Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: March 30

Let's get to it:

MICHAEL KOLB FROM SUWANEE, GA: When I was a teenager in the late 1960s, I was fortunate enough to work in a store that was frequented by a number of Steelers. When Chuck Noll was hired, I recall newspaper coverage of his plans to implement a tough training regimen. When I asked one of the team's offensive linemen about it at the time, he sort of laughed it off. It got me to wondering, how much roster turnover was there in Noll's first year?
ANSWER: Andy Russell frequently told the story of being in attendance for Chuck Noll's first meeting with the group of Steelers players he inherited after being hired in January 1969. Russell recalled Noll saying something to the effect of, "Our goal is to win the Super Bowl, but most of you aren't good enough to be here when we do." After losing seasons in 1969 (1-13), 1970 (5-9), and 1971 (6-8), the Steelers posted an 11-3 record in 1972 to win the AFC Central Division and then defeat Oakland in a Divisional Round Game made famous by the Immaculate Reception. Even in that relatively primitive era of professional football, it wasn't possible for a team to re-make its entire roster over a single offseason, and so I'm going at answer your question by explaining how many players from the team Noll inherited in 1969 were still around for the historic 1972 season. Of the 50 players who spent at least some time on the Steelers roster during the 1968 season, only 8 – listed alphabetically, HB Rocky Bleier, OT John Brown. G Sam Davis, C Ray Mansfield, DL Ben McGee, OLB Russell, G Bruce Van Dyke, and P Bobby Walden – made it as far as the 1972 season. As Dan Rooney used to say, "Get out the big broom."

KEVIN MCDEVITT FROM WHITEHALL, PA: Regarding the Steelers Hall of Honor, when will the next "class" be announced?
ANSWER: Typically, Steelers President Art Rooney II announces the newest class to be inducted into the Hall of Honor at the end of the first week of training camp.

ANDREW MOSKOWITZ FROM PURDY, MO: Are there any agreements or limitations between the NFL and the XFL or USFL in regard to offering tryouts or contracts to players currently on teams?
ANSWER: NFL teams are not going to sign players who are under contract to either the XFL or the USFL while their seasons are underway. The XFL season ends following the championship game on May 13, and the USFL season is scheduled to end in early July.

ERIC LINDQUIST FROM SPARTA, NJ: Now that the Steelers have signed Zach Gentry again, according to Tom Pelissero, what are the chances that they will include him more in the passing game?
ANSWER: Zach Gentry is not a receiving tight end, and he wasn't re-signed by the Steelers because they want to start featuring him in that element of their offense.

EDWARD WATSON FROM GRAHAM, NC: What was Chuck Noll's career record against Bum Phillips, including playoffs?
ANSWER: Bum Phillips coached the Houston Oilers from 1975-1980, and Chuck Noll's Steelers were 10-4 in those games, including two victories in the AFC Championship Game. Phillips then coached the New Orleans Saints from 1981 through the first 12 games of the 1985 season. Noll's Steelers were 1-1 vs. the Saints during those years. That would make Noll's record against Phillips' teams 11-5.

RICHARD SANTRY FROM ALLENDALE, NJ: Being a Notre Dame graduate, I remember Rocky Bleier telling a group of us back in 1976 how he was picked by the Steelers in the 17th round of the NFL Draft. What year was that, and when did the NFL go to the current draft system of seven rounds?
ANSWER: The Steelers selected Rocky Bleier in the 16th round (417th overall) of the 1968 NFL Draft. The NFL Draft consisted of 17 rounds from 1976-77, and then it became 12 rounds from 1978-92. In 1993, it was 8 rounds, and then starting in 1994 it went to 7 rounds, which is where is stands today. The reasoning behind the shortening of the draft from 12 rounds came at the same time the NFL was instituting its system of free agency tied to a salary cap, and the decision to go to fewer rounds was part of the negotiation between the league and the players union.

MICHAEL ARCELA FROM ELIZABETH, NJ: Was there ever a time where the Steelers drafted players from the same position in consecutive picks?
ANSWER: I will use this question as another opportunity to remind fans that the Steelers have participated in every NFL Draft – or the Annual Selection Meeting as it was initially called – since the procedure was enacted in 1936. So "was there ever a time" covers a lot of years, and many of those years were when football was not nearly as sophisticated and complex as it is today. During the 1930s, 1940s, and even into the 1950s, multiple position players were identified simply as ends or backs, and even starting in the 1960s multiple position players were identified simply as linebackers, so the distinction you're seeking with your question isn't readily available. In an effort to answer your question but do it in a realistic and simple way, I'm going to narrow the search to the drafts starting with Chuck Noll's tenure, and then dealing with the top halves of those drafts.

In 1973, the Steelers drafted cornerbacks J.T. Thomas and Ken Phares in the first and second rounds; in 1980, they draft defensive ends Bob Kohrs and John Goodman with their pair of second-round picks; in 1983, they drafted wide receivers Paul Shansi and Gregg Garrity with a pair of fifth-round picks; in 1987, they drafted cornerbacks Rod Woodson and Delton Hall with their first and second-round picks; in 1988, they drafted "centers" Dermontti Dawson and Chuck Lanza with their second and third-round picks, but Dawson first came to the Steelers as a guard; in 1991, they drafted wide receivers Jeff Graham and Ernie Mills in the second and third rounds; and in 2011, they drafted cornerbacks Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen in the third and fourth rounds.

MIKE VELLUCCI FROM ATCO, NJ: Do you believe the team will try to re-sign Miles Boykin? He seems like the second coming of Darrius Heyward-Bey, with good size as well as being pretty solid on special teams.
ANSWER: Comparisons aside, I would think that after the draft the Steelers might try to work something out with Miles Boykin, because his contribution as a gunner was a significant element in the Steelers punt team finishing second in the NFL in average yards allowed per return during the 2022 season; he presents a physical element from the wide receiver position on running plays; and by all accounts he's a solid teammate and example for younger players.

DOUG PIPER FROM STATE COLLEGE, PA: I'm probably just old and losing my mind, but when the NFL announced this week that for the first time since 1973, players could wear No. 0, it got me thinking about Dwight Stone wearing either No. 0 or No. 00 at the beginning of his career back in the late 1980s. But no one I've talked to remembers it, and Google seems to confirm that I'm wrong. Did he ever wear No. 0 or No. 00?
ANSWER: He did not.

DAVE KITLAK FROM UHRICHSVILLE, OH: Benny Snell is still unsigned. Is there any interest in trying to re-sign him?
ANSWER: This is another of those situations that I believe will have to wait until after the draft. Benny Snell's primary worth to the team in 2023 would be as a core special teams player, and he did play 284 special teams snaps (65 percent) last season. In terms of the running back rotation, Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren are the clear Nos. 1 and 2 at the position, and so Snell would be viewed only as injury insurance there. It's not impossible that Snell is brought back, but it's also not impossible that either the team or the player decides to move on.