Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: June 9

Let's get to it:

CALEB EICHENBERGER-GAY FROM DALLAS, TX: Can you give any insight into who was the better player between Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders? Given that Woodson played the run much better than Sanders, their statistics are pretty different and difficult to compare.
ANSWER: My personal opinion is that given a choice between the two players, I would rather have Rod Woodson instead of Deion Sanders. That's a personal preference, because I liked the way Woodson played the game in a physical manner, and allow me to relate this anecdote to make the point:

Everyone remembers Sanders' foray as a Major League Baseball player, and pitcher Curt Schilling once threw at Sanders during a game, and afterward the media asked him whether he was worried Sanders might charge the mound. Schilling's replay: "What's he gonna do? Arm-tackle me?"

Sanders was a great player, an all-time cornerback and kick returner, a member of the NFL 100 all-time team, a first ballot Pro Football Hall of Fame selection. But so was Woodson, in each of the same categories. Woodson intercepted 71 passes as a cornerback and safety and returned 12 of them for touchdowns. Sanders intercepted 53 passes and returned nine of those for touchdowns. Woodson returned four punts/kickoffs for touchdowns; Sanders returned nine punts/kickoffs for touchdowns. Woodson was the 1993 NFL Defensive Player of the Year; Sanders was the 1994 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. With 71 interceptions and 32 fumble recoveries, Woodson was responsible for 103 takeaways; with 53 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries, Sanders was responsible for 66 takeaways. Woodson was a cornerback who switched to safety, and Sanders played his entire career at cornerback. But does anyone downgrade Ronnie Lott for making the same position switch as Woodson?

Football is a physical sport, and Woodson was the more physical player. Dick "Night Train" Lane. Mel Blount. Rod Woodson. Big, physical, athletic, punishing. And 196 interceptions among the three of them: (Woodson 71; Lane 68; Blount 57). That's my mold for the perfect cornerback.

BERNARD RAGLAND FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: You stated that no running back could play wide receiver. You don't think a back like Alvin Kamara or Jamaal Charles have the quickness for the transition?
ANSWER: What I wrote was that I was told by a man who held the NFL jobs of wide receivers coach, offensive coordinator, and head coach that NFL running backs lack the skill-set to be professional wide receivers. Since Alvin Kamara and Jamaal Charles are/were NFL running backs, then they fall into the category of not having the specific skill-set for the job of NFL wide receiver. Pure quickness doesn't make a running back a potential wide receiver. How quick was Barry Sanders? Tony Dorsett? Those guys could not line up as a wide receiver in the NFL, run patterns against starting caliber NFL cornerbacks, and win the one-on-one matchups often enough to make a career for themselves at that position.

BRIAN MORELLA FROM POLAND, OH: Sidney Thornton only played six years in the NFL. Did he suffer an injury that shortened his career? And in your opinion, was Larry Anderson the best kickoff returner in Steelers history?
ANSWER: Sidney Thornton was a second-round draft choice in 1977, and he played six seasons with the Steelers, through the strike-shortened year of 1982. While Thornton certainly had some raw skills that were necessary for success in the NFL, he also had some issues, which were described by Rocky Bleier in "Tales from Behind the Steel Curtain," by Jim Wexell:

"Sidney was his own worst enemy," said Bleier via Wexell. "I think Sidney really wanted to do well. Sometimes you question whether he had the drive and maybe he'd say he did and maybe he did, but it didn't seem to come out that way. Then there was understanding the plays and knowing where to run and who to block. That takes time. Plus, Sidney fumbled the ball. What happens is sometimes those things manifest themselves. You worry about them, and they become a part of your playing habits."

As far as Larry Anderson, his kickoff returns were a contributing factor in the Steelers' win over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl XIV, but statistics simply don't support him as the best in franchise history. Lynn Chandnois is the franchise leader in kickoff return average for a career (29.6) and in a season (35.2 in 1952), and his three touchdowns on kickoff returns also is the best in Steelers history. By comparison, Anderson averaged 23.5 yards per return over his career, and his best single-season average was 27.1 in 1980, but because he only had 14 returns he didn't qualify among the league's leaders. Anderson had one kickoff return for a touchdown.

CHRIS GALLOWAY FROM ROCKWALL, TX: Where do Bryan Hinkle and David Little rank in Steelers history as outside and inside linebackers for the team?
ANSWER: I don't know where they rank, but I would categorize both Bryan Hinkle and David Little as very good players, quality NFL starters, during their respective careers. Hinkle was a Jack Ham-type player in that he was more about takeaways than sacks as an outside linebacker. Hinkle finished his career with 15 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries, and his best statistical season was in 1984 when he finished with three interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and 5.5 sacks in helping the Steelers advance to the AFC Championship Game. Little was a solid run-stuffing inside linebacker, which was a critical element to that position during his era, which spanned 1981-92. Little was voted to the Pro Bowl after the 1990 season. In short, Hinkle and Little were two of the Steelers best players during their careers, but they're often overlooked because those seasons fell between the championships of the 1970s and the resurgence of the mid-1990s.

JOHN MUSGRAVE FROM FORT WAYNE, IN: I just read something about Cam Heyward's deal being up at the end of 2020 and that he and the Steelers are hoping to talk about an extension soon. What odds do you give the deal getting done to keep him in a Steelers uniform for the rest of his career?
ANSWER: I would put the chances at 100 percent. Cam Heyward, in my opinion, is one of the great players/people in franchise history, and I cannot imagine a realistic scenario where a contract extension doesn't happen.

CHUCK DICOLA FROM NEW CASTLE, PA: There are some interesting free agents still out there for the 2020 season (running back Devante Freeman and tackle Kelvin Beachum are two who caught my eye). Do you see the Steelers adding any of the top free agents still available? Additionally, do they have cap space left to sign any free agents?
ANSWER: No. And no, not when there is an interest in extending Cam Heyward's contract.

HERSCHEL DINKINS FROM POUGHKEEPSIE, NY: Historically speaking, what are some of the biggest mistakes the Steelers ever made at quarterback?
ANSWER: There would be two: cutting a rookie named Johnny Unitas in 1955 after drafting him in the ninth round, and trading Len Dawson to Cleveland after the 1959 season after spending a first-round pick on him in the 1957 draft. Unitas never played a snap for the Steelers, and in three seasons, Dawson started only one game and attempted 17 total passes. Both Unitas and Dawson won Super Bowls and are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

ERNEST GUTIERREZ FROM SAN JOSE, CA: The NFL tabled the fourth-and-15 proposal to replace onside kicks. Here's an idea: Only in the fourth quarter, the distance the ball has to travel before the kicking team can recover it should change from 10 yards to 5 yards. This would open up a lot of possible strategies for both teams, it would create some mad scrambles for the football, and it would bring excitement to the play. What do you think?
ANSWER: What fans must understand is that all of the changes to the rules and procedures regarding kickoffs were done in the interest of reducing the number of high-speed collisions in the name of player safety. Your proposal doesn't do that, and so it has no chance.

DOUGLAS DOZIER FROM RUSKIN, FL: If you thought that Antonio Brown had changed his ways and wanted to return to the Steelers family, would you consider bringing him back?
ANSWER: I don't believe Antonio Brown will change his ways. There are some things in professional sports from which someone cannot come back, and quitting on your team before a must-win game is at the top of that list.

DONALD MARSHALL FROM CINCINNATI, OH: I keep seeing articles about this being JuJu Smith-Schuster's last year with the Steelers, and he should be traded. What is the story?
ANSWER: Don't believe everything you read, because the authors of those stories don't know any more about JuJu Smith-Schuster's future with the Steelers than you do. That's an issue for next offseason.