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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: May 4

Let's get to it:

MIKE FOSTER FROM EWA BEACH, HI: Bill Shakespeare, who was the first draft pick in the history Art Rooney Sr.'s franchise, never played for the Steelers despite being drafted? He chose to pursue his life's work early then. What did he end up doing?
ANSWER: Bill Shakespeare was the third player selected in the inaugural NFL Draft, which was held in 1936. Philadelphia picked Jay Berwanger first overall, but the Eagles traded his rights to the Chicago Bears because they didn't believe they could pay Berwanger the $1,000 per game he wanted. Berwanger couldn't come to a contract arrangement with Bears Owner George Halas, and he never did play football and instead became a part-time coach while working at a Chicago rubber company. Alabama's Riley Smith was the second overall pick, by the Boston Redskins, and he ended up playing three NFL seasons for that franchise, which moved to Washington in 1937. Shakespeare played his college football at Notre Dame, where he was a halfback and a punter from 1933-35. His claim to fame came in 1935 when he threw the game-winning touchdown pass as time expired in the Fighting Irish's victory over Ohio State. That game was voted the best game in the first 100 years of college football. Instead of playing professional football, Shakespeare ended up taking a job selling power tools.

TIMBO MASON FROM MEBANE, NC: As the draft progressed, I started looking at quarterbacks available either to draft in a late round or sign as a free agent. It didn't seem like anyone stood out. Do you see them signing an experienced free agent quarterback to come in to provide an extra arm during training camp?
ANSWER: I don't see the Steelers going the veteran route to add a quarterback now, mainly because I don't believe they are interested in spending the money it would require to sign one. And it's important to remember that the quarterbacks they're looking for at this stage are bottom-of-the-depth chart guys who would at best be competing for the No. 3 spot, because Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky are entrenched as the starter and backup, respectively. The Steelers signed Tanner Morgan as an undrafted free agent, so he is the third guy on the depth chart right now. Morgan (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) played in 51 games over 5 college seasons for Minnesota, and he completed 62.2 percent of his passes for 9,454 yards, with 65 touchdowns and 32 interceptions. The Steelers also extended an invitation to rookie minicamp to former Clemson and Northwestern quarterback Hunter Johnson. He started his college career as a five-star prospect, but after two stints at Clemson and another at Northwestern, Johnson was never able to secure a steady starting job at either school. If Johnson puts together a decent showing during the May 12-15 rookie minicamp, it's possible the Steelers could offer him a contract to join the team as the fourth quarterback on the roster. If the Steelers offer, and Johnson accepts, I believe that will close the book on quarterbacks for the team's 90-man training camp roster.

MIKE ZEKIR FROM MARIANNA, PA: It's nice that the Steelers bring in the first-round pick to meet the coaches and tour the city. Do they do that for any other draft picks or free agents?
ANSWER: In the past, the Steelers have brought other draft picks into town in addition to the No. 1 selection, but it often came down to where the draft pick might be and the ease of getting him from there and into Pittsburgh in a timely and simple manner. This year, as an example, Joey Porter Jr. – the Steelers' second-round pick – came to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, but that was a rather simple thing to do since he and his family live less than a one-hour drive from the practice facility.

MICHAEL CHIPPAS FROM SOUTH BEND, IN: Who was Pittsburgh's greatest undrafted rookie of all time? Who are this year's undrafted rookies?
ANSWER: There are two players who signed with the Steelers as undrafted rookies who then went on to put together careers that ended with them being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Cornerback Jack Butler was signed as an undrafted rookie from St. Bonaventure in 1951, and in 104 games with the Steelers he had 52 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries for a total of 62 takeaways. A three-time first-team All-Pro, Butler still is second on the franchise's all-time interceptions list – Mel Blount is the all-time leader with 57 – and he was a part of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2012. Strong safety Donnie Shell was signed as an undrafted rookie from South Carolina State in 1974, and in 201 games with the Steelers he had 51 interceptions and 19 fumble recoveries for a total of 70 takeaways. A three-time first-team All-Pro, Shell won 4 Super Bowl rings with the Steelers, and he still is third on the franchise's all-time interceptions list with 51. Shell was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2020.

