Skip to main content

Asked and Answered

Asked and Answered: Sept. 7

Let's get to it:

CHRIS GIBSON FROM DENVER, NC: Do you think it was a mistake not keeping Quincy Roche and then subsequently losing him on waivers?
ANSWER: Does the name Tuzar Skipper ring a bell? I bring up Skipper because he was 2019's version of Quincy Roche – an outside linebacker with some pass-rush ability, who flashed some during the preseason, but he didn't do enough on special teams to warrant a roster spot while he continued to work to develop as an outside linebacker. The Steelers waived him, and some fans reacted to the "disaster" by lining up on the Fort Duquesne Bridge for a quick jump over the railing and into the Allegheny River. Currently, Skipper is out of football after failed stints with the Giants, the team that claimed him off waivers originally, then a second go-round with the Steelers, then a stint with Tennessee in 2020 and finally with Atlanta in 2021 that ended with the Falcons waiving him on Aug. 31. In some ways, Quincy Roche is similar to Skipper in that he flashed some both in training camp and during the preseason, but his defensive statistics were modest – four tackles, 1.5 sacks – and he didn't help himself with no special teams tackles in four games. Roche was a sixth-round draft choice while Skipper was an undrafted free agent, but neither ended up as being one of the top four outside linebackers on the team at the time of the final roster cut-down. In Roche's case, he clearly was outplayed by first-year pro Jamir Jones, whose preseason statistics clearly were better – nine tackles, 2.5 sacks, nine quarterback hurries, and he was in on eight special teams tackles. Roche was not going to unseat T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, or Melvin Ingram III for a roster spot, and since the Steelers only kept four at that position, there was no spot for Roche. Interestingly, it again was the New York Giants claiming an outside linebacker waived by the Steelers, and so we'll see how Roche does there in trying to establish an NFL career.

MARK PACE FROM KANSAS CITY, MO: Am I the only disappointed Steelers fan who feels Mathew Sexton deserved a spot on the team, or if not, at least a spot on the practice squad?
ANSWER: I cannot speak to whether you're the only fan disappointed that Mathew Sexton didn't make the initial 53-man roster, but I disagree with your assessment that he deserved to do so. Sexton just didn't show enough as a wide receiver during the preseason (two catches for 10 yards, 5.0 average), and while he had a couple of nice punt returns, I don't know that "a couple of nice punt returns" is enough to make the team. The last pure returner to earn a roster spot with the Steelers was Stefan Logan in 2009, and he cemented his spot with an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown early in that summer's preseason finale. When asked whether a player trying to make a roster as a returner would need to bring one back for a touchdown, Coach Mike Tomlin said, "Absolutely. Splash is what this game at this level is about, and from a return man's perspective, the ability to finish is what distinguishes the elite from a lot of regular returners." And when Sexton was given an opportunity vs. Carolina to return punts against the varsity, he muffed two of them. Not securing the ball is a mortal sin for a return specialist, and Sexton committed two of them in the same game.

JESSICA HAWKE FROM MUSKOGEE, MI: Why weren't there any NFL games over the Labor Day weekend? With the media attention gained from the final roster cuts, it seems like the NFL should've kept the momentum going.
ANSWER: As a wise man once told me, "Whenever the question is 'Why?' The answer is 'Money.'" There are not NFL games over the Labor Day weekend because the league's broadcast partners have found that people prefer doing things during the Labor Day weekend other than sitting in their homes and watching NFL games on television. Or at least in the numbers the NFL is used to getting for its opening weekend. Lukewarm television ratings are why there are no NFL games on Labor Day weekend, and the broadcast networks preference not to have games then is why there was the 14-day break between the end of this preseason and the start of the regular season.

