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Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Sept. 21

Let's get to it:

DONNIE BROWN FROM VAN BUREN, ME: George Pickens is a specimen. How in the heck was he not a first-round pick?
ANSWER: Coming out of Hoover High School in Alabama, George Pickens was rated a four-star prospect, the No. 6 WR nationally, the No. 54 prospect nationally, and the No. 5 prospect in Alabama by, and he decided to play his college football at the University of Georgia. Pickens made an instant impact as a freshman and after the season the SEC's coaches voted him to the 2019 SEC All-Freshman Team, and he also shared Georgia's Offensive Newcomer of the Year Award. Pickens had 49 catches for 727 yards (14.8 average) and 8 touchdowns after playing in all 14 games with two starts in 2019. In his sophomore season of 2020, which was impacted by the Covid pandemic, Pickens started all eight games on Georgia's schedule and led the Bulldogs with 8 touchdowns on 36 catches for 513 yards (14.2 average). But then in March 2021 during a non-contact spring practice on campus, Pickens tore the ACL in his knee and required surgery. Normally a season-ending injury, Pickens attacked his rehabilitation and returned to play in the last four games of the team's national championship season during which he caught 5 passes for 107 yards (21.4 average). In the National Championship Game, Pickens made a spectacular 52-yard catch to help the Bulldogs win their first national championship since 1980. Because Pickens had won a championship at Georgia with the rest of the players in his recruiting class, he made the decision to enter the 2022 NFL Draft, where he was projected to be a second-round pick, and it was during the preparation for that draft when the Steelers got an up-close, in-person look at Pickens during Georgia's Pro Day.

Here's what General Manager Kevin Colbert would say about that and its impact on the Steelers' decision to select Pickens in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft: "George Pickens is a very, very talented young man. He suffered an ACL injury last spring. He fought his way back, and it was very impressive. Sometimes players in those situations, they just shut it down, get healthy and prepare for the draft. He prepared to help Georgia down the stretch, and they used him in certain packages in their last few games and into the playoffs, and then in the championship game he made a big play. It was impressive to us how he responded, and instead of letting that injury put him on the shelf, he fought through it and became a National Champion. We felt really comfortable with where he was with the rehab at his Pro Day, which came a couple of months removed from the National Championship Game. (His performance at his Pro Day) was exceptional. He did a lot of things that we thought he would have been doing had he been healthy last season, so we're very encouraged about that."

MICHAEL GREEN FROM MIAMI, FL: How is possible that Deshaun Watson was not ejected from Monday night's game for pushing an official? Or at least penalized.
ANSWER: Making any kind of contact with an official – shove, push, bump, whatever – is cause for immediate ejection. That clearly happened at the end of the play in the Steelers bench area when Watson was penalized for grabbing Kwon Alexander's facemask, and why he wasn't ejected is a question for the powers that be in the NFL office in New York City. The NFL since has answered the question of why Watson was not ejected: "In the judgment of the officials, the contact did not rise to the level of a foul. The officials are called upon to maintain order on the field, and sometimes while performing those duties, there is inadvertent contact between players and officials."

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk offered an interesting perspective on the NFL's response: "The rule doesn't have an 'inadvertent contact' exception. If a player is shoving people in his immediate vicinity and inadvertently shoves an official, that's still a violation. Even if there is an 'inadvertent contact' exception, what about the contact was inadvertent? An official was trying to push Watson in a direction he didn't want to go, so Watson eventually pushed the official away … The easy explanation is that the NFL didn't want to deprive one team of its starting quarterback during a prime-time, standalone game. Last year, the NFL expressly cited the link between the availability of starting quarterbacks and high TV ratings in explaining the hair trigger for roughing the passer fouls."

