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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 8

Let's get to it:

EDITOR'S NOTE: With so many fans reaching out via this vehicle to send well-wishes to Tunch Ilkin after he announced his retirement from broadcasting on June 3 to focus on his treatment for ALS, this installment of Asked and Answered will begin with some of those submissions:

ROB WARREN FROM BELLINGHAM, WA: I was blessed to get to go to the 2019 Steelers Men's Fantasy Camp. While there I had the opportunity to attend Sunday fellowship and ate breakfast with Tunch and Wolf. It was one of the highlights of that weekend. I was sorry to hear about Tunch's retirement today.


AARON BREEZE FROM FRESNO, CA: I just wanted to express my gratitude to Tunch Ilkin. He has inspired me over the years with his kindness and wisdom. I've never had a chance to meet him, but his smile is contagious and I have really enjoyed him in both the Steelers organization and the Man Up conferences. Can you please pass on to him that he has a number of people out here in California who are standing with him and praying for him? Thank you.


PAUL FITZPATRICK FROM WILTON, IA: I just read about Tunch Ilkin announcing his retirement from broadcasting so he could focus on his treatment after being diagnosed with ALS, and my heart sank. My brother died a few years ago after battling ALS for years. Is there an address where I can send best wishes to Tunch? I know where to send prayers, but notes of support are also important. Those who bleed Black and Gold will fight like no one else.


TIM CICOTTA FROM ROCHESTER, NY: I recently submitted a question to Asked and Answered about Tunch Ilkin. I want to thank you for the great article on Thursday, June 3 that appeared on I know it probably wasn't because of my question, but it was much more than a quick answer to my question, and I truly enjoyed reading it. I wish all the best to Tunch and his family.


ANTHONY WONG FROM BEIJING, CHINA: No question. Pray for Tunch. Good health to everyone.


SHAWN BARGER FROM BETHLEHEM, PA: I just read your article on Tunch Ilkin's retirement, and I enjoyed the anecdotes about Myron Cope, Bill Hillgrove, and Chuck Noll. I pray he continues to battle ALS as he has so far. It's disappointing that we won't hear him on the radio broadcasts but our loyal Steelers Nation is behind him and supporting him 100 percent.


RON WILLIAMS FROM ASTORIA, OR: I have had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Tunch Ilkin several times on the sidelines during pregame warmups, and he always took the time to catch up with our group. He truly is a gentleman, and we hope all goes well for him.


DAVID MARCOU FROM DANVERS, MA: I read on on June 3 that Tunch Ilkin has retired from broadcasting. I think I can speak for all Steelers fans when I wish Tunch all the best in his retirement, and I also want to wish him strength and health in his current battle. Please pass this sentiment on "From the fans of Asked and Answered" to Tunch. I enjoyed watching his teams play in the 1980s and the one game I will never forget is the playoff game when the underdog Steelers went down to Houston on New Year's Eve in 1989 and ruined the New Year for the Oilers with their victory in overtime. I was listening to it in the car, and when Gary Anderson's 50-yard field goal in overtime was good, I pulled over, got out of the car, and did a few fist pumps into the air. I also loved listening to Tunch and Wolf in the locker room recalling the days of yore, when training camp was tough and how much they loved to hate it. You can tell they had a lot of fun in their playing days and their love of the game is evident. I will certainly miss Tunch's voice on the radio, but he has earned his retirement.


ROBERT POKLEMBA FROM NAPLES, FL: I have noticed in the OTA videos that No. 55 is on the field. Is that Devin Bush coming back from his injury already?
ANSWER: It is.

DAMIEN PRESTON FROM PORT ARTHUR, TX: My favorite 2021 draft pick is Buddy Johnson, the baby thumper from Texas A&M. Do you think there is any chance he starts next to Devin Bush at inside linebacker next year?
ANSWER: If by "next year" you're referring to 2022, I would guess that's likely, but if you're referring to 2021 (which I would classify as this year), I would say it's unlikely, especially at the start of the season. There is a lot to learn about the switch from the brand of football played in college to the NFL, and inside linebacker is a position with a lot of varied responsibilities in the Steelers defense.

