Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Sept. 1

Let's get to it:

GIO CALABRO FROM EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, NJ: I was just a young child in the 1970s during the Steelers Super Bowl wins and wasn't interested in player details at that age. My question is what made an undersized middle linebacker named Jack Lambert so effective? Besides his intimidating presence what other attributes made him a Hall of Fame player?
ANSWER: Jack Lambert came to the Steelers as a second-round pick in 1974, and the initial belief was that he would start out as an outside linebacker in the team's 4-3. But as a result of Henry Davis' career-ending neck injury, the Steelers decided to look at Lambert in the middle. As a player, Jack Lambert was smart, instinctive, aggressive, athletic, and rather than try to make him something he was not – Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke were the premier middle linebackers of that era and weighed 245 and 235 pounds, respectively – the Steelers deployed Lambert in ways to maximize his assets. As an example, Lambert never fared particularly well in the Oklahoma drill, because he usually was matched against Mike Webster who enjoyed a marked advantage in strength and bulk, and so the Steelers did what they could to minimize the occasions when Lambert would find himself in a one-on-one test of strength vs. bigger offensive linemen. Lambert finished his career with 28 interceptions and was deployed in coverage in ways that were groundbreaking for middle linebackers at the time, and he was able to flourish in the middle of the defense despite weighing less than 220 pounds because he had Joe Greene and Ernie Holmes in front of him, which occupied opposing offensive linemen and often allowed him to roam freely and find the football.

LEE JOHNSON FROM MIDLAND, VA: When a team cuts down to 53, can the team tell the players they plan on putting them on the practice squad or is that against the rules?
ANSWER: The first thing to understand is that a team cannot "put" players on the practice squad; players must be "signed" to the practice squad, which indicates some form of agreement between the sides and freedom for the players. If a player has fewer than four years in the NFL, he is waived and not cut, and waived players are subject to the waiver wire. Any player claimed on waivers must play for the claiming team or not play in the NFL, but players claimed on waivers must be added to the 53-man roster. And if a player has the choice between being on an active roster vs. a practice squad, the difference in salary – approximately $52,000 per week on the active roster vs. a maximum of $19,900 per week on the practice squad – makes any advance knowledge a moot point. So prior knowledge takes a backseat to the realities of the cold hard cash.

RAFAEL GARCÍA FROM CIUDAD DE MÉXICO, MÉXICO: Who else was interviewed by the Steelers before they hired Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin?
ANSWER: The finalists during the process that led to the hiring of Bill Cowher in January 1992 included Joe Greene, Kevin Gilbride, Dave Wannstedt, and Cowher; the finalists that led to the hiring of Mike Tomlin in January 2007 included Ken Whisenhunt, Ron Rivera, Russ Grimm, and Tomlin.

KENT WEBB FROM GREENSBORO, NC: Why are the Steelers still holding onto Mason Rudolph? I thought it was understood he is not the guy going forward, so why not trade him and get something for him while the getting is good?
ANSWER: I know you're not too young to remember the 2019 season, but allow me to refresh your memory anyway. On the day following the 2019 opener, the Steelers opted to trade Joshua Dobbs to the Jaguars for a fifth-round draft pick, elevate second-year pro Mason Rudolph to the role of backup to Ben Roethlisberger and then add a No. 3 quarterback who was suspected would spend most of the ensuing games on the inactive list. But at halftime of the next game, Roethlisberger was done for the year with torn ligaments in his elbow, a totally inexperienced Rudolph was the starter, and the Steelers would have to turn to Devlin Hodges to be Rudolph's backup. Suddenly, a guy who was undrafted and then unsigned during the period when teams typically add 10-to-15 undrafted rookies to their rosters was one snap away from playing quarterback for the Steelers in regular season games. The Steelers "got something for Dobbs," and ended up having to start a tryout quarterback in six regular season games. This summer, had the Steelers traded Rudolph to "get something for him," and if there then was an injury to either Mitch Trubisky or Kenny Pickett, the team would have been looking at 2019 all over again. And with Rudolph entering the final season of his contract in 2022, no team would've been willing to part with much to acquire him in a trade knowing he could become an unrestricted free agent in 2023. The far wiser approach for the Steelers, in my opinion, was to keep Rudolph as insurance because his 2022 salary is a very cap-friendly $3 million and then should he leave as an unrestricted free agent next year he would go into the compensatory draft pick formula with the possibility of the Steelers "getting" more for him that way than they would've in a trade.

KURT WINEMAN FROM MEBANE, NC: Both of the following rookies have played well in the preseason. Who do you think cracks the starting lineup first during the season, Kenny Pickett or Mark Robinson?
ANSWER: My hope is that neither starts a regular season game in 2022, because if they do it will mean there have been either injuries or poor performance at their respective positions of quarterback and inside linebacker. And remember, an NFL regular season is not a time "to see what the rookie can do."

