Best of Asked and Answered: Friday, October 16

Let's get to it:

TOM GARRETT FROM MOON TOWNSHIP, PA: What was the atmosphere like Sunday at Heinz Field? It seemed on television that the few fans there were loud and boisterous (no surprise there with Steeler fans). It seemed the players were real appreciative of having at least some fans back to cheer them on.
ANSWER: It was nice to have some fans in the stadium, and the players seemed to appreciate their presence and enthusiasm. But when you're used to 65,000 people, having 5,000 in the building is quite a difference. But such is the time in which we're living right now.

TOMMY JAMES FROM GILBERTSVILLE, PA: Does the mandatory five-year retirement period to be eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame apply to everyone? If I recall, Chuck Noll was elected to the hall of fame within a year or two after he retired.
ANSWER: Chuck Noll retired in 1992 and was part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 1993, and at that time the mandatory waiting period for coaches was only one year. But that rule was changed subsequently to five years to match the rule applying to players to account for coaches who announce their retirement and then return to take another job in coaching, as both Bill Parcells and Dick Vermeil did.

ANDREW SCHERBIK FROM CHESAPEAKE, MD: I know it's way too early in his career to make an accurate assessment, but when you look at Chase Claypool, what stands out about him and makes you think that he has the potential to be special?
ANSWER: General Manager Kevin Colbert talks about the evaluation process and how the most difficult elements to assess are "hearts and smarts," and by that he means a prospect's intangibles and intelligence. Ben Roethlisberger often has spoken about Claypool's football intelligence and how he never makes the same mistake twice and always seems to be on top of his playbook. As for Claypool's heart, the Steelers got some insight into it by seeing that even though he was a star at an iconic program such as Notre Dame he didn't consider in beneath him to contribute on special teams. And not only was he willing, but he took pride in it and was good at it. Coach Mike Tomlin often tells players, "I know what you're capable of, but what are you willing to do?" Claypool is capable, he has a high-end skill-set, and when he's asked to be a gunner on the punt team or cover a kickoff, he accepts the assignment, gets down the field, and makes the tackle.

KEN WALDROP FROM ONTONAGON, MI: Can we please, please stop using Diontae Johnson on special teams? Ray-Ray McCloud would like the work, and it would be nice to have Johnson, Claypool and Washington all play a whole game together.
ANSWER: If I'm going to endorse removing Diontae Johnson as a returner, it would be because there is a better option available, not because I'm afraid he'll be injured. I like Ray-Ray McCloud's burst on special teams, but he also looked pretty good on that reverse he ran for 58 yards against the Eagles. Does that mean McCloud can't play special teams now either?

MIKE DARROW FROM MANHATTAN BEACH, CA: I'm worried about our depth in the middle of the offensive line. With Ramon Foster's retirement and with David DeCastro having trouble staying on the field, do we have practice squad depth or the flexibility of moving players inside from tackle? With the development and speed at the skill positions, it seems like offensive line depth is very thin.
ANSWER: When the 2020 regular season began, the Steelers depth along the offensive line was as good as any team in the NFL. There were the five starters – Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Zach Banner. The backups were Chuks Okorafor as the swing tackle, with Stefen Wisniewski and Kevin Dotson as the primary interior backups. That's eight quality offensive linemen, and there were a few more developmental-type players on the practice squad. But then the Steelers lost two of their top seven offensive linemen – Banner (knee) and Wisniewski (pectoral) – and had to put both on the injured reserve list. The Steelers absorbed those losses and reinforced their depth by signing Jerald Hawkins off the Houston Texans practice squad. And yesterday they got some good news when Wisniewski returned to practice. That means the Steelers have 21 days from yesterday to activate him or leave him on injured reserve for the rest of the season. Worrying about depth along the offensive line is something every teams' fans could do every year, simply because those players always are in demand.

NIKI HALSEY FROM LEEDS, UK: A question on the interception at the end of the game on Sunday: Ultimately, it didn't matter, but we would have been better off if Steven Nelson had batted the ball away rather than caught it. Is that a case of a player instinctively making a catch whenever he has the opportunity, or was it a case that the best way of making sure the offense didn't catch it is to catch it yourself.
ANSWER: Being aware of situations is important in every NFL game, and you and the many others who brought up this point are correct in that it would have been more advantageous to field position if Steven Nelson had batted the ball away instead of intercepting it. Full disclosure though, that thought didn't come to me and I was in the press box at Heinz Field, nor was the issue raised by any of the other media members in my general area. The Steelers held a two-score (nine point) lead at the time, and I could understand Nelson's interest in taking possession of the ball based on how good the Eagles had been at converting on possession downs throughout the game. Based on how the game had gone to that point, and based on the Steelers holding a two-score lead with 2:18 left in the game, I am not going to criticize Nelson for intercepting that pass, because what if the ball bounces strangely and an Eagles player comes up with it to keep that drive alive. At that stage of the game, possession of the football was more important than field position, in my opinion.

TOM NAYPAUER FROM CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, OH: If a team claims a player from another team's practice squad, does the original team have a chance to elevate him to their roster to effectively block the claim? As an example, if Joshua Dobbs is claimed by a team like Dallas, could the Steelers add him to their roster to keep Dobbs?
ANSWER: The original team has the ability to elevate that player to its active roster, but there is not a prescribed period of time allotted for that to happen. Most often, something like that will happen if/when the player's agent tips off the team that another team is interested in signing his client off the practice squad.

MICHAEL VELLUCCI FROM ATCO, NJ: Can you please explain when an offensive lineman is declared ineligible downfield, and is it somewhat of a judgement call?
ANSWER: According to NFL rules, it is an ineligible man downfield penalty if an offensive linemen is more than 1 yard downfield before the ball is thrown, but you are correct in that there is judgment applied because penalties often are not called unless the lineman is more than 3-to-5 yards downfield.