Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Nov. 12

Let's get to it:

KRIS WEINSCHENKER FROM LATROBE, PA: When Texans running back Dare Ogunbowale made a field goal last weekend, I immediately recalled that in the early/late 1970s that Steelers center Ray Mansfield at least tried to kick a field goal or a PAT. I looked through some on-line football stats sites and could find no record of it. Am I suffering from the Mandela effect?
ANSWER: The reason you couldn't find it on those football stats sites is likely because those sites do not automatically include playoff statistics in an individual player's bio. Ray Mansfield did kick 2 PATs in 1976, but those came in the playoffs – one in the Divisional Round Game in Baltimore and the other in the AFC Championship Game in Oakland. In that particular statistical category, Mansfield retired a perfect 2-for-2.

ED JOHNSON FROM GERMANTOWN, OH: I believe Franco Harris was considered a fullback during his career. In today's NFL would he be listed as a running back or as a halfback? It seems like fullbacks are mostly used as blockers today. Also, were not wide receivers once referred to either as a tight end or a split end?
ANSWER: In today's parlance, Franco Harris, whose playing weight was listed at 230, would be considered a running back, because Jerome Bettis was listed at 252 and was considered a running back, as is Derrick Henry, who is listed at 247 and is considered a running back. Prior to the all-encompassing term of wide receivers, those players were listed as split ends and flankers; and farther back in time a tight end was listed as a right end.

JEFF MAYER FROM FORT MYERS, FL: It seems now that nearly every team that wins the toss defers and kicks off. Before this became an option it seemed to me almost everyone chose to go on offense first. Why the shift in philosophy?
ANSWER: This is only a theory, but I believe it reflects how the game at the professional level has evolved. In most circumstances, NFL regular season games are decided by a handful of snaps of the football – offense, defense, special teams all included – and usually the truly decisive plays in NFL regular season football are made in the second half. When a coach elects to defer, he usually is doing it to receive the second half kickoff for an extra possession toward the end of the game.

MIKE FEDERICO FROM COLLIERVILLE, TN: Why is it such a challenge for offensive linemen to switch from one side of the line to the other (especially left tackle to right tackle or vice versa)? I understand blocking assignments change as the formations and play-calls vary but, if you know the plays, shouldn't you be able to block either side?
ANSWER: There are several reasons why it's a challenge, and I'll give them to you in reverse order. A player's stance is different on one side of the line of scrimmage as opposed to the other, and so many of the fundamentals involved are different in a way that's similar to someone who's used to eating with the fork in the left hand suddenly had to sit down at the table and put it in the right hand. Not impossible, but likely messy. And the most significant element is that while having to re-establish the muscle memory required in the job, there is a large, athletic, strong individual across the line of scrimmage with evil thoughts and intentions. I write this all the time, but here it is once again: It's not a video game; it involves real human beings with real human strengths and weaknesses; and the NFL is the highest level of the sport on earth. Fractions of a second are important.

RAY JAMES FROM WOODSTOCK, GA: Now that Cole Holcomb is out for the season, will the Steelers sign an inside linebacker, who either is still a free agent or on another team's practice squad?
ANSWER: At this stage of the regular season, and with the complexities in playing inside linebacker, I would think any signings would be players who would start off on the practice squad. Because any player signed off another team's practice squad would have to count on the 53-man roster for three games, I see the team first promoting from within so that guys already on the roster and practice squad would move up the depth chart.

DAVE SAVOLAINE FROM SILVER SPRING, MD: Where is the biggest weakness along the offensive line? It sure looks like Kenny Pickett is facing a collapsing pocket on every pass play, and that the running backs haven't had a lot of holes through which to run. How can this offensive line be improved, now and in the offseason?
ANSWER: With Broderick Jones now a starter at right tackle, I believe the Steelers have their five best offensive linemen on the field. Moving forward beyond 2023, I believe the team needs to improve at center. Not that Mason Cole is a below-the-line NFL center, but the franchise has a history of greatness and near-greatness at that position, with the more recent names fitting into one of those two categories being Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster (Hall of Fame), Dermontti Dawson (Hall of Fame), Jeff Hartings (first-team All-Pro), and Maurkice Pouncey (two-time first-team All-Pro).

