Best of Asked and Answered: Friday, July 10

Let's get to it:

MICHAEL FILAK FROM PLANO, TX: Gonna try a Kordell Stewart question. In a recent installment, you wrote that a running back could not play wide receiver in the NFL. What about a quarterback? We've seen some success with Terrelle Pryor. If Kordell had decided to concentrate solely on wide receiver, given what you saw during the Slash days, how do you think he would have done?
ANSWER: The rear-view mirror perception is that Kordell Stewart was an accomplished NFL receiver during the 1995-96 seasons that were at the height of the Slash phenomenon. But the numbers tell a starkly different tale. In 1995, Stewart finished the season with 14 catches for 235 yards and one touchdown. There were eight Steelers – eight – who finished with more receptions that season than Stewart, and one of those eight was Fred McAfee. Stewart typically was on the field as a receiver when the Steelers had five of them in the formation, and the other four were Yancey Thigpen (85 catches), Andre Hastings (48 catches), Ernie Mills (39 catches), and Charles Johnson (38 catches). This was a living, breathing example of the Steve Spurrier philosophy when he was the coach at the University of Florida – that philosophy being my fourth or fifth receiver is going to be better than your fourth or fifth cornerback, which will give me a mismatch I can exploit every time. In 1996, Stewart was targeted 42 times, and he finished with 17 receptions for 293 yards and three touchdowns. Granted, that year's passing attack was dragged way down by quarterback Mike Tomczak's mediocrity, but in 1996, Hastings, Johnson, and Jerome Bettis all finished with more receptions than Stewart, and Erric Pegram matched him with 17. As for Terrelle Pryor, 77 of his 115 career catches over four years with four different teams came in one 1-15 season with the Cleveland Browns.

And so, I'm going to stick with my original point, which was that if an emergency arises and a uniquely versatile athlete is on my roster I might try him at a different position, but if I'm looking for a receiver to help make my team better, I'm going to draft one. Because in the case of Stewart, even with all of those other talented receivers on the field to attract the opponent's top coverage people, he managed 31 catches and four receiving touchdowns over two seasons. Thigpen, a fourth-round pick the Steelers acquired off waivers from San Diego in 1992, caught 164 passes for 2,705 yards (16.5 average) and 12 touchdowns in two seasons.

DANIEL MAZENKO FROM LITITZ, PA: I always liked the idea of a two-running-back set. I think it is a more difficult alignment for the defense to decide if the play is a pass or a run than deploying two tight ends or four wide receivers. I know the game was more run-oriented back in the 1970s, but I am curious about how Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier contributed to the passing game during their time together in the backfield? Especially in the 1976 season when they both topped 1000 yards rushing?
ANSWER: Allow me to start with this: in today's NFL, it's not so much about keeping the defense guessing as to whether the upcoming play is a run or a pass as much as it's about creating matchups on the field for the offense that will make it most difficult for the defense to stop the upcoming play. Knowing that it's going to be a pass doesn't really help the defense if it cannot cover all of the eligible receivers deployed by the offense. As for the receiving contributions Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier made in 1976 when both of them finished the 14-game regular season with over 1,000 yards rushing, they combined to catch 47 passes for 445 yards. A comparison illustrating how different offensive football is today, in his six NFL seasons so far, Le'Veon Bell has caught more than 47 passes himself in four of those seasons, and he caught 45 passes in a fifth. Combined, Harris and Bleier averaged 36 receptions a season. Bell has averaged 63 catches himself a season. As you indicated, it is a different game today.

LARRY MORRISON FROM PENSACOLA, FL: I grew up watching the 1970s Steelers. Few players have ever reminded me of Joe Greene. Are there any players you have watched over the years who remind you of the great Joe Greene?
ANSWER: With Joe Greene, his contributions went beyond the statistics he generated and the plays he made at critical times, because Greene had to chart a course for a franchise that had been lost in the wilderness for the 37 years of its existence before his arrival in 1969. Greene not only had to play well, but he also was the one player who was able to change the culture of losing and through the force of his will create an atmosphere in the locker room where the goal of winning a championship was able to take root. Greene was an extension of Chuck Noll and he reinforced Noll's message, and when the best player and the unquestioned alpha male takes on that role he becomes a force on and off the field.