KEITH GRANDBERRY FROM MEMPHIS, TN: Me personally, I think Dewayne Haskins is the future quarterback when Ben Roethlisberger retires. Who do you think is the future quarterback?
ANSWER: If Ben Roethlisberger retires after the 2021 season, my belief is that Mason Rudolph would be the Steelers' starting quarterback in 2022.

LOUIS GIVENS FROM SAVANNAH, GA: There is a lot of excitement about Najee Harris and rightfully so , but the backs behind him on the depth chart are not so exciting. Who in your opinion will emerge to give the Steelers a legitimate option as a No. 2 runner?
ANSWER: First of all, allow me to remind you that Coach Mike Tomlin is a believer in the "bell cow" philosophy, meaning that it's not going to be a running-back-by-committee approach. Anyway, I'm not ready to point to somebody as a clear No. 2 behind Najee Harris at this point, but I will offer this: Don't discount Kalen Ballage (6-foot-2, 231), a fourth-year pro from Arizona State who entered the NFL as a fourth-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2018. During training camp and the preseason, watch for Ballage, who will be wearing No. 29.

DAVID HAYES FROM HARTSELLE, AL: Maurkice Pouncey proved his leadership in games and other situations. Who will be the leader of the offensive line? Heyward leads the defensive line. The center makes the calls and so typically leadership naturally falls on the shoulders of the center. Hope our center is not too "Green" to handle the responsibility.
ANSWER: Real leaders emerge over time, and it takes time for the group to accept an individual as a leader. It's not something that can be assigned or predicted. By the time the regular season is set to being, the leader or leaders of the offensive line will have emerged.

BARRY CLEVENGER FROM EAST BEND, NC: I'm more than happy to stay home and watch the Steelers than sitting next to a bunch of self-righteous vaccine snobs such as yourself.
ANSWER: Fine. Don't get vaccinated, and stay home.

DANIEL CAIN FROM FAIRFAX, VA: Is Kendrick Green, the third-round pick, signed to a contract? If not, why do you think he is not?
ANSWER: There could be a number of reasons why Kendrick Green has yet to sign a contract, but I cannot imagine a single one being significant. My belief is that whenever it's time for players to report to training camp, Green will be signed and in attendance.

DAVID PIKE FROM CALAIS, VT: In a previous Asked and Answered, someone asked if Ben Roethlisberger would take fewer snaps from the shotgun this year. Your answer stated that the Ravens used the shotgun more often than any team in the league in 2020 and led the NFL in rushing. Do you think we will see more quarterback draws called for Roethlisberger from the shotgun this year?
ANSWER: The point of the answer was that running the football successfully in the NFL isn't formation specific, and while I don't foresee quarterback draws in 2021, I do expect lots and lots of read-option. Get the 39-year-old quarterback on the perimeter.

JC CHUTA FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: In reference to the shotgun formation, which I think may have been invented/perfected by Roger Staubach, can you confirm Terry Bradshaw hated it and once said all it served to do was to alert the opposing defense to what you were going to do?
ANSWER: First of all, the shotgun formation was introduced to the NFL in 1960 by Coach Red Hickey of the San Francisco 49ers. According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's website, "Although it is used today by nearly every team in the National Football League, the popular shotgun formation is nothing new. The San Francisco 49ers, under head coach Red Hickey, unveiled a version of the now-popular formation in 1960. However, even Hickey's shotgun was really just a new version of an old formation. Veteran coaches likened it to Pop Warner's Double Wing B-formation that was introduced at Stanford some 30 years earlier (in 1930), or the short punt formation that had been used by numerous teams through the years."

Anyway, as far as it being utilized by the Steelers, it was Coach Chuck Noll who didn't like the shotgun formation, and whether Terry Bradshaw agreed with that or not really didn't matter. I have no recollection of Bradshaw ever making any public statements about the shotgun formation.

DENNIS SLEEGER FROM YORK, PA: With so much talk about this possibly being Ben Roethlisberger's last year: Since Chuck Noll was hired in 1969, how many quarterbacks have the Steelers taken with their first-round draft pick? I know Terry Bradshaw and Roethlisberger, but who else?
ANSWER: Mark Malone was the 28th and final pick in the first round of the 1980 NFL Draft. In order, Terry Bradshaw in 1970, Malone in 1980, and Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 are the quarterbacks the Steelers have drafted in the first round since Chuck Noll was hired in 1969.

