Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: May 30

Let's get to it:

NICK MOSES FROM SIMI VALLEY, CA: After watching the episode of "A Football Life" that was about James Harrison, if left me wondering who I would want starting at outside linebacker for an all-time Steelers team. I think Jack Ham is a must, so who gets the start on the other side? I'm inclined to say T.J. Watt, but Harrison was something else, and Greg Lloyd in his prime was right there, too.
ANSWER: It's always difficult to compare and rank players from different eras, and in this particular situation it becomes even more daunting when you consider that the players mentioned in your submission – Jack Ham, T.J. Watt, James Harrison, and Greg Lloyd didn't even really play the same position or in the same scheme. You refer to all of them as outside linebackers, but that's typically a position in a 4-3 base defense, and the only one of the four who actually played that position in that alignment was Ham. By the time Lloyd came into the NFL as a sixth-round pick in the 1987 NFL Draft, the Steelers already had made the switch full-time to a 3-4 alignment. In fact, the Steelers inaugural season as a 3-4 defense came in the strike-shortened 1982 season, which was Ham's final one in the NFL. And the 3-4 position that Lloyd played was barely similar to the 3-4 that Harrison and Watt played. In fact, Harrison and Watt both would be referred to today as "edge rushers" as opposed to outside linebackers.

The career statistics of the four players reflect this disparity as well. At the time of the selection of the Pro Football Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Team in 2013, of which Ham was a member, his 53 takeaways – 32 interceptions and 21 fumble recoveries – were the highest total in NFL history by a non-defensive back. In addition to the takeaways, Ham finished with 25.5 sacks in 162 career regular season games, while Watt posted 22.5 sacks in just the 17-game season of 2021. By comparison, Watt has 6 interceptions and 7 fumble recoveries for a total of 13 takeaways. Harrison's numbers are more in line with Watt's – 80.5 sacks and 33 forced fumbles, many of which were created by his pass-rushing – and while he authored that spectacular 100-yard interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII, he had just 7 regular season interceptions and 8 fumble recoveries for a total of 15 takeaways. Lloyd was not a pure edge-rusher, because for a good bit of his career he actually played middle linebacker when the Steelers went to their dime defensive alignment in passing situations, and that's reflected in him having 10 interceptions to go along with his 53.5 sacks.

Listed chronologically, Ham, Lloyd, Harrison, and Watt all were great players, with Ham's bust in Canton currently setting him a bit apart from the rest. But they all are different players with different responsibilities from different eras of the NFL, and trying to pigeon-hole them in a specific defensive alignment is impossible to do. For me, anyway.

RYAN VOGELGESANG FROM MOUNT VERNON, VA: Some once great (but disgruntled) former Steelers have recently expressed hope to retire in their Steelers jerseys. Have the Steelers ever given a one-day contract for a former player to retire as a member of the franchise?
ANSWER: In terms of the whole one-day contract thing, no. The Steelers did once allow James Harrison to announce his "first" retirement (on Sept. 5, 2014) in the media room inside the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

KEVIN BURNS FROM LAVALLETTE, NJ: Any chance the Steelers actually give Le'Veon Bell a shot for a couple of games in August? If not, would they even allow him to sign a one-day contract and retire as a member of the Steelers?
ANSWER: A "shot for a couple of games in August" for a 31-year-old running back whose most recent NFL season was in 2021 when he had 39 carries for 101 yards (2.6 average) and 2 touchdowns? Why? And as explained in the previous answer, the Steelers haven't been a team that does the one-day contract thing.

ABBY SAPHIRSTEIN FROM WINTER SPRINGS, FL: Any word on Derek Watt? Is he signing with a new team or considering retirement?
ANSWER: All I can tell you is that Derek Watt is an unrestricted free agent, as he has been since the start of the new league year back on March 15. He has not announced his retirement or that he plans to retire.

BRAD RAAB FROM CAMP HILL, PA: With the new fair catch rule on kickoffs, what is the point of a kickoff anymore? Is it just to see if the kicker will screw up and kick it out of bounds? Or is it so that there is still a miniscule chance of an on-side kick?
ANSWER: It certainly appears as though the NFL is taking steps toward eliminating kickoffs in its continuing quest to make the game as safe as possible for players, but the early reactions indicate not all players and coaches are on board. To recap, NFL owners approved a proposal allowing teams that fair-catch kickoffs and free kicks after safeties behind the 25-yard line to start on offense with the ball at the 25-yard line. The rule will go into effect for one season on a trial basis.

