Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Nov. 7

Let's get to it:

JOHN LAPLUME FROM LAND O LAKES, FL: We have been trying to solidify the middle linebacker position since Lawrence Timmons, James Farrior, and Larry Foote left. They tried this year through free agency. Do we have a cure on the practice squad for the loss of Cole Holcomb? Why does it seem most teams in the NFL are weak at that position?
ANSWER: The Steelers had solved their inside linebacker issue when they used a No. 1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft on Ryan Shazier, but he suffered a catastrophic injury in December 2017 and never played football again. I don't believe it's realistic to expect a practice squad player to step up to the 53-man roster at this point in a season and be able to replace Cole Holcomb, a guy I believe was coming into his own as the best every down inside linebacker on this team. My guess would be that the Steelers attempt to find a way to incorporate Keanu Neal and Mark Robinson in situations in an attempt to compensate for what the defense will miss without Holcomb. And based on the way the game now is played at the NFL level, finding inside linebackers who can be stout enough against the run while also being able to cover backs and tight ends in passing situations is not an easy task. That's why so many NFL teams covet those kinds of players.

BRYCE KYBURZ FROM AUSTIN, TX: After Broderick Jones' unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the fourth quarter extra point, Chris Boswell had to kick off from the Steelers 20-yard line. As a result, the Titans' return man was able to return the kick to the Tennessee 48-yard line to provide their offense with a short field at a critical point in the game. If Boswell decided to kick the ball out of bounds on purpose to avoid any return, would the Titans have started at their 40-yard line? I don't think this is a good strategy, but in this case it would have saved the Steelers 8 yards.
ANSWER: The penalty for a kickoff going out of bounds in the field of play is 30 yards assessed from the spot of the kickoff and the ball is awarded to the offense at that spot. Since the kickoff came at the 20-yard line following the penalty, the Titans would have started at midfield if Chris Boswell's kick had gone out of bounds.

SEAN THAL FROM KAYSVILLE, UT: During the last meaningful play of the Steelers-Titans game Kwon Alexander intercepted a pass near the goal line and eventually found himself in the end zone. It appeared to me that Alexander may have had possession of the ball outside of the end zone and then his momentum carried him into the end zone. If Alexander had maintained possession of the ball outside of the end zone and his momentum carried him into the end zone, could the play have been ruled a safety?
ANSWER: In situations such as that, the player with the ball would have had to possess it and then run the ball out of the end zone and the run on his own back into the end zone for it to contain the elements where it could be ruled a safety.

JARED HONAKER FROM AFTON, VA: I felt like the 5 penalties against the Steelers on the Titans' opening drive were more than we actually committed or deserved. Even the announcers were annoyed. Was it a statement from the officials that they won't tolerate comments like Mike Tomlin made last Sunday?
ANSWER: The only statement made by the flag-happy crew working Steelers-Titans was that they approach most every game seeming to believe they are going to get graded for volume. Referee John Hussey and his crew are known for throwing a lot of flags, lowlighted by the 25 accepted penalties for 224 yards on Oct. 15 when Cleveland upset the San Francisco 49ers. And that crew's final numbers were 17 accepted penalties for 131 yards during Steelers-Titans.

DANIEL MAZENKO FROM LITITZ, PA: With the recent success of Brock Purdy and Will Levis at the quarterback position, do you see more teams starting to draft quarterbacks in the middle or late rounds in the hope of finding someone serviceable while keeping the costs of the position manageable?
ANSWER: With the recent size of Powerball jackpots, do you see more people starting to play the lottery in the hope of funding their retirement accounts while not having to contribute to a 401k to keep the cost more manageable? Because that's essentially what the 49ers did when they used a seventh-round pick on Brock Purdy, and what the Patriots did when they used a sixth-round pick on Tom Brady – they hit the lottery. And before you throw laurels at the Titans for spending just a No. 2 pick on Will Levis, don't forget that in the previous draft they had spent a No. 3 pick on Malik Willis, which when considered in total is not exactly cost effective in terms of draft capital.