As for the undrafted rookies added after the 2023 NFL Draft, the following 7 players have agreed to terms:
• Jordan Byrd, WR/RS (San Diego State)
• Monte Pottebaum, FB (Iowa)
• Tanner Morgan, QB (Minnesota)
• B.T. Potter, K (Clemson)
• David Perales, LB (Fresno State)
• James Nyamwaya, DE (Merrimack)
• Trevor Downing, C (Iowa State)

BILL CLARK FROM KINGS MOUNTAIN, NC: While watching the draft, I believed our Steelers were getting good value picks. They have improved their depth at a lot of positions this offseason. Do you think they have done enough at inside linebacker?
ANSWER: The issue here is that at this point not enough is known about how many "inside linebackers" or "inside-linebacker-capable" players the Steelers already have on their roster. A few of the names are obvious – UFA signings Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts, plus second-year pro Mark Robinson. But as one example, where does Keanu Neal fit into this group? Who will emerge as the slot cornerback(s)? Will they factor into some of the "inside linebacker" responsibilities in certain situations? I understand fans have questions, but so many of the questions have no definitive answers at this time, and it's part of the plan to have no definitive answers at this time.

Take last year's Steelers defense: There's no way the coaches knew in May how they were going to scheme and adjust into becoming the unit that allowed 17 points or fewer in each of the final 7 games. Some of the plan is going to end up being opponent specific, and there's no certainty now into how those opponents are going to deploy their personnel. Some of the plan will end up a result of some trial and error, because sometimes the oblong ball just bounces funny. Luck is always a factor. How the Steelers try to develop their available personnel into a group that develops enough versatility and compatibility to play the kind of situational football NFL offenses force you to be prepared to play will be an evolving situation.

JIM ANDERSON FROM TOLEDO, OHIO: In signing undrafted rookie free agents at the conclusion of the draft, is it a race to the phone to sign them before another team does?
ANSWER: Yes, it pretty much is a free-for-all. Also, teams have to depend upon relationships with agents in having initial agreements result in contracts actually being signed, because there have been occasions when a team believes it has an agreement with a player only to learn that player ended up signing a contract with a different team. That doesn't happen often, but it does happen.

JOHN WORTH FROM BOCA RATON, FL: I'm always reading about a player's height and length. What's the difference?
ANSWER: A player's height is measured from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head. A player's length also takes into consideration arm length and wingspan.

STEVEN GRAY FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: The last question in the May 2 edition of Asked and Answered dealt with a player being drafted to a team he didn't like and not showing up for training camp. I understand if that were to happen then he would need to sit out the whole season. As a follow-up question, if a player did that then would he be considered a "free agent" after sitting out that season?
ANSWER: No, that player would not be a free agent. He would have to re-enter the draft the following year.

COREY WISE FROM WATERFORD, PA: Pittsburgh didn't draft a wide receiver in this year's draft. When was the last time the Steelers didn't draft a wide receiver in the Super Bowl era?
ANSWER: Not that long ago. In 2021, the Steelers made 9 draft picks and none of them were wide receivers.

HOWIE PFEIFER FROM GILBERT, AZ: I kept hearing the term "Diaper Dandy" during the draft. Is this an NFL term or is it a Tomlinism? And what basically does it mean?
ANSWER: Not a basketball fan, are you? "Diaper dandy" is a phrase coined by Dick Vitale to describe talented, freshman college basketball players. When used in the context of the NFL Draft, it referred to a talented, young football player.

WARREN NOGUCHI FROM HONOLULU, HI: I noticed the Steelers asked the punter from Rutgers to come for a tryout. I see he also is going to Kansas City for a tryout. Do these undrafted players have the option to try-out for an unlimited amount of teams?
ANSWER: Let's begin with this: The "punter from Rutgers" is Adam Korsak, the winner of the Ray Guy Award as college football's top punter last year. Korsak was undrafted after a season in which he punted 75 times and statistically was the best punter in college football by a wide margin. Last season, Korsak punted 75 times and averaged 44.0 per kick. During his five seasons at Rutgers, he punted 349 times for a 43.9-yard average. Rookies who are undrafted and unsigned can participate in more than one NFL tryout camp, but all 32 teams must have their tryout camps either on the weekend of May 5-8 or the weekend of May 12-15, and so attending two would likely be the maximum based on that time frame. All NFL teams are permitted to hold one 3-day tryout camp, and there are eligibility restrictions that can make it difficult for teams to be able to fill out rosters for their on-field workouts. That's why players can attend more than one tryout camp.