as well as still being in the early stage of his professional career. That makes a head-to-head comparison difficult, but it's fair to recognize Polamalu as what he was and is – one of the most dynamic defensive players of his era and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And I stand by what I wrote on June 1 that Fitzpatrick is the best free safety in football today.