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Asked and Answered: May 17

Let’s get to it:

JOHNNY JOHNSON FROM STAFFORD, TX:

I'm a giant Steelers fan here in Stafford, Texas, the hometown of second-round pick James Washington. I also attended many high school games and don't remember James. Can you tell me if he maybe attended a neighboring high school?

ANSWER: According to James Washington’s bio, which was provided by the NFL, his hometown is Stamford – not Stafford – Texas, and he attended Stamford High School.

EDWARD BONTRAGER from PHOENIX, AZ:

I read that the international players (e.g., Christian Scotland-Williamson) not only don't count towards the 90-man roster, but that there is a practice squad exception for them as well. Can you explain? And secondly, who ended up signing Jordan Mailata.

ANSWER: What you are referencing is what the NFL calls the International Player Pathway Program. This year’s participants include four new players and four more who are returnees from 2017.

According to the website Operations.nfl.com, “Started in 2017, the program gives international athletes the opportunity to compete at the NFL level and ultimately earn a spot on an NFL roster. For the three months, the players trained alongside NFL players and draft hopefuls in Florida under the supervision of former NFLUK head of football Aden Durde, running back coach Earnest Byner, offensive line coach Paul Dunn, defensive back coach Donnie Henderson, and wide receiver coach Larry Kirksey.”

These players, including Christian Scotland-Williamson, do not count on their teams’ 90-man rosters during the offseason, and then at the end of training camp when all teams must cut to 53 players, they could be added to the practice squad as an 11th player for the 2018 season. These exemptions are designed to encourage the NFL teams to keep these players throughout a season and expose them to the physical and mental demands of the profession in an attempt to grow the sport all over the world.

As for Jordan Mailata, who is a 6-foot-8, 345-pound rugby player from Sydney, Australia, he was drafted on the seventh round, the 233rd overall pick, by the Philadelphia Eagles. As a drafted player, and not a part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program, Mailata counts on the Eagles’ 90-man roster and would not be eligible for an 11th spot on a 10-man practice squad.

ITHAN ZIMMER FROM EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ:

I saw that quarterback Alek Torgersen from the University of Pennsylvania was brought in for a tryout during Rookie Minicamp. As a Penn grad and fan, I was interested to know if you saw or heard anything of note about him.

ANSWER: I did not see or hear anything of note about him, and Alek Torgersen was in a very difficult situation last weekend. NFL teams only bring four quarterbacks to training camp, and the Steelers already had four quarterbacks on their roster – three of whom were on the team in 2017 and the fourth being a third-round pick from this year’s draft. Video of a team’s practice is not shared with the other 31 teams in the league, and so it’s probable Torgersen was just trying to keep his name in the mix for the future, should some opportunity arise with any NFL team.

DIABLO SAYAYIN FROM CDMX, MEXICO:

Do you know if an NFL team has ever faced a CFL team, or has there been a possibility?

ANSWER: According to torontoist.com, there have been at leas three games matching teams from the NFL vs. teams from the CFL. One of those happened in August 1959, when the Chicago Cardinals faced the Toronto Argonauts in a preseason game.

That game drew 27,770 fans, the largest crowd to watch football in Canada to that point, and so the Argos then hosted similar exhibition games in 1960 and 1961. On the field, the Argonauts surprised everyone by roaring out to a 13-1 lead over the Cardinals. By racing to the line of scrimmage to quick-snap the ball on every down, the Argos caught the Cardinals defenders off guard. But Toronto assistant coach Steve Owen, who would be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his long tenure as head coach of the New York Giants between 1930-53, knew that the biggest obstacle for the Argonauts would be Chicago’s massive defensive line. At an average of 255 pounds, the Cardinals linemen outweighed their opponents by about 20 pounds per man, and it was only a matter of time before this decisive size advantage wore down the Argos and turned the tide of the game.

The Cardinals won, 55-26, and this was a Cardinals team that would finish last in the NFL’s Eastern Conference with a 2-10 record.

In 1960, the Steelers played a preseason game against the Argonauts in Toronto, and posted a 43-16 victory that the hometown Toronto Star referred to as a “debacle.” Steelers quarterback Bobby Layne picked the Argos’ secondary apart and running back Tom “The Bomb” Tracy – himself a castoff from the CFL – ran circles around Argo defenders. The 1960 Steelers finished 5-6-1 in the NFL’s Eastern Conference.

INIGO URIARTE FROM BILBAO, SPAIN:

Will the arrival of Chukwuma Okorafor move Alejandro Villanueva to the bench?

ANSWER: I cannot imagine a realistic scenario in which Chukes Okorafor is in any kind of position to assume a starting job on the Steelers offensive line before the 2020 season. He has too much development to do, and Al Villanueva and Marcus Gilbert are too good.

DAVE BLACK FROM BROWNSVILLE, PA:

I love the new direction the Steelers are taking with big, athletic safeties being drafted and acquired to fill linebacker responsibilities. Do you see this becoming a norm across the league? Much like the Steelers taught the league in the 1990s to draft 4-3 college defensive ends to be 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL.

ANSWER: The Steelers aren’t the first team to do this, but it does seem to be that defense in the NFL is trending toward the deployment of multiple players who are smaller and more athletic than they are stout and strong. What’s going to decide whether this is a trend or a fad, ultimately, is going to be how successful it is. If the college defensive ends the Steelers drafted during the 1990s – such as Joey Porter and Jason Gildon – didn’t turn out to be as successful rushing the passer as they did, we wouldn’t be looking back on that tactic so favorably.

COREY CORBIN FROM GROVE CITY, PA:

Has Antonio Brown surpassed John Stallworth and Lynn Swann as the best receiver in Steelers history?

ANSWER: Antonio Brown certainly has the statistics to back up that contention, but an argument can be made that both Lynn Swann (Super Bowl X) and John Stallworth (Super Bowl XIV) each were instrumental in games in which their teams won a Lombardi Trophy. That is the one thing Brown cannot yet say for his career. There are many definitions of “best,” and there can be an argument made that there’s more to being the best than statistics.

MIKE MASSIE FROM WAYNESVILLE, NC:

Ben Roethlisberger is the man, no question. Landry Jones is a good backup who knows the system and was no slouch at Oklahoma, and I don’t see them cutting a third-round pick (Mason Rudolph) in his first season. If Joshua Dobbs looks good in the preseason, is there any reason they don’t put him on the practice squad and hope he doesn’t get picked up? He could do other things like Kordell Stewart did.

ANSWER: Forget about resurrecting “Slash.” Kordell Stewart was a unique athlete who made that possible, and it’s misguided for fans to believe that can be recreated with any quarterback who has a few rushing yards on his college resume. As for your practice squad plan, there are a few potential flies in the ointment: One is that Joshua Dobbs would have to be waived and spend 24 hours on the waiver wire where he could be claimed by any of the other 31 teams in the NFL; another is that Dobbs, if he clears waivers, might not be inclined to accept a spot on the practice squad of the team that cut him; and the third is that based on the health of the Steelers roster going into the final cut-down there might be a need for a different position player to hold that spot on the practice squad. But before any of that can come into play, it’s only fair to wait until the competition on the fields at Saint Vincent College and then the four preseason games combine to determine which quarterbacks will be on the 53-man roster.

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