Sat, 08 May 2021

Asked and Answered: April 20

The Steelers
21 Apr 2021, 06:30 GMT+10

Bob Labriola

Let's get to it:

FREDRICK JOSEPH FROM FOREST, PA: Back in the 1960s my brothers and I were just growing up in Pennsylvania. Our family didn't have much, and we boys had to work for my Dad's home business to make ends meet. We even worked on Sundays. We seldom got to watch a game on TV. We did have a radio and would listen to the games while working in the garage. The announcers had a way of broadcasting the game that made it seem like we were there in the stands. The Steelers won very few games each season, but we were always hopeful of a miracle from Dick Hoak, Gary Ballman, or Roy Jefferson. Who were the radio announcers back then?

ANSWER: Depending upon exactly what period of the 1960s you're referencing, it was some combination of Joe Tucker, Jack Fleming, Tom Bender, and Red Donley. During that era, the Steelers games were broadcast by either KDKA or WWSW. KDKA had the more powerful signal, but the station would pre-empt the Steelers whenever there was a conflict with a Pirates baseball game, and the Steelers grew weary of being treated as second-class citizens. Tucker's career as "The Voice of the Steelers" began in 1936 and ended in 1968 after 32 seasons with the team, and it's likely most of the on-air fireworks came from him.

DAREN POSEY FROM OKLAHOMA CITY, OK: I always enjoy watching Donnie Shell's hit on Earl Campbell. A pure tackling form, which I don't think is being taught anymore, facemask to the sternum. I know the Steelers had Campbell's number, but how many 100-yard games did he have against the Steelers, if any?

ANSWER: During his Hall of Fame career, Earl Campbell faced the Steelers 12 times during the regular season, and his teams were 5-7 in those games - 4-7 with the Oilers and 1-0 with the Saints. Campbell's career statistics vs. the Steelers included 206 carries for 683 yards (3.3 average) and six touchdowns, to go along with 19 catches for 118 yards (6.2 average). In addition to the 12 regular season matchups, the Steelers squared off against Campbell twice in the playoffs, in the 1978 and 1979 AFC Championship Games, both played at Three Rivers Stadium and both won by the Steelers on the path to victories in Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV. In those playoff games, Campbell combined for 77 yards on 39 carries (1.97 average) and no touchdowns. Campbell finished his career with 41 100-yard games - 40 during the regular season and one in the playoffs - but only one of those came against the Steelers. That was a regular season game on Dec. 10, 1979 in the Astrodome when Campbell carried 33 times for 109 yards (3.3 average) and no touchdowns in Houston's 20-17 victory over the Steelers.

JOHN ROEBUCK FROM ALTOONA, PA: Do you think any of the Steelers backup defensive linemen have starter potential? Seems like a big drop-off in talent after the starters.

ANSWER: While the hope is every draft pick can develop into a contributing starter, not all players are drafted with that expectation. Sometimes players are drafted to be backups, and I would contend that was the thought process when the Steelers used a sixth-round pick on Isaiah Buggs and a seventh-round pick on Carlos Davis. Of the team's current starters along the defensive line, Cam Heyward was a first-round pick, Stephon Tuitt was a second-round pick, and Tyson Alualu was a first-round pick by the Jaguars. Yes, there's a talent difference between those players and Buggs and Davis, but that should be expected based on where they were drafted.

BOB MEREDITH FROM HONEY BROOK, PA: In the April 15 edition of Asked and Answered, you responded to a question about Heath Miller's eligibility for the Hall of Fame by saying his statistics don't measure up. I watched virtually every game he played and his contributions were about much more than statistics. Do Hall of Fame voters ever consider anything but statistics?

ANSWER: If the Hall of Fame Board of Selectors only took statistics into consideration when making their decisions, Lynn Swann would not be in the Hall of Fame. In a career likely cut short by injuries that came from cheap shots to his head, Swann played 116 regular season games and finished with 336 catches (a 16.3 average) and 51 touchdowns, but his contributions in 16 playoff games added another 48 catches for 907 yards (18.9 average) and nine touchdowns. The case was made that while Swann's career numbers were rather pedestrian, the situations in which he posted those numbers made him a special player worthy of the Hall of Fame.

As I wrote on April 15, Heath Miller was a key ingredient to two Super Bowl championship teams in Pittsburgh and deserves to be remembered as the best tight end in franchise history. You are viewing Miller's career as a fan, and that's fine because you're a fan and the way he conducted himself on and off the field was worthy of plenty of fan support.

But here are Miller's credentials: 592 receptions for 6,569 yards (11.1 average) and 45 touchdowns to go along with a reputation as one of the top combination tight ends in the NFL during his seasons as a pro. Compare those with Hines Ward's: 1,000 catches for 12,083 yards (12.1 average) and 85 touchdowns, plus a Super Bowl MVP Award to go along with a reputation as the most physical receiver in the league throughout his career, so physical that a rule was implemented to soften his style of play. And Ward so far has not even made it as a finalist in any of his years of eligibility for induction. It's just the reality of the situation that Heath Miller is not a Hall of Fame player.

DAVID MARCOU FROM DANVERS, MA: I believe in a past Asked and Answered you recounted a story about a training camp in which the Steelers were trying to establish a mind-set when it came to running the football. If I remember correctly Ken Whisenhunt was the offensive coordinator, and in multiple goal-line sessions, he chose to run the ball on something like 14 out of the first 15 play calls in order to establish that mind-set. Do you agree a training camp approach like that is warranted in 2021 (within CBA guidelines of course)?