MARK NAKAMOTO FROM HONOLULU, HI: Although it's very early, of the undrafted rookies, who do you think has the best chance of making the 53-man roster?
ANSWER: I'll give you two names at this "very early" stage of the process: cornerback Shakur Brown and safety Lamont Wade, and in both instances it's because of available roles. Brown because the Steelers very well could be looking for a slot cornerback to replace Mike Hilton, and Wade because he could turn out to be a dynamic kickoff returner.

CHUCK HENRY FROM MECHANICSBURG, PA: This involves special teams and how the on-field officials know the eligibility of the potential receivers during a fake punt or fake field goal. Many times on punts, players with eligible numbers are not lined up in the traditional positions and on field goals players with ineligible numbers are lined up as potential receivers. Could you please explain the numbering system and how the officials manages these situations?
ANSWER: Speaking about field goal or conversion attempts: Players wearing "non-eligible" jersey numbers report as eligible to the referee when they come onto the field. In that sense, it's just like a play where the offense lines up with an extra lineman as a blocker.

JOHN MAKAR FROM KERNERSVILLE, NC: I have seen at various times that a team will release someone with an injury settlement. What does that entail? What are the ramifications for both the team and the player? Are they buying out the player's contract? Does it affect the team's cap? Is that player then free to sign with another team as long as he can clear that team's physical?
ANSWER: As an example, let's say a player injures a hamstring and is going to be out for four weeks. Rather than carry the player on the roster and having him use a spot that could go to a healthy replacement, the team seeks to come to an injury settlement. The team and the injured player's agent come to some agreement based on medical information on the amount of time the player will be sidelined, and then the team and the player's agent come to an agreement on a financial settlement. The player is paid the money and released. That money is charged to the team's salary cap, because all monies paid to players count on a team's salary cap. Once the agreed-upon term expires and if the player is capable of passing a physical, he would be free to sign a contract with another team.

MICHAEL GLENDENNING FROM LEAMINGTON, ONTARIO, CANADA: In your June 3 edition of Asked and Answered, you mentioned Ben Roethlisberger's successor may already be on the roster. Do you believe the Steelers are too loyal to Roethlisberger, a first ballet Hall of Fame selection, and as a result are not giving more opportunities to the backups or looking for the next franchise quarterback?
ANSWER: You should understand that the object is to try to win games and compete for a championship now, and you simply DO NOT EVER sacrifice regular season games to give "more opportunities to the backups" at any position. If making a move away from a starter is in the best interest of the team trying to win games, that's one thing, but the Steelers do not treat regular season games as preseason games. Never have, and never will as long as a Rooney is the boss. The backups' opportunities come during training camp and in the preseason, and it's not time to start looking for the "next" franchise quarterback until the current franchise quarterback has made the decision that he is finished playing.

TAYLOR SHEPHERD FROM ROCHESTER, NH: Are you at all surprised about the praise Dwayne Haskins has been receiving, how good he's been in the OTAs, and do you think he has a chance to pass Mason Rudolph as the backup on the depth chart?
ANSWER: The "praise Dwayne Haskins has been receiving" came from Ben Roethlisberger and it had to do with his arm strength and how the football looks coming out of his right hand. There is way, way, way, way more to playing quarterback in the NFL than the ability to throw a pretty pass and do it with some velocity. And OTAs are nothing like real football, because there is no tackling, no real pass rush, and the defense is doing little, if anything, to disguise coverages and/or make life difficult for the quarterback. I'm not here today to denigrate Haskins, but simply to caution you and others to dial back the expectation level for a guy who will go to training camp at the end of July having to earn a spot on the 53-man roster.

CHARLES ARTWELL FROM VANCOUVER, WA: We've got four quarterbacks on the 90-man roster that will go to training camp, but only three will remain once the cuts are made to 53 players for the start of the regular season. In your opinion, please rank the four as of this week.
ANSWER: Ben Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph, Joshua Dobbs, Dwayne Haskins. I put Dobbs third and Haskins fourth based solely on experience with the Steelers. And to reiterate Coach Mike Tomlin, there are depth charts at this point, but they aren't worth the paper they're printed on. And when somebody like me is making a guess at the depth chart, it's worth even less than that.