Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: May 29

Let's get to it:


Mike Tomlin said last season that he didn't think Tyler Matakevich is an every-down linebacker. Does it surprise you that Kevin Colbert talked highly of Matakevich recently, and that he's taking first-team reps in OTAs?

ANSWER: There are several things to consider here. Last year, Tyler Matakevich was a seventh-round pick who was a rookie trying to show that he belonged in the NFL, and the Steelers' idea of an every-down linebacker was Ryan Shazier. Since then, the Steelers have gotten to know Matakevich, who has gotten to understand what it takes to play inside linebacker in the NFL, and Shazier already has been ruled out for the 2018 season. I believe Matakevich can play inside linebacker in the NFL, and I also believe he will be doing that for the Steelers in 2018, possibly as part of a rotation that also could include Vince Williams and Jon Bostic. But it also would be unfair to expect Matakevich to be a three-down inside linebacker for the Steelers in the manner in which Shazier filled that role. Different players. Different skill-sets.

Matakevich can be an important part of the Steelers defense in 2018, and based on the team's 90-man roster it shouldn't surprise anyone that the general manager thinks highly of him. In fact, Kevin Colbert's assessment could be an indication of whether the Steelers see a need to add a thirtysomething veteran free agent to the mix. And finally, who is taking first-team repetitions during OTAs isn't that significant. It's just not. But if he's still running with the first group come the third game of the preseason …


With Le'Veon Bell expected to sit out of most of training camp, should we expect him to have a slow start again in the first few games as he gets back in sync with the offense? Also, would you give him the vast majority of snaps in the opener in Cleveland if James Conner or another of the running backs performs well in preseason?

ANSWER: The only person who can impact Le'Veon Bell's playing time during the regular season, in my opinion, is Le'Veon Bell. I don't care if James Conner or Stevan Ridley or Jaylen Samuels rushes for over 100 yards in every one of the four preseason games, Bell is going to have to lose the job. Call his start in 2017 a slow one, call him out of sync with the offense, whatever, but at the end of the regular season Bell was a first-team All-Pro.

If Bell does get off to a slow start this season, the Steelers will have some better options, because Conner won't be a rookie anymore and Ridley is a proven veteran. But before the team will turn to one of them, I believe Bell will have to open the door via his own play.


As a lifelong Steelers fan, I feel both Donnie Shell and L.C. Greenwood are deserving of being enshrined in Canton, but if you had to choose one of them, who would it be?

ANSWER: I believe both players deserve to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I also realize I have gone back and forth on this issue over the years. In advocating L.C. Greenwood, I believe the Steel Curtain – Dwight White, Ernie Holmes, Joe Greene, and L.C. Greenwood – is severely underrepresented in Canton. The Los Angeles Rams Fearsome Foursome, the Minnesota Vikings Purple People-Eaters, and the Dallas Cowboys Doomsday Defense all have multiple defensive lineman enshrined in Canton, but the Steelers' only representative from their defensive line is Greene. And it's not a difficult argument to make that the Steel Curtain is the most famous defensive line in NFL history.

So while I believe Greenwood absolutely, positively deserves to be elected, if I had to choose one based on individual statistics, it would be Shell. Fifty-one interceptions and 19 fumble recoveries total 70 takeaways.

Even though sacks weren't an official NFL statistic until 1982, the league did keep track of quarterbacks being tackled, with the statistic listed in each game's official play-by-play as "times thrown, yards lost attempting to pass." Based on research, Greenwood was credited with 73.5 sacks during his career, which still is third in franchise history, behind all-time leader James Harrison and then Jason Gildon.

Because I would rate takeaways over sacks, I would give the edge to Shell in terms of personal individual statistics.


If Eli Rogers doesn't return due to his injury, who takes on his role? Not just the fourth receiver role but that smaller, quick guy.

ANSWER: The player who fills the role of the slot receiver doesn't necessarily have to be someone who's small and slight of build. JuJu Smith-Schuster played some in the slot as a rookie, and nobody would every confuse him with a little guy. Rogers still is rehabbing the ACL injury that required surgery in January, and he visited the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex during the first week of OTAs to watch some on-field drills in street clothes. The Steelers have a couple of players, I believe, who could fill the role in 2018 if it's not to be Rogers, and the on-field sessions will sort things out among those candidates via competition.


Who would you say will be the Week 1 starting running back, and how does James Washington add to the wide receivers group?

ANSWER: Le'Veon Bell. To be determined.


In a recent installment of Asked and Answered, I noticed that all of the questions were submitted by fans from anywhere other than Pittsburgh. You also seem to get a large number of questions from readers in other countries, which shows the breadth of Steelers Nation. Do you purposely screen letters from native Pittsburghers to illustrate that fact?

ANSWER: I select letters based on their ability to help me educate and/or entertain the readers. Good submissions have nothing to do with geography.


To put things into perspective with Le'Veon Bell's contract situation, could you regale us with stories of how tense the negotiations had gotten with our star players on those 1970s championship teams?

ANSWER: There were several instances of difficult contract negotiations during the 1970s, but the worst of it came together in 1977. As a witness in what has come to be known as the "criminal element" trial, Chuck Noll was forced to admit under oath that some of his own players were guilty of some of the same dirty play that he had accused Raiders safety George Atkinson of practicing. One of those Steelers mentioned by Noll was Mel Blount, who on July 15, 1977 told reporters that he was suing Noll for $5 million in compensatory damages plus $1 million in punitive damages for being included in the "criminal element." Blount seethed: "There's no chance at all that I'll play for the Steelers under Noll."

Then on July 21, Jack Lambert decided not to report to training camp, because he was unhappy with the salary he was to be paid in the option year of the contract he originally signed in 1974 as a rookie from Kent State. On July 22, starting safety Glen Edwards announced that he also was unhappy with his contract. On July 28, Lambert's agent upped the ante a little bit, and this was the headline on the top of the sports page in the Pittsburgh Press: "Agent tells Rooney: Jack wants traded."

In late August, Noll named the team's captains for the upcoming season, and even this seemingly innocuous event became controversial. When word got to Lambert that he had been bypassed as a defensive captain, he voiced his disappointment publicly. Noll fired back in the media that Lambert didn't deserve to be a captain because he held out all through training camp.

In October, backup cornerback Jimmy Allen quit the team, but changed his mind the next day and came back. Then on Nov. 4, a couple of days before a game in Denver, Edwards left the team because he was unhappy with the new contract he had just signed.​