LINDA WOODS FROM MYRTLE BEACH, SC: I hated seeing Nick Chubb's injury in the game Monday night. I've seen former players and Browns fans saying Minkah Fitzpatrick's hit was "dirty" while others saying it wasn't. What do you think?
ANSWER: In my view, there is nothing "dirty" about the way Minkah Fitzpatrick plays football. I remember back in 2010 when the player-safety initiative took root, there were predictions that there would be an increase in low hits on players because anything above the waist exposed the defensive player to penalties and fines. And I believe the in-game officials' reluctance to blow a play dead and the league's allowance of offensive linemen to get behind a ball carrier and push him forward for extra yardage is also at fault. Last season's Super Bowl was a prime example when the Eagles pushed Jalen Hurts to three touchdowns and a bunch of possession-down conversions, and one of the few ways for the defense to stop that movement would be to get low on Hurts and get him on the ground. There is nothing that would have prevented Cleveland offensive linemen from getting behind Chubb and pushing him into the end zone for a touchdown, and so what's the defense to do but try to go low and get the guy on the ground. Former players and Browns fans should be upset at the league for creating the situation that has led to this course of action.

JIM ANDERSON FROM TOLEDO, OH: One thing that hasn't changed in the NFL is bad officiating. The pass to Gunner Olszewski was not a catch by the NFL rule because he never had a chance to make a "football move" since he was immediately hit. There were a couple of false starts by Cleveland that weren't called. Is the NFL doing anything to improve officiating?
ANSWER: Does it look to you as if it's improved?

TODD WALTER FROM LINDEN, NC: Can you tell me how many years Montravius Adams and Isaiahh Lowdermilk have been with the Steelers, and how many sacks they have?
ANSWER: Montravius Adams was signed by the Steelers on Nov. 30, 2021, after being waived by New Orleans, and as of today he has played 24 games with the team, with 15 starts, and he has no sacks. Isaiahh Loudermilk came to the Steelers as a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and he has played in 28 games with the team, with 5 starts, and he has 1 sack.

MICHAEL VELLUCCI FROM ATCO, NJ: I noticed Mason Rudolph was in uniform on Sunday. I thought the new rule states that an emergency quarterback can actually go and get dressed if injuries prevent the other two quarterbacks from playing. Am I wrong on that ?
ANSWER: A game is not going to be delayed to allow the emergency quarterback to make a trip to the locker room and get into uniform should injuries to the other quarterbacks prevent them from playing, and since there are no phone booths on an NFL sideline, having them already in uniform is the only way to go.

GARY HARRELL FROM NORFOLK, VA: The segment that you and Mike Prisuta used to do, will that return anytime soon?
ANSWER: Agree to Disagree, most recently in podcast form, has been discontinued.

RICHARD YOST FROM TAYLORS, SC: After giving up two big third-down conversions on pass plays that could have changed the outcome of the game, why is Desmond King, formerly an All-Pro cornerback, sitting on the bench and not getting some playing time?
ANSWER: In each of the first two games of this season, the Steelers defense has been plagued by communications issues where players who are new to the NFL or new to the Steelers have experienced problems being on the same page with calls from the sideline and then checks made on the field before the ball is snapped. These issues have occurred with players who spent the entire offseason, training camp, and the preseason practicing with the team. Desmond King wasn't added to the roster until after roster was cut to 53 at the end of August, and so he has a lot of catching up to do in terms of learning terminology and the scheme of the defense.

FREDDY HERNANDEZ ANAHEIM, CA: With Diontae Johnson going down with a hamstring injury, do you think the Steelers could trade with the Bears for Chase Claypool? Maybe for a sixth or seventh-round draft pick?
ANSWER: Great idea. I hear Antonio Brown is available, too.

JUG MOSER FROM VIENNA, WV: Last year you offered few criticisms of Matt Canada. After the first two games and numerous questionable play-calls, I would like to know your criteria for judging the offensive coordinator.
ANSWER: Let's start with this: it's not remotely significant what "my criteria" for judging the offensive coordinator is or should be. During a media availability back in January, Steelers President Art Rooney II was asked about his hopes/expectations for the offense during the upcoming season, and his answer was succinct: "Score more points." So that's the only criteria that matters. No individual, including the offensive coordinator or any of the players on that side of the ball, is blameless for the issues the Steelers have been having with their offense so far this season, but fans' belief that all the problems start and end with the play-call are naïve.