KURT RINGELING FROM CHARLOTTE, NC: I was kind of hoping that Coach Tomlin would elaborate more on Cole Holcomb's surgery at his press conference on Tuesday. It only has been referred to as a serious knee injury. What exactly was the surgery to repair? Did he need surgery to repair both his MCL and ACL? The only information that I heard was he should have a full recovery. I know that Cole only has a one-year contract and there's a good chance he will never take another snap for the Steelers, but I was wondering what is his recovery time?
ANSWER: In cases such as this one, the public doesn't have a right to know the explicit details of a surgical procedure – and the reason I know you're not a doctor asking for medical details is because doctors know that kind of information is protected by law. That's United States law, not an NFL point of emphasis. And nobody actually knows the recovery time following any kind of knee surgery on a professional athlete, and the public has no right to be provided with what actually would be a guess. Cole Holcomb signed a three-year contract with the Steelers on March 16, 2023, which means his current deal takes him through the 2025 NFL season, which is two years away, not one. Hope that helps.

ALEX NESTURRICK FROM ODESSA, TX: Why wasn't there a Digest Player of Week for the Titans game?
ANSWER: There was a story on the Steelers Digest Player of the Week, and it appeared on at 12:10 a.m. on Nov. 3. Sorry you missed it, but I'm including the complete story below.

Inside Linebacker

Sometimes it's not about the cumulative. Sometimes the outcome of the game comes down to a single snap of the ball, which makes the result of that specific play the difference between winning and losing.

With 11 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Steelers were protecting a 20-16 lead, but Tennessee had the ball at the Pittsburgh 19-yard line. It was third-and-5, and a touchdown there would have sent the Steelers home with a loss and silenced the 65,969 paying customers at Acrisure Stadium.

Titans quarterback Will Levis attempted his 39th pass of the night, and he tried to get it to tight end Josh Whyle down the middle of the field. But before the ball arrived at Levis' target, Kwon Alexander stepped in front and intercepted the ball just inside the end zone. The touchback gave the Steelers the ball, and one take-a-knee later they had a victory that raised their record to 5-3. For that huge play on the weightiest down of the game, Alexander is the Steelers Digest Player of the Week.

Also considered were Jaylen Warren, who had 113 yards from scrimmage on 14 touches – 88 yards rushing and 25 yards receiving; Diontae Johnson, who caught 7 passes for 90 yards (12.9 average) and a 3-yard touchdown that provided the Steelers with the decisive points in this victory and was his first touchdown since the 2021 Wild Card Round loss in Kansas City; and Alex Highsmith, who had 4 tackles, including 2 for loss, plus 2 sacks, and 5 hits on the quarterback.

RICK JONES FROM CABOT, AR: How are players nominated for inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? I was looking at the long list of names and came across Joey Porter, James Farrior, and James Harrison. Certainly all three men are among the greatest Steelers linebackers of all time, in my opinion. So, I wondered first, what criteria is used to nominate someone? And who does the nominating? And who does the voting to whittle that number down to the final inductees?
ANSWER: All of the information for the answer to your question is taken from With respect to nominations, "Any fan may nominate any Player, Coach or Contributor who has been connected with pro football simply by writing to the Pro Football Hall of Fame at 2121 George Halas Drive NW, Canton, OH 44702. The only restriction is that a player and coach must have been retired at least five years before he can be considered. There is no mandatory retirement period for a contributor before he may be considered. Every nomination of an eligible candidate received will be processed and forwarded to the Hall of Fame's Selection Committee."

