Sun, 09 Aug 2020

Asked and Answered: July 9

The Steelers
10 Jul 2020, 06:30 GMT+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.

AL TARQUINIO FROM MARS, PA: Do you think Matt Canada, the new quarterbacks coach, will have a positive impact on Mason Rudolph? And did Canada have a positive impression thus impacting Steelers not to draft or sign another quarterback?

ANSWER: As a young player, Mason Rudolph needs a coach who is dedicated to helping him with the fundamentals of his position, a coach who will be a sounding board, who will be watching him on every play in every practice and every game and then evaluating his performance. That will help Rudolph, as well as the No. 3 quarterback. And as I have explained many times previously, assistant coaches do not have the authority to determine whether the team decides to spend a draft pick on a player at their position.

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.

WALTER HARDY FROM SAN LUIS POTOSI, MEXICO: I'll keep asking the same question: What was the difference between Stephon Gilmore, who won the Defensive Player of the Year Award, and Steven Nelson? Nelson had better stats except for interceptions, and he shut down a number of talented receivers while playing on a team that struggled offensively all season. I think Nelson deserved the award more than Gilmore, unless Defensive Player of the Year is another popularity contest.

ANSWER: I have ignored your question a couple of times because I didn't want to embarrass you, but since you're being so persistent, here we go: I happen to think Steven Nelson is a quality starting cornerback in the NFL, and signing him as an unrestricted free agent last offseason was a definite upgrade for the Steelers at an important position. But your facts are incorrect on the players' respective 2019 statistics. Nelson finished with 61 tackles, one interception, eight passes defensed, one fumble recovery, and no forced fumbles. Stephon Gilmore had 53 tackles, an NFL best 20 passes defensed, an NFL best six interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns, one fumble recovery, and no forced fumbles. Leading the NFL in both interceptions and passes defensed is significant when it comes to an award such as NFL Defensive Player of the Year. One final point: Since the award is given based on a vote, it is by definition a popularity contest. Anything decided by a vote where the winner is determined based on the highest number of votes is nothing but a popularity contest.

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.

SHAWN FITZPATRICK FROM LONG BEACH, CA: I realize you have answered this (at least twice) before, but can you please supply a mailing address to contact players and/or coaches?

ANSWERS: The mailing address at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex is: 3400 S. Water Street, Pittsburgh, PA, 15203.

LONNIE WILLIAMS FROM NEW CUMBERLAND, WV: I get my season tickets in the mail. When will the 2020 season tickets be sent to the season ticket holders' homes?

ANSWER: Because of the global pandemic, there hasn't been a definitive determination that NFL games will be played in 2020, and if they are played we still don't know whether they will be played with fans in the stands. There is still so much associated with this that has yet to be determined, and while it may be difficult to remain patient, that's really the only option there is right now.

JOHN BARTON FROM BRISTOL, PA: Do you think Quadree Henderson can beat out Ryan Switzer and make the 53-man roster and become the new punt returner? Do you think Kerrith White could beat out Jaylen Samuels and become a kickoff returner?

ANSWER: Based on Diontae Johnson returning a punt 85 yards for a touchdown as a rookie last season while leading the NFL with a 12.4-yard average on punt returns in 2019, I believe he has secured that job. And because of the way kickoffs have evolved in the NFL - with most kickoffs being touchbacks - a team isn't going to allocate a roster spot to a kickoff return specialist. That's not to mean that Quadree Henderson and/or Kerrith White cannot or will not make the 53-man roster, but they're going to have to make it based primarily on their ability to play wide receiver and running back, respectively.

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