JESSE HYDE FROM SHINGLEHOUSE, PA: Although I'm not a huge fan of Matt Canada, should our offensive woes be totally blamed on him? I'd love to see if his play-calling actually works, but Kenny Pickett is getting swamped by the defense and our running backs are trying to elude defenders already in our backfield. I believe we have the players to compete on the offensive line, but I've not heard anybody call out offensive line coach Pat Meyer. With the play of the offense so far this year, shouldn't we first focus on doing what we can to help improve Meyer's coaching performance?
ANSWER: And here we go again. Your solution/reaction when the offensive line isn't getting push off the line of scrimmage for the running game, and when the quarterback is under pressure in the pass pocket is to blame the offensive line coach. During the 7-2 run during the final 9 games of the 2022 season, I remember offensive line coach Pat Meyer getting a lot of credit for the development/improvement of the offensive line and that unit's impact on the turnaround on the field in general and the improvement of the running attack in particular. So were the opinions wrong then, or are they wrong now?

NORM BRENNAN FROM CHACHAGÜÍ, COLOMBIA: Last night (against the Browns), Pat Freiermuth was targeted once for a 2-yard catch. Inexplicable? What gives with that?
ANSWER: I would think having an effective passing attack should include getting the ball to a tight end of Pat Freiermuth's abilities, just as was the case last year when it came to getting the ball to a wide receiver of George Pickens' abilities. In the win over the Browns, Pickens was targeted 10 times and finished with 4 catches for 127 yards (31.8 average) and a 71-yard touchdown, which is a positive development for sure. But I don't believe it has to be, or should ever be, an either-or proposition in terms of incorporating Pickens and Freiermuth into the passing attack. Both can and should happen on a weekly basis.

JEFFREY BRASHEAR FROM MIAMI BEACH, FL: I didn't notice Mark Robinson on the field Monday night. Given Browns' run emphasis and apparent exhaustion by the defense late in the game (though heroic), I was pretty surprised. Did I just miss seeing him on the field or miss some news?
ANSWER: Mark Robinson's role now that the regular season has started is as a core special teams player. The top three inside linebackers on the 53-man roster are Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts and Kwon Alexander, and that's enough manpower to divide up the 81 offensive plays run by the Browns. As I have explained in many other responses lately about this same kind of issue – the preseason is over, and the best players are going to play. It has been clear since training camp ended that the Steelers see their three best inside linebackers as Holcomb, Roberts, and Alexander. That might change or there might be injuries to change it, but as of right now Robinson is a core special teams player and still a developing inside linebacker.

FRITZ SCHERZ FROM VERONA, NY: Any chance you could use your super influence to encourage the Steelers Pro Shop to offer the 1994 Throwback Jersey as customizable? Currently, there are only Rod Woodson and Kevin Greene jerseys available.
ANSWER: I am including your question, but don't get your hopes up with regard to my "influence."

GRANT SEIDLER FROM GREENCASTLE, IN: Sadly, this is no question, just a post of appreciation. My father was an emphatic Steelers fan of 70-plus years, who was also an avid reader of Asked and Answered. He raised my sister and I to also bleed black-and-gold. Sadly, he lost his battle to pancreatic cancer at the end of August. I wanted to thank you, Mr. Labriola, for all that you do, for all of your insights, and for your (sometimes VERY dry) humor that you provide all of us. In his last week, I would sit next to my father's bed and read your column to him. He loved every second of it. From all of our hearts, we appreciate your column. God bless.
ANSWER: I am touched and humbled by your submission, and my condolences to you and your family for your loss. If I had any small part in providing you and your father with some comfort and enjoyment during his last days, I am grateful to have been some small help. God bless.