When it comes to the selection process, "The Pro Football Hall of Fame's 50-person Selection Committee is charged with the vital task of continuing to ensure that new enshrinees are the finest the game has produced … The Committee consists of one media representative from each pro football city — with two from New York and two from Los Angeles, as those cities each have two teams in the National Football League. There are 17 at-large Selectors, who are active members of the media or persons intricately involved in professional football, and one representative of the Pro Football Writers of America. All appointments are open-ended and approved annually by a majority vote of the Hall of Fame's Board of Trustees.

"Each year, the Selection Committee is polled three times before the Final List of Modern-Era Player Nominees is determined. That Initial Preliminary List of nominations is compiled and sent to the Hall of Fame's Selection Committee by March 1. The list is provided so that the Selectors can study the nominees and then request the addition of any other candidates that may have been overlooked. Included on this list are first-time eligible candidates who have strong enough credentials to give them even a remote chance of eventual Hall of Fame election. Also included are all other eligible candidates nominated by any person. Additionally, those Modern-Era Player nominees from the previous year's final preliminary list who received at least four votes in the balloting to determine the Modern-Era Player Finalists automatically are included on this preliminary list.

"The Second Preliminary List is sent to the Selectors during the month of July and includes all the nominees named on the initial list plus any additional nominations received from any source since the first list was compiled. The Third Preliminary List of eligible candidates is sent to the Selection Committee during the month of September for the purpose of the selection of the Modern-Era Player Semifinalists for election. From the Third Preliminary List, the Selection Committee is asked to vote for 25 Modern-Era Player Nominees who become Semifinalists for election.

"The Final Preliminary List of 25 Modern-Era Player Nominees plus all ties (if any) for the 25th position shall be distributed to the Selection Committee during the month of November for the purpose of the selection of 15 Modern-Era Player Finalists. The 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th Finalists are the recommended candidates of the Coach/Contributor and Senior Committees.

"In advance of the Hall of Fame Selection Meeting, the Selectors are provided detailed biographies on each of the 18 Finalists. At the annual meeting, each Finalist is thoroughly discussed by the committee before a series of reduction votes are taken. First, the Coach, Contributor and Senior Finalists are discussed and voted on for election. They must receive the same 80 percent affirmative vote as the Modern-Era Player Finalists. Next, there is a vote that reduces the Modern-Era Player Finalists list from 15 to 10. Following that, a vote is taken to reduce the list from 10 to 5 names. The five remaining Modern-Era Player Finalists for Hall of Fame election are voted on individually (yes or no) for membership."

GENE GREY FROM MORENO VALLEY, CA: Do you think that Kenny Pickett has the ability to call his own plays or change a play called in the huddle? Did he do that at Pitt?
ANSWER: I have no idea whether Kenny Pickett was allowed to call his own plays or audible out of called plays during his time at Pitt, and it really has no significance to now because professional football is infinitely more complex than the brand played at the NCAA level. My personal opinion is that Pickett is still so early in his development as an NFL starting quarterback that he should be concentrating on executing what's called. Maybe adjusting the protection at the line of scrimmage is doable for a quarterback with his level of experience, but he is not Ben Roethlisberger and shouldn't be expected to be.

SAQUESHA ELLIOT FROM PITTSBURGH, PA: With how Kenny Pickett has been playing do you think the Steelers could potentially sign a proven playoff winner like Nick Foles to take over if we make the playoffs?
ANSWER: Nick Foles? That's a joke, right? Must be a joke because I cannot stop laughing.

TIM DOWNEY FROM DERRY, PA: From watching almost every Steelers game it appears that Damontae Kazee seems to have a positive impact on the game, either with an interception or a tackle on third down that forces the opponent to punt. From your perspective why is he not used more, perhaps as the slot corner?
ANSWER: Damontae Kazee is a safety, and his skill-set is conducive to that position. It's not automatically transferrable to cornerback, and especially to slot cornerback, which is a vastly different position even than outside cornerback. As I wrote as part of an answer to a previous question in this edition of Asked and Answered: This is not a video game. Real-life players are not interchangeable.