Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 7

Let's get to it:

I have a question about jersey numbers. I see that Tyler Matakevich is wearing No. 46 during OTAs, and I know Bud Dupree went with No. 48 last year. It was unusual for me to see a linebacker with a jersey number in the 40s, but that's changed in the last year or two. I was just wondering if that is a new thing? Also, when are they officially the numbers the players will wear? Can it be changed up until the final roster cuts are made? By the way, I really enjoy reading these. (I thought I would save my sucking up until the end.)


ANSWER: Based on the NFL uniform code, certain jersey numbers are to be worn only by players at certain positions. For example, jersey numbers in the 40s can be worn by running backs, fullbacks, tight ends, long-snappers, defensive backs, and linebackers. When it's the time of year when teams have 90-man rosters, and because teams have decided to retire some jersey numbers or simply remove them from circulation to honor past players, it's not possible to accommodate each individual player's request. The most common jersey numbers for linebackers range through the 50s and the 90s, but 50s also can be taken by offensive linemen and 90s also can be taken by defensive linemen. It's not unusual for linebackers initially to be assigned jersey numbers in the 40s, but it is somewhat unusual for linebackers to keep those numbers once rosters have been cut to 53. After that happens, players who want to change are afforded whatever opportunities that exist with their team, but after that, your jersey number is your jersey number.**

Bud Dupree chose to stick with No. 48 after the cut-down to 53 last season, and so I'm guessing he decided to keep that for the remainder of his Steelers career. We'll see whether Tyler Matakevich makes the same decision if he makes the roster this year.

As a displaced Steelers fan, I was excited to see that this year the Steelers were playing both New York teams. Sadly I saw that both games were in Pittsburgh this year. When making the schedule, how does the NFL determine which team is home for non-divisional games?

ANSWER: In cross-conference matchups, teams face opponents once every four years and so the individual matchups are assigned on a home-and-home basis every eight years. As an example, the Steelers played in Dallas in 2004, the Cowboys visited Heinz Field in 2008, the Steelers played in Dallas in 2012, and the Cowboys are in Pittsburgh on Nov. 13. That would be how the game against the Giants was determined: Pittsburgh in New Jersey in 2004 and 2012, with the Giants in Pittsburgh in 2008 and on Dec. 4.

When it involves matchups between teams in the same conference, there are two factors involved. Every year, each NFL team will play every team from a division within its own conference on a once-every-three-year rotation, and this year the AFC North teams all are playing the AFC East teams. In 2007, the Steelers played the Jets in New Jersey, in 2010 the game was in Pittsburgh, in 2013 it was in New Jersey, and so it's at Heinz Field on Oct. 9.


The Pittsburgh Steelers took a day of OTAs to team build by bowling together.

The other factor involved in matchups between teams in the same conference is that two games on every team's schedule each year are determined by the previous season's standings. And these games match teams that finished in the same spots in their respective divisions. As an example, for 2016 the Steelers had been assigned a home game against the AFC West and a road game against the AFC South. Since the Steelers finished second in the AFC North in 2015, they will host AFC West second-place Kansas City and travel to AFC South second-place Indianapolis.**

Regarding Super Bowl memories. How can you say William Gay's play won the game? It was an awesome, spectacular play, of course, but it didn't win the game. Your theory of the Steelers playing in garbage time without it is baffling. Ben's throw and Santonio's catch is the play that won the game, and that's the greatest play in Super Bowl history. Not only because of degree of difficulty, but because of what was at stake.

ANSWER: Baffling? I don't know what's baffling about simple arithmetic. With the ball at the 1-yard line, if James Harrison doesn't make the interception, that's a Cardinals touchdown. Add those points to Arizona's total, and after also subtracting the seven resulting from Harrison's play, and the score of the game when the Steelers get the football with 2:37 remaining in the fourth quarter is Arizona 30, Pittsburgh 20. Essentially, that makes it garbage time. You don't agree with me. OK, I understand. That Ben Roethlisberger throw to Santonio Holmes, and the catch he made to complete the play, both were spectacular. But you write as though my pick of Harrison's interception is ridiculous. That's what is baffling.

Just read your May 31 installment when you wrote that your favorite Super Bowl play was James Harrison's 100-yard interception return. My question to you is: when something like that play happens and you are seeing it live, do you act like a fan, like I was during that play, or did you act "professional." Just wondering how the action is in the press box.

ANSWER: Before every NFL game, an announcement is made in the press box explaining what is and what is not acceptable conduct. Cheering and applauding both are prohibited, as are booing and loud, disparaging remarks. Press boxes can get loud, especially during special moments, and my recollection was that the press box was nowhere near silent as James Harrison made that interception and took off on a remarkable journey down the sideline. But I heard no cheering from the Steelers contingent, nor any disparaging remarks from the Cardinals contingent.

Why, in the world, would the Steelers not resign Brandon Boykin? Yes, I know we drafted Artie Burns, but Boykin could've easily taken Stephon Tuitt's job.

ANSWER: If Brandon Boykin wasn't able to take Ross Cockrell's spot as an outside cornerback in sub-package football last season, how can you be so certain he would have done it this season?

At training camp do the Steelers practice on varied field surfaces that duplicate the fields on which they will play during the season? In addition, do they practice using adverse conditions of the field(s) and balls, such as wet grass and wet footballs?

ANSWER: The Steelers practice on grass unless the weather prohibits it. That means during Phase 3 of the offseason program, at training camp, and during the regular season. They practice on grass because it's easier on the players' bodies. Mike Tomlin will hold practice in the rain, as long as the rain isn't so hard that it prevents the normal practice work from getting done, and the Steelers will practice outside in the cold during the winter. But the Steelers do not artificially create adverse weather conditions for practice.

Why have the Steelers not signed Artie Burns yet?

ANSWER: Negotiations are a process, and this particular process doesn't have to be completed until July 27. I cite that as the deadline, because Steelers players report to Saint Vincent College on July 28. Artie Burns, and all unsigned rookie draft picks, are permitted to participate in their team's offseason program, but they cannot participate in an NFL training camp without a signed NFL contract. Nothing to worry about. It will get done, and it will get done in time for Burns to be tucked into his room at Rooney Hall on July 28.

When is the deadline to sign the draft picks? I ask this because as of the time that I am typing this the Steelers have yet so sign No. 1 pick Artie Burns, yet they have signed nearly every other player. I was just expecting that since he is the first player they drafted he would sign relatively quickly.

ANSWER: Your expectation just isn't the reality. All of the draft picks have to be signed, and the order in which that happens typically is the order in which it's possible. Agents of first-round draft picks have been known to drag out the proceedings to some degree, maybe to give the impression that they've had to work hard at a difficult assignment. Not to be cynical.

If the rookies don't catch on as quickly as hoped, and Antonio Cromartie is still unsigned, do the Steelers give him a call ?

ANSWER: "If the rookies don't catch on as quickly as hoped …" Exactly whose hopes are we referencing? Because I'm guessing your patience, and the patience of most fans, isn't at the same level of as the Steelers'. This is a process, and putting a young guy on the back burner because you lost patience makes it a longer process. My thought is that whatever team signs Antonio Cromartie will be one that has had a rash of injuries to its defensive backfield.

Have the Steelers given thought to signing Johnny Manziel if he is cleared to play? He could be a valuable player with his versatility. He can play receiver, safety, running back. And be an emergency quarterback. He would be great running the Wildcat offense. Not to mention the possibility of playing special teams.

ANSWER: You are delusional. Please be careful crossing the street.

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