MATTHEW JOHNSON FROM CASHIERS, NC: I like Coach Mike Tomlin, and the Steelers won the game last Thursday night, but against the Rams, he went for it on fourth down because he said it was one play to win the game. Wasn't Thursday night's third-and-11 with under 2 minutes remaining and the Titans only having one timeout left a "one play to win the game scenario?"
ANSWER: So you're implying that a fourth-and-1 from the Rams 39-yard line with the Steelers holding a 7-point lead carries the same amount of risk as a third-and-11 from the Pittsburgh 46-yard line with the Steelers holding a 4-point lead? To quote John McEnroe, "You CANNOT be serious."

JON WHITE FROM LANCASTER, LANCASHIRE, UK: Miles Boykin was excellent once again in chasing down punts. In a role where stats don't give a clear picture, who is the best coverage man from your time covering the team Bob? Also, a shoutout and good luck to Cole Holcomb who has been a stud this season.
ANSWER: There has been a fairly long history of Steelers players beginning their NFL careers on special teams and then going on to become starters on offense or defense. Just some of the names popping into my head are Levon Kirkland, Chad Brown, Jerry Olsavsky, Brett Keisel, James Harrison, Joey Porter, Hines Ward, and there are many others. But for the purpose of this question, I am going to point to two players whose primary contributions always were on special teams throughout their time with the team. In chronological order of their time with the Steelers, those players were Fred McAfee and Chidi Iwuoma. McAfee was a running back by trade, but he earned his money in the NFL covering kicks. He played five seasons with the Steelers and had 124 offensive touches – 93 carries and 31 receptions – but his career lasted for 10 seasons and 194 games because of his abilities on special teams. Iwuoma's career followed a similar path in that he was a defensive back by trade, but his value was on special teams and not as a returner on special teams. During the five seasons from 2001-05, Iwuoma played in 71 regular season games, and the fact he started only one of those on defense proves my point. By the way, Iwuoma is in his fourth season as a college scout for the Steelers after serving eight seasons as Pittsburgh's BLESTO scout.

ISRAEL PICKHOLTZ FROM ASHKELON, ISRAEL: So Coach Mike Tomlin said he plans to bring in officials to help avoid penalties in the future. How exactly does that work? Seems to me that if the team is paying certain officials to come in and help, there is a relationship that ought not to be allowed.
ANSWER: The officials who are brought to the UMPC Rooney Sports Complex to work Steelers' practices are either college officials or high school officials, and typically they live in the area. The only time NFL officials come to work Steelers practices are during training camp as part of the NFL program that has its officials visit all training camps to work practices and conduct "seminars" for the players and coaches about things to expect during that upcoming season.

NICHOLAS PELCHAR FROM PURCELLVILLE, VA: Do you think the Steelers might use Nick Herbig as a backup inside linebacker now that Cole Holcomb is out long-term?
ANSWER: I don't believe it's realistic or fair to ask Nick Herbig to make this kind of a position switch midway through his rookie season, especially when he has been an asset to the defense as a backup outside linebacker. Maybe some packages are created – such as a three-outside-linebacker grouping where Herbig is taught something specific that might allow him to align in a different area of the field, but asking him in November to assume the complicated role of NFL inside linebacker is just not realistic.

TONY TRUSSO FROM GORHAM, NH: Does Juju Smith-Schuster still dance on opponents' logos during warm-ups now that he's no longer a Steeler?
ANSWER: I suggest you look him up on social media and ask him that yourself.

ROY PATRICK FROM KINGSVILLE TX: On one play in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's game, the Titans left tackle clearly raised up early before the ball was snapped. He had a clear advantage against Alex Highsmith who had a great night rushing the passer. I've been noticing a lot of early starts by linemen not being called. I realize the offense has the advantage, but how can such obvious penalties not be called?
ANSWER: Are you really asking me to explain NFL officiating that has been nothing but inconsistent and arbitrary throughout this season? Or maybe I just did.