Owners likely responded to an NFL-generated report that said kickoff plays result in the highest rate of concussions every single year. Kicks hung inside the 5-yard line generated particular concern in the film study of injury incidences. "We can't stand by and do nothing," Jeff Miller, NFL executive vice president of communications, public affairs and policy was quoted as saying. "Sitting still and continuing to do nothing was unacceptable. And I think that's where the membership came down on this."

While the league did not provide specific data on concussion incidences in recent years, its report suggested that concussions on kickoffs charted much higher than other plays. According to that report, 19 players suffered concussions in 2022, up from 14 in 2021 and 10 in 2020. Those 19 concussions in 2022 occurred on about 2,700 kickoffs, which special teams coaches and others opposed to the new rule point out that 99.3 percent of kickoff plays were concussion-free.

Coach Andy Reid is one of the coaches who came out publicly against the rule. He told NFL Network, "My thing is, where does it stop, right? We start taking pieces and we'll see how this goes. But you don't want to take too many pieces away or you'll be playing flag football."

Rich McKay of the NFL Competition Committee said that the elimination of kickoffs isn't the immediate goal, but currently there is no guarantee the kickoff plays ultimately can be saved. "We want to keep it in the game," McKay said. "I don't know that we know we can keep it in the game. But we want to keep it in the game."

GLENN PASSAVANT FROM TECUMSEH, MI: A football rules question. What is the difference between a forward lateral and a shuttle pass. My understanding is that a shuttle pass is allowed but a forward lateral is not.
ANSWER: The correct term is shovel pass, and that's because of the way the ball is delivered. A shovel pass is executed behind the line of scrimmage, and the same action would be considered a forward lateral if it was executed beyond the line of scrimmage. As just described, a shovel pass is legal, but a forward lateral is not.

MICHAEL KOLB FROM SUWANEE, GA: Since Jim Brown's passing I've watched a lot of his great runs. It seemed to me that a lot of those came against the Steelers. Can you dig up his stats against the Steelers?
ANSWER: In 18 games vs. the Steelers, two games in each season from 1957 through 1965, Jim Brown carried 342 times for 1,985 yards (5.8 average) and 14 touchdowns, and the Browns were 12-6 in those games. His most productive season vs. the Steelers was in 1965 when he carried 49 times for 314 yards (6.4 average) and 4 touchdowns. The Browns won both of those games in 1965, and Brown ended that season by winning his third MVP Award.

JOE SWICK FROM BALTIMORE, MD: Who seems to be the best blocking wide receiver on the Steelers who is likely to make the team? How important is this for a good running game, in particular, the way the Steelers want to run the ball?
ANSWER: I would go with Miles Boykin as the best blocking wide receiver, and that's based on how he was utilized during the 2022 season. The blocking of the wide receivers typically leads to longer gains and/or runs that allow the offense to get the back to the outside and down the sideline.

FRANK FOGGIA FROM SAULT STE. MARIE, ONTARIO, CANADA: Your guess is that Mason Rudolph will round out the quarterback room, but do the Steelers keep a fourth quarterback on the practice squad? I'm thinking about Tanner Morgan.
ANSWER: If it gets to the stage of the process where it's time to form a practice squad, it will be the start of the regular season. At that point, assuming the Steelers are satisfied with their quarterback depth chart of Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky, and Mason Rudolph, using a practice squad spot on a fourth quarterback seems counterproductive to me. The reason for that is because if rookie Tanner Morgan performed well enough during training camp and the preseason to merit a spot on the practice squad, the rest of the league's teams would have access to some of that video and would be able to evaluate him for themselves. Players on a practice squad can be lured/poached by another team with the only requirement being keeping the player on the active roster for three regular season weeks. If you simply waive the guy, and you later wanted/needed to go back to Morgan as the No. 3, you could poach/lure him back as long as he's not on another active roster. So either way, if another team wants him on its roster, there's no difference between waiving him or putting him on the practice squad.

KEN WILSON FROM MILTON, FL: I have a conditioning question. A lot of in-game concussions are caused by players' heads snapping back and hitting the ground. Watching pregame stretching and conditioning drills you never see players doing wrestling neck bridges. Wouldn't strengthening their neck muscles enable players to soften the blow of their head hitting the turf?
ANSWER: Just because players aren't doing "wrestling neck bridges" during pregame warmups has nothing to do with how an NFL strength and conditioning program contains elements to strengthen the neck muscles. With all of the emphasis the NFL places on player safety, I would believe there is something more sophisticated and involved than "wrestling neck bridges" in the effort to strengthen the neck and minimize the risk of concussions.

MACK MCMACKELLROY FROM WINSTON, MT: Kenny Robinson's position is listed as "SAV" on the roster provided by What is that designation/abbreviation?
ANSWER: The roster on lists Kenny Robinson's position as "SAF." That stands for safety.