Best of Asked and Answered: Friday, July 31

Let's get to it:

MARK BELOT FROM DETROIT, MI: In your opinion, was Hines Ward a "dirty" player? I believe he was voted as such by his peers one year. Is there any validity to that, or was that just sour grapes?
ANSWER: In 2009, Sports Illustrated polled 296 NFL players, and Hines Ward was voted the dirtiest player in the league. In my opinion, even back then, there were a lot of issues related to his kind of "polling," because it's a fact that NFL players aren't exactly diligent when it comes to voting for things, even allegedly "important" things such as the Pro Bowl and that Top 100 Player list NFL Network spends so much energy and time promoting and broadcasting. In 2008, Ward was fined $15,000 for two hits in games, and he wasn't penalized for either, and he's also infamous for the hit that broke the jaw of Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers, and while there's a rule against that kind of hit now named the Hines Ward rule, it wasn't illegal when Ward did it. In discussing his reputation as a dirty player with Sports Illustrated in 2008, Ward said, "It's hard to sit there and tell everybody it's a violent sport but tone it down a little. When I go across the middle, those guys aren't going to tackle me softly and lay me down to the ground. That's not football. I find it ironic that now you see a receiver delivering blows, and it's an issue. But I haven't changed. I've been doing it this way for 11 years." My view of it was that defensive players loved to hunt wide receivers, but when they encountered a wide receiver who was hunting them, then that became "dirty football." As James Harrison often said, "It's not fun when the rabbit's got the gun."

DON ADAMS FROM BUENA PARK, CA: What was the reason it was negotiated that teams would to go to training camp with 80 players instead of the typical number of 90? Have the Steelers already cut 10 players?
ANSWER: My belief is the roster reduction to 80 is based on the concept that fewer people in an enclosed area is safer during this COVID-19 pandemic. And with no preseason games, plus only 14 padded practices permitted during the entire training camp period, such a reduction shouldn't have that much of an impact. Or at least not have as much of an impact as no preseason games and only 14 padded practices during the entire training camp period. As of this writing, the Steelers haven't cut their roster to 80, but they're going to have to do it.

DEAN HARRIS FROM DOWNINGTOWN, PA: Love this forum. As a young kid in Pittsburgh in the 1960s, I remember turning on WQED-TV, and the station was auctioning a football from a game where the Steelers beat the Green Bay Packers, the champions. It was a big deal, I suppose, but I was so young and not following football yet. Is my memory tarnished, or did that really happen?
ANSWER: That really happened. In 1967, the Packers ended up winning Super Bowl II by defeating the Oakland Raiders in what turned out to be Vince Lombardi's final game as the Green Bay head coach. In the final game of the 1967 regular season, the Steelers visited Lambeau Field and upset the Packers, 24-17, on the strength of a 21-yard interception return for a touchdowns by defensive lineman Ben McGee and a 27-yard fumble return for a touchdown by defensive lineman Chuck Hinton. Coming into that finale at 9-3-1, the game was meaningless to the Packers' because they had clinched the NFL Central Division; and coming in at 3-9-1, the Steelers already had clinched last place in the NFL Century Division. Lombardi rested some key players – as an example Don Horn played more at quarterback than Bart Starr – and the Packers played a sloppy game, as evidenced by losing the battle of sacks, 4-0; turnovers, 5-3; and penalties, 6-68 vs. 2-20. The 1967 Steelers defeating the eventual World Champion Packers in Green Bay: it wasn't a dream.

BURTON HARRIS FROM GREENSBURG, PA: Without any preseason games will it be hard for the Steelers to decide whom to cut, or do you think they have an idea which players they are going to keep?
ANSWER: I always believe that in whatever the situation is when it comes to football, Coach Mike Tomlin approaches it with an open mind. Based on that, I believe there will be a real opportunity for players to earn spots on the roster and win roles on offense, defense, or special teams, but given the circumstances I also believe it's going to be more difficult for newcomers to make the kind of impression it's going to take to accomplish that. Also, don't disregard the real possibility that spots on the roster and roles within the team can be lost by incumbents just as easily as they can be won by newcomers.

MARK TRIMBLE FROM CHEYENNE, WY: Given that everything is a mess right now in sports, what exactly is the timeline for team activities leading into the season?
ANSWER: Here is a rundown of the rules and regulations negotiated by the NFL and the NFLPA:

Reporting Dates/General: July 28-Aug. 2
All veterans can report to camp beginning on July 28 but must test negative for COVID-19 three times during this window. Virtual meetings will take place during this time. The final two days of this period will include physicals and equipment fitting.

Acclimation Period: Aug. 3-11
During this time, teams will follow the same guidelines as Phase 1 of the offseason program, with on-field activity strictly limited to strength and conditioning and walk-through periods. No conditioning tests are permitted. Only the team's strength and conditioning coaches will be on the field, and no wearing of helmets is permitted.

Gradual ramp-up period: Aug. 12-16
This period will include four days of ramp-up and one day off. The first two days will be similar to Phase 2 of the offseason program. Coaches are permitted on the field, and players can wear helmets and take part in individual player instruction and drills. The final two days the team can conduct full-speed, non-contact practices, including 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills, but no live contact.

Contact Integration Period: Aug. 17-Sept. 6
Teams are permitted to hold their first practice in pads on Aug. 17 with a 90-minute time limit. Practice can be extended by 15 minutes in the following days, with two-and-a-half hours being the maximum time. The Steelers can hold a maximum of 14 practices in pads during this 21-day period. There are also mandatory days off every seven days.

ED SWARTZ FROM NORWICH, OH: Training camp is being held at Heinz Field. Why wouldn't they have it at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex? Aren't their more fields and more space/area to work in, instead of just the one field in the stadium?
ANSWER: The Steelers have two grass practice fields at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, but there is far more overall space at Heinz Field when it comes to all of the other amenities involved in a training camp for a team with an 80-man roster. There are more locker rooms at Heinz Field to allow for social distancing, more space to feed the players, more space for position meeting rooms and for team meetings, a large outdoor area for a weight room, places where the players will be able to go to relax between meetings and workouts. And also, Pitt shares the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, which means that in the building there would be approximately 80 Steelers players plus 100 Pitt players, plus coaches for both teams, plus athletic trainers for both teams, plus staff for both teams, with only one cafeteria for both teams, one locker room per team, and one parking lot for both teams. The decision to have training camp at Heinz Field was the right one. In fact, it was the only one.