CRAIG DUMNICH FROM AVONDALE, PA: Would you please provide some clarification on why we didn't keep Steven Nelson and now we have Ahkello Witherspoon?
ANSWER: Even though this is a different subject than the one addressed in the previous submission, the same basic principle applies. That principle being: "Whenever the question is 'Why?' The answer is 'Money.'" The Steelers released Steven Nelson in March because of a combination of their somewhat dire salary cap situation and that his cap number was out of whack with the kind of player he was. For the 2021 season, Nelson's cap charge was to be $14 million, with $8.25 million of that to come in base salary. The Steelers had to choose between Joe Haden and Nelson because of salary cap constraints, and the team decided to keep Haden. Ahkello Witherspoon was acquired for a fifth-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, and he will cost the Steelers $1.5 million on their cap for 2021. With Cam Sutton expected to move inside to nickel cornerback in certain sub-packages, Witherspoon will provide the Steelers with some depth at the outside cornerback positions.

KEVIN NEVERLY FROM WEIRTON, WV: The sport of football is different in the way it is played in the Canadian Football League. The rules are different, the dimensions of the field are different, and the number of players on the field for each of the teams are different. Will we ever see an NFL exhibition game with one of the CFL teams?
ANSWER: Once upon a time, the NFL did play the occasional exhibition game against teams from the CFL, and in 1960 the Steelers were involved in one of those. The game between Pittsburgh and Toronto was televised over an experimental network that charged $2 per TV set to view. It was the first pro game ever played before a pay-TV audience, and it served as the advent of pay-per-view. Attendance inside the stadium in Toronto that day was 23,570. Jim Hunt, a reporter for the Toronto Star, filed this account of Pittsburgh vs. Toronto: "It is bad for (the) Argos, something that was quite evident from the hangdog expression in the dressing room. These players didn't quit. But like a preliminary fighter put in with the heavyweight champion, they just didn't have the tools for the job. And it is bad for Canadian football, a game that is trying to convince the public it is big league and charges prices to match … For football fans who don't mind seeing the local heroes taken apart, there were some interesting moments last night. Most of them were provided by Bobby Layne, the Steelers quarterback who picked the Argo pass defence apart at will … The Steelers led 20-3 at the end of the first quarter, 36-3 at the half and 38-9 going into the final 15 minutes. Layne, who tossed one touchdown pass to Ken Carpenter and two to Buddy Dial, completed 15 of 24 passes for 327 yards. He had one interception." One final note: The 1960 Steelers finished that season with a 5-6-1 record, which placed them fifth in the NFL's Eastern Conference.

MIKE CLAPPER FROM BEDFORD, PA: It was very sad to hear about the passing of Tunch Ilkin over the weekend. He was an awesome person. I always enjoyed listening to him tell stories on the radio about his playing days. He will certainly be missed.

PAUL FITZPATRICK FROM WILTON, IA: A beautiful story you wrote for upon the passing of Tunch Ilkin. My brother, a lifelong Steelers fan, passed away from ALS four years ago. Please let your readers know that while diseases like ALS take away loved ones, those diseases do not take away their spirit and their love. So many fans like myself who saw Tunch play, or who saw him or heard him break down plays as a broadcaster when he made the complex understandable are saddened by his death. I will miss him, and so many of us will long for his smile, his voice, and the connection he made between us and the team he loved so. God Bless you, Tunch. Land a slobber-knocker on an angel.

ROBERT WARREN FROM MISSOULA, MT: I wanted to take a moment to share how thankful I am to have had the opportunity to attend the 2019 Steelers Fantasy Camp and get the chance to meet and worship with Tunch Ilkin. He was an incredible man, and although it was only for a weekend, I feel so blessed for the time I had to talk with him and pray together. Rest in peace, Tunch, you were one of the good ones.

JENNY GROVE FROM SEATTLE, WA: I am surprised Cam Newton was released by the Patriots and the lack of interest by the Steelers to sign him as a backup following his release. Did Cam Newton's penchant for wearing loud, and sometimes quite bizarre looking clothes on game days have any bearing on the Steelers lack of interest in him and his rapid fall from grace in the NFL?
ANSWER: Trust me, Cam Newton's sartorial decisions had nothing to do with the Steelers showing no interest in him as a backup, and if you've ever seen a television camera capture the scene of the New England Patriots' sideline during a game, you probably realize that team's coach never will be mistaken for Giorgio Armani. Bill Belichick has been called many things over the course of his coaching career, but clothes horse isn't one of them.