ANSWER: In some ways, you are correct, but in other ways it's a different situation. The unofficial motto of that 2004 training camp was "re-establishing the mind-set" and it came on the heels of the two-season-long Tommy Maddox mistake, when Coach Bill Cowher went so far as to replace Jerome Bettis in the backfield with Amos Zereoue in a misguided effort to build the offense around Maddox's "skill-set." The significant aspect of that 2004 training camp was cleansing the team of the mistaken idea that the offensive identity was more about Maddox and the passing attack than being a physical team first and foremost. This summer's task is similar for the Steelers in that what's necessary is re-establishing the ability to be a physical offense when that's what is required during different times in a game, but the biggest difference is that while the idea in 2004 was to limit the reliance on Maddox to make plays in critical situations because he generally was a turnover waiting to happen, and Ben Roethlisberger is a proven championship-caliber franchise quarterback. A Mike Tomlin training camp is one of the few to incorporate live tackling into each padded practice currently allowed by the CBA, and so it's not as though it's a comparative country club and needs to be more physical. But the mind-set does have to change, and that could be more of a game-plan/play-calling situation.

PETER TOPA FROM OLD FORGE, PA: Do you see the Steelers using the draft to get a workhorse running back and using Benny Snell and the others as short-yardage backs, or just to have them switch back and forth during a game?

ANSWER: The plan all along this offseason was to add a feature back as part of the effort to improve the running game, which ranked last in the NFL in 2020, and Coach Mike Tomlin always has been a believer in one guy handling the bulk of the work. Tomlin refers to that role as the "bell cow." He has not been a believer in a running-back-by-committee approach at any point during his tenure with the Steelers, and I doubt that's going to change in 2021.

CARLOS ARVIZU FROM MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: Steelers President Art Rooney II has mentioned that the Steelers would be interested in playing a regular season game in Mexico. As I understand, with the new 17-game regular season, teams that have an extra home game are the ones that may have to yield a home game to be played abroad. Does that mean the Steelers could be playing here as soon as 2023?

ANSWER: I don't know that teams with a ninth home game are going to be required to give up one of those in order to play an international game, but the 17-game schedule will provide more flexibility in getting teams to participate in the NFL's international program. I also wouldn't put a timetable at this time on when/if the Steelers might be playing a regular season game in Mexico, but Art Rooney II has said the Steelers are interested in doing that.

COLTON WINSLOW FROM SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA: How would you feel about the Steelers trading back in the first round if they could still land one of the top three running backs in the draft? Seems like more mid-round picks could help fill more of the holes and add good depth. Also how much transparency is there between teams who trade picks during the draft? For example, if a team is trading up to the Steelers' pick, do the Steelers know who that team is eyeing to draft?

ANSWER: The thing with these trade situations proposed by fans is that they're always so neat and clean, and everybody gets their man. But that's rarely the case in reality. Let's pretend that the team trading up into the Steelers' spot in the first round tells the truth about which player they plan to draft with that selection, but what about all of the other teams that then will be picking before the Steelers get to make their selection as the result of the trade? Which players are those teams going to choose? And if the trade down leaves a top running back on the board, maybe a team that wasn't necessarily planning on selecting a running back decides the value is suddenly too good to ignore? Sure, in theory trading back and adding more picks could help fortify the roster with depth, but how would you feel about the team's draft class going from getting the top running back available and a couple of depth prospects to not getting any of the top three running backs in the class and instead ending up with five depth prospects? Which scenario helps the team more? You have to be careful with these kinds of moves, because as Dan Rooney said about teams that get caught up in them: "They're trying to win the draft when the idea is to try to put together a team to win the Super Bowl."

DAMIEN FRANK FROM QUINCY, MA: I keep hearing that Larry Fitzgerald is still on the free agent market. What are your thoughts about possibly adding him to the Steelers locker room as a mentor to the other receivers? Would he even be affordable given the Steelers' salary cap situation?

ANSWER: Larry Fitzgerald is a sure-shot Hall of Fame player who has spent his entire career with the Arizona Cardinals. He has no ties to Pittsburgh except he went to college at Pitt. He was born and raised in Minneapolis. He spent part of his youth as a ball-boy with the Vikings and then has played his entire career with the Cardinals. Why would he be interested in a one-year mentorship situation with the Steelers? Why not go back to the Cardinals and mentor an offensive group that includes young quarterback Kyler Murray? That way he could complete his professional career having played for just one franchise.

TIM GAYDOSH FROM MOUNT AIRY, MD: Your opinion on the "national sites" are well known and well founded. Some of them have been saying that the signing of Vince Williams takes the pressure off having to draft linebackers early. While I understand Robert Spillane may or may not have been the right answer opposite Devin Bush, I thought the more likely early (maybe even first round) pick was an outside linebacker. Do you think inside linebacker was or still is in serious play for an early pick?

ANSWER: In my mind using a premium pick on an inside linebacker was not going to happen in the upcoming draft, even before Vince Williams was re-signed.

AMOS MEYERS FROM ORO VALLEY, AZ: Some draft pundits suggest that the Steelers would/should draft Justin Fields of Ohio State. No long-term successful NFL quarterback has ever come out of Ohio State. Why would anyone suggest drafting a quarterback from there?

ANSWER: Maybe because they happen to know all the words to "Across the Field."

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