Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: May 9

Let's get to it:

STEPHAN ROSENQUIST FROM HAMILTON, OH:
Are the Steelers still interested in signing Alejandro Villanueva to a multi-year deal this year or do you know if they are planning on keeping him at the league minimum? I remember reading a report saying they were interested, but haven't heard any updates since the NFL Combine.

ANSWER: I believe the Steelers' preference would be to sign Alejandro Villanueva to a longer-term contract than the one-year exclusive rights free agent deal that his level of experience otherwise mandates. The time between now and the start of training camp would be the window for this to happen.

JOHN TUCCERI FROM MOON TOWNSHIP, PA:
Why would the Steelers sign Jake Rodgers?

ANSWER: The Steelers didn't draft any offensive linemen, and the only undrafted rookie offensive lineman they signed was guard Ethan Cooper. As explained in the previous question, Alejandro Villanueva is unsigned as of today, which means the Steelers have only four offensive tackles on their 90-man roster – Marcus Gilbert, Jerald Hawkins, Brian Mihalik, and Keavon Milton. Having six offensive tackles in camp (adding Villanueva and Rodgers to these four) is a good working number, because you don't want to over-work the veterans, and you always have to account for the possibility of injuries along the way.

ED DAVIS FROM RICHMOND, VA:
Any thoughts on what contracts may get done this summer?

ANSWER: My guess would be the two contracts with the most potential to get done are longer-term deals for Alejandro Villanueva and Le'Veon Bell.

NICK SCIULLI FROM CINCINNATI, OH:
In your opinion, who are some of the biggest draft busts in Steelers history? I always think of Limas Sweed, but I'm a little younger though, only 24 years old.

ANSWER: Limas Sweed was a disappointment, but as a second-round pick, I don't believe he even comes close to being among the Steelers biggest draft busts in their history. Remember, the Steelers went 40 years in the NFL before winning as much as a division title. In their long history, the Steelers made first-round draft choices who never signed a contract with them – Doc Blanchard, their No. 1 pick in 1946, chose a military career instead, as one example. In 1966, the Steelers made West Virginia running back Dick Leftridge the third overall pick in the first round, and his entire NFL career lasted four games, in which he had eight carries for 17 yards. In 1962, the Steelers made Ohio State running back Bob Ferguson the fifth overall pick of the first round, and his career lasted 20 games, in which he carried 66 times for 209 yards (3.2 average).

Sometimes, even when the Steelers did the right thing in the draft, they subsequently messed it up. In 1957, they passed on two Hall of Fame players – running back Jim Brown and offensive tackle Jim Parker – and picked Purdue quarterback Len Dawson. Now Dawson himself would be inducted into the Hall of Fame, but it was as a result of what he did as a quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, because the Steelers traded him to the Cleveland Browns after acquiring Bobby Layne in a 1958 trade with the Detroit Lions. Then there was 1962, when the Steelers traded a few future draft picks to the Chicago Bears for a 32-year-old oft-injured receiver named Harlon Hill, whose entire career with the Steelers then lasted seven games during which he caught seven passes for 101 yards before retiring. One of those future picks traded for Hill was the Steelers' No. 1 in 1965, which ended up being the third overall, which the Bears used on some linebacker from Illinois named Dick Butkus. If the Steelers had kept the pick and didn't like Butkus, there was a running back from Kansas named Gale Sayers who also was available.

In 1975, the Steelers drafted a Michigan safety named Dave Brown with the last pick of the first round – 26th overall – but they left him unprotected in the 1976 expansion draft, and Brown was picked up by Seattle, and over the next 14 seasons he started 203 games for the Seahawks and Green Bay Packers in the process of finishing his NFL career with 62 interceptions and 12 fumble recoveries.

Limas Sweed doesn't come close to some of these disasters, and you should be happy you're too young to remember them.

Phase two of the Steelers offseason workout is underway.

ED MEADOWS FROM RICHMOND, VA:
Among the nine (for now) undrafted free agents, are there any that you consider notable.

ANSWER: With the caveat that not one of these guys has yet to take the field in an NFL environment, I would point to tight end Scott Orndoff, who played his college football at Pitt. Orndoff is 6-foot-4, 253 pounds, and he played 33 games over his four seasons at Pitt, and he finished with 58 catches for 897 yards (15.5 average) and 13 touchdowns. In 2016, Orndoff caught 35 passes for 579 yards (16.5 average) and five touchdowns. The Steelers didn't draft a tight end, and Orndoff was the only one they signed as an undrafted rookie, and he did a lot of blocking in college. This excerpt is from a pre-draft evaluation written about him: "Blocking tight end whose yards per catch numbers do not represent his vertical ability. Orndoff will struggle to get open, but can make contested catches and function as a play-action threat near the end zone. He does have the size and desire to become an NFL blocker who might improve a rushing attack that is soft on the edge."

ED WALTERS FROM WEST GROVE, PA:
Can you tell me if the reason the team has released seven or so players since the draft is a function of allowable roster size and a need to stay below a certain number as they sign undrafted free agents and (presumably) their draft picks? And if it is a roster size issue, can you tell us what number the roster needs to be at by what dates? The notices on this site never really explain why the players are being released, and I was wondering if it was number-related, or if the team is just moving on and wants to give them a chance to go elsewhere?

ANSWER: The roster limit for NFL teams at this stage of the calendar is 90 players, and the Steelers did have to get down to that number after making their eight draft picks and adding their crop of undrafted rookies. Just to try to help you understand, when an NFL team cuts a player, there is no reason given. When Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert come to these decisions, they don't categorize them in the way you describe. The bottom line in cutting any player is a belief that he isn't as good as the alternatives, and that's true even in cases when the team needs to reduce its roster to a specific number.

CASEY MYERS FROM ODESSA, TX:
Any intel on which throwback the Steelers will wear this year?

ANSWER: The Steelers will not have a throwback jersey for the 2017 season. They will wear their color rush uniforms for the Thursday, Nov. 16 game against the Titans at Heinz Field.

WILLIAM WEYERS FROM HUNTERSVILLE, NC:
What is the address where I can write to Steelers players? I saw the address once. Just help this 82-year-old man, will you?

ANSWER: Since you asked so nicely: 3400 S. Water Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15203. Clip and save.

TYLER RAMSEY FROM GROVE CITY, PA:
After a mediocre collegiate career in West Virginia's spread offense (a career that started off in promising fashion at Pitt), what are the chances Rushel Shell becomes the No. 3 running back behind Le'Veon Bell and James Conner with a return to a downhill running style?

ANSWER: If Rushel Shell is going to earn a spot on the Steelers' 53-man roster, he better find a way to become a significant contributor on special teams. My guess at this time would be that the Steelers will keep four backs on their regular season roster, and barring something unforeseen Le'Veon Bell, James Conner, and Roosevelt Nix are three of those four.

BOB STAUB FROM FT WAYNE, IN:
Do rookie free agents come to the rookie minicamp weekend in May?

ANSWER: Yes.

BRIAN ROACH FROM BLACKWOOD, NJ:
Just in case you haven't been told recently: you are mean. How dare you point out the stupidity of what people ask? How can you be so cruel as to mock them for their ineptitude? Can't you just pat them all gently on the head and tell them to go have a cookie? Oh the humanity! Just kidding. Please continue to provide a voice of reason amidst the chorus of crazy.

ANSWER: Maybe they expect a participation trophy, too.


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