SEAN LANHAM FROM ELM CITY, NC: The first thing that caught my eye looking at the release of our initial 53-man roster for this season was that we decided to keep seven wide receivers. What are your thoughts on why this was the decision instead of going with the expected six?
ANSWER: Evidently, Calvin Austin III's injury is going to sideline him into the regular season, and there's a chance he even might have to be placed on injured reserve for a while. In order for the Steelers to be able to put him on short-term injured reserve, he first has to be on the initial 53-man roster. So that was a procedural hoop to jump through. Also, Miles Boykin will be one of the gunners on the punt team, and special teams is an important role for players on the lower rungs of the depth chart. And because there always is roster turnover in the days immediately following the cut-down to 53, there's always the chance the Steelers will be down to six wide receivers by the time this gets posted on

BOB WOBRAK FROM LANCASTER, PA: I assume Calvin Austin III will go on the short term injured reserve list. How long do the Steelers have to assign him, and then sign Tyler Vaughns? I thought Vaughns would make the 53-man roster after his play in preseason.
ANSWER: Players have to be on the initial 53-man roster for 24 hours before they can be moved to the injured reserve list. In the spring, the NFL tweaked its IR rules to the following: The new rule is that a player must miss at least four games after going on IR before he can return. But teams can now bring back as many as eight players from IR over the course of a season, and in an even bigger change, teams can bring back a particular player twice (it used to be a player could only return once from IR). If a player comes back twice, it counts as two of the team's eight allotted slots. Since the Steelers kept seven wide receivers on their initial 53-man roster, the move of Calvin Austin III to injured reserve would leave them with six, and I don't believe they'll add another to get to seven. My guess is that Tyler Vaughns will be signed to the practice squad if the Steelers want to continue to do business with him this season, or possibly claimed by another team and added to its 53-man roster.

RICHARD SCHNEIDER FROM HARRISBURG, PA: Offensive lineman Jesse Davis was acquired from Minnesota for what was reported as a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2025 NFL Draft. How exactly does that work?
ANSWER: It's actually pretty straightforward. While negotiating the terms of the trade, the teams agreed to a condition under which the Steelers would compensate the Vikings for acquiring Jesse Davis. An example of a condition attached to a trade could be something such as the player has to remain on the active roster for the entire regular season. Then if the player meets the agreed-upon condition, the Vikings get the draft pick. If he doesn't meet the condition, the Vikings get nothing.

BOOKER BLEDSOE FROM RANCHO CUCAMONGA, CA: I grew up with the Steelers of the 1960s. Fortunately I've lived long enough to see the great success we've had since then. Two players I remember as stars were John Henry Johnson and "Big Daddy" Lipscomb. How did they finish their careers? Was Lipscomb responsible for the famous photo of a beaten and bloodied Y.A. Tittle?
ANSWER: John Henry Johnson entered the NFL as a No. 2 pick by the Steelers in the 1953 NFL Draft, but he instead signed with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. After one year there, Johnson signed with the San Francisco 49ers, and he also had a stint with the Detroit Lions before landing back with the Steelers in 1960 via trade. It was in Pittsburgh where Johnson enjoyed his best seasons. He rushed for nearly twice as many yards with the Steelers (4,381) as he did with the 49ers and Lions combined (2,196), and he scored 26 touchdowns in Pittsburgh to 19 in Detroit and San Francisco combined. After the 1964 season, during which Johnson rushed for 1,048 yards (4.4 average) and 7 touchdowns, injuries effectively ended his career. In 1965, Johnson played in just one game and had three carries for 11 yards, and in 1966, at 36 years old, he ended with the AFL's Houston Oilers, where he had 70 carries for 226 yards (3.2 average) and 3 touchdowns. Johnson was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987, and he died on June 3, 2011 at the age of 81.

Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb never played college football, but instead enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating high school. After his stint in the military, he signed with the Los Angeles Rams and played there for three seasons, and then he played four seasons with the Baltimore Colts, where he was part of NFL Championship teams in 1958 and 1959. Lipscomb was traded to the Steelers in 1961 and played his final two seasons in Pittsburgh. Lipscomb died in Baltimore on May 10, 1963 at the age of 31 under suspicious circumstances. The famous photo of a bloodied Y.A. Tittle kneeling on the Pitt Stadium turf was taken on Sept. 20, 1964 during a 27-24 victory over the New York Giants. The Steelers player responsible for how Tittle looked in that iconic image was defensive end John Baker.

ZEKE PORTA FROM LOUISVILLE, KY: When a player gets cut on Tuesday how does the media find out? I know the Steelers released a list of the final cuts before 4 p.m., but I saw ESPN insiders/reporters tweeting out players getting cut before the team even announced it early in the day.
ANSWER: We live in the age of social media, and player agents have Twitter accounts as do many of their clients. Often, as soon as a player and his agent are notified of a pending release, one of them could either reach out to a friendly media member or two and spread the news, or sometimes that agent might just tweet out the information to everyone who follows him or her. With social media, there are no secrets anymore, at least not for long.