JIM FOX FROM DENHAM SPRIGS, LA: In my youth I remember a Steelers running back named John Henry Johnson. Can you refresh me on his career?
ANSWER: The Steelers picked John Henry Johnson in the second round of the 1953 NFL Draft, but he instead opted to sign with the Calgary Stampeders. During his only season there, Johnson rushed for 648 yards (6.0 average) and five touchdowns, caught 33 passes (11.1 average) and scored three more touchdowns, averaged 8.2 yards on 47 punt returns, and he scored another touchdown on a 104-yard kickoff return. On defense, Johnson intercepted five passes, and as a result of his two-way production he was voted the league's most valuable player. The following year, Johnson signed with the San Francisco 49ers where he played for three seasons with his statistics dropping each year. In 1957, Johnson was traded to Detroit, where he was moved to fullback with the idea of taking advantage of his blocking. But that season, Johnson led the Lions in rushing and was a significant contributor in their 59-14 win over the Browns in the 1957 NFL Championship Game. After the 1959 season, the Lions traded Johnson to the Steelers for two draft picks.

Once the Steelers finally acquired Johnson in 1960, he had his most productive years as a pro while in Pittsburgh. In 1962, Johnson became the first Steelers player to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, and he did it again in 1964. In that 1964 season, Johnson carried 30 times for 200 yards and scored three touchdowns in a Steelers' upset win over the Browns in Cleveland, and that is considered his best game in the NFL. It was only the ninth 200-yard rushing game in NFL history to that point, and Johnson finished the 1964 season with 1,048 yards as a 35-year-old man. But age caught up to Johnson the following season, and he played in only one game for the Steelers before ending his career in 1966 with the AFL's Houston Oilers. Johnson and Joe Greene entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame together as part of the Class of 1987.

GRANT MAESHIRO FROM HONOLULU, HI: For a guy in Hawaii who has only watched our Steelers play on TV for the past 40 years, please tell me a personal story about the game day experience in Heinz Field. Attending a December home game with playoffs on the line is near the top of my bucket list.
ANSWER: During the entire life of Heinz Field, I have worked in my current job, and so while I have seen every Steelers game played in the building, I never have seen one outside of the enclosed press box, which means I have not had any real experience with the game day experience. There are two instances, however, when I could feel vibrations in the press box from the roar of the crowd, and so I only can imagine how loud it actually was. The first instance was late in the 2008 AFC Championship Game when Troy Polamalu intercepted a Joe Flacco pass and returned it for a touchdown to clinch the AFC Championship and a spot in Super Bowl XLIII for the Steelers. And the other was on Christmas Day in 2016 when Antonio Brown extended the ball across the goal line in the final seconds of the fourth quarter to clinch the AFC North Division title for the Steelers and eliminate the Ravens from the playoffs in a 31-27 victory. If you indeed decide to spend a week in Pittsburgh during December to catch a Steelers game at Heinz Field, my wife and I would be happy to house-sit for you.

DEREK DOLITSKY FROM MILWAUKEE, WI: When will Ola Adeniyi get a legitimate shot to compete for an outside linebacker spot? He has better pass-rushing moves than Bud Dupree and would be perfect across from T.J. Watt, especially since it is unlikely we will pay Dupree after this season.
ANSWER: Ola Adeniyi has been getting a "legitimate shot to compete for an outside linebacker spot" during each and every practice and preseason game during his two seasons with the Steelers. Playing time and opportunities for playing time have to be earned in the NFL; it's not something bestowed on a player as recognition for time served. In some ways, Adeniyi has been fortunate the Steelers haven't had much depth at outside linebacker over the last couple of seasons, because I'm not at all certain what he showed in training camp and the preseason last summer would've been good enough to earn a roster spot otherwise. And your contention that Adeniyi has "better pass-rushing moves" than Dupree, who posted 11.5 sacks during the 2019 NFL regular season is ludicrous. Adeniyi will get another chance this summer to show he belongs in the NFL.

MARK BENSON FROM AKRON, OH: Where does Ben Roethlisberger rank among all-time NFL quarterbacks in career wins?
ANSWER: Ben Roethlisberger's record as a starter in the NFL is 144-71-1, which places him seventh on the all-time list behind Tom Brady with 219, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning each with 186, Drew Brees with 163, John Elway with 148, and Dan Marino with 147. Roethlisberger's winning percentage of .669 is fourth among all quarterbacks currently ranked in the top 30 in total victories, behind on Brady at .774, Joe Montana at .713, and Manning at .702.