Sun, 24 Sep 2023

Asked and Answered: Aug. 9

The Steelers
10 Aug 2022, 06:30 GMT+10

Bob Labriola

Let's get to it:

BILL ROTHENBACH FROM ABINGDON, MD: As a lifelong out-of-town Steelers fan I really appreciate the information I get from your columns. My question concerns the defensive coaching staff. With Coach Mike Tomlin apparently heavily involved in play-calling for the defense in the past, with Teryl Austin as a new defensive coordinator, and with Brian Flores as a former head coach, do you think there might be "too many cooks in the kitchen" on the defensive side of the ball? Do you think this may lead to any confusion or do you think the roles have been clearly spelled out?

ANSWER: Dealing in pure hypotheticals can lead to any result you're seeking. If you go into this with the idea that the combination of Coach Mike Tomlin, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and senior defensive assistant/linebackers Brian Flores will devolve into a clash of egos that is detrimental to the team over the course of the season, then you can convince yourself of that. If you go into this with the idea that the same combination of three men is going to yield new ideas and possibly some innovations that could allow a talented defense to take the next step toward becoming a dominant unit, then you can convince yourself of that. So far there is absolutely no evidence one way or the other of how this arrangement is going to work. My experience is that there are two kinds of NFL coaches - those who want to win, and those who want to be right on the way to winning.

When he was hired by the Steelers in 2007, Tomlin proved he wasn't in the latter group when he made no changes to the 3-4, zone-blitz defense Dick LeBeau had installed instead of switching to the 4-3, Tampa-2 style he had been taught as a young assistant under Tony Dungy with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Said Tomlin at the time, "That decision was very easy for me. To me, that's all ego-driven when people come in and believe they have to put their stamp on things. Why would you fix something that's not broken? That's just me. I'm more interested in winning than anything else, and that allows us to win. We have great players, we have a great system, we have great coaches. The story doesn't have to be me, what I do. The story has to be what we do, and what we're capable of doing as a team."

From what I know of Austin and my interactions with him, I believe he is cut from the same cloth. Austin had risen to the level of defensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions and then the Cincinnati Bengals before accepting a job with the Steelers as a senior assistant and secondary coach where he worked seamlessly for three years when Keith Butler was the defensive coordinator. While I don't know Flores, the time he spent under Bill Belichick in New England and the success he was a part of with the Patriots lead me to believe he, too, is someone who wouldn't allow his ego or personal agenda to get in the way of being happy with contributing to a winning culture and the pursuit of championships. My opinion is that this Tomlin-Austin-Flores combination will be a good thing for the Steelers because of the kind of people they are.

DON MEEK FROM CINCINNATI, OH: I was looking for your thoughts on the Immaculate Reception. I recently watched a documentary where they attempted both to support and deny the catch, the deflection, and the officials' ruling at the end of the game. I was 11 years old and watched the game live on NBC. That game, that play, and that moment in time made me a Steelers fan for life. It is the single most exciting and dramatic play in football history and changed the course of the franchise. How do think today's replay would have impacted the ruling on that catch and run?

ANSWER: Instant replay only is supposed to change the call on the field only if there is clear and irrefutable video evidence to support that decision. To this day, I don't believe clear video evidence exists to overturn the call on the field.

ANTHONY CZERWIEC FROM TINLEY PARK, ILL: Living in the Chicagoland area, I haven't been able to get to camp and see how Chase Claypool has been doing, coming off what some say was a down year. Have you been able to see how he's been doing with the new quarterbacks/receivers?

ANSWER: Chase Claypool sustained a shoulder injury during the acclimation days, which were made up of practices in helmets and shells. That sidelined him for a while, but recently he begun making his way back to full participation in practices, and Coach Mike Tomlin has expressed optimism about his progress. While he was not practicing, Claypool was visibly engaged and stayed close to the receivers' group during their time on the field. Stay tuned.

JOHN DOMINGUEZ FROM HORIZON CITY, TX: I have been a Steelers fan all my life, and someone once told me that the moniker "America's Team" was first presented to the Steelers, and they refused it because they would let their play speak for them. Could you verify this or tell us if this really occurred?

ANSWER: Art Rooney Sr. was contacted by NFL Films in the late 1970s about bestowing the moniker, "America's Team," on the Steelers. Rooney declined and reportedly told NFL Films that the Steelers were "Pittsburgh's team."

ROBERT RICHARDSON FROM MODESTO, CA: When is the first NFL roster cut-down day?

ANSWER: The first cut-down is on Aug. 16 when rosters have to be reduced from 90 to 85 by 4 p.m. Then on Aug. 23 by 4 p.m., rosters must be reduced from 85 to 80. The final roster cuts are to be made by 4 p.m. on Aug. 30, when rosters will be reduced from 80 to 53.

CHRIS WELBURN GLASTONBURY, CT: When do you think we'll have a decent understanding of what to expect from the Steelers offensive schematics, in terms of whether there will be a significant and unique change based on coordinator Matt Canada's influence with a different starting quarterback? With all the "vanilla" play during preseason, will we have to wait until the opening game of the regular season?

ANSWER: Whatever offensive personality the Steelers exhibit in 2022, I believe, will develop over time, and based on the particular opponent. I wouldn't expect some dramatic unveiling on Sept. 11. It rarely works that way.

EDUARDO MAGALHAES FROM CAÇAPAVA, SAO PAULO, BRASIL: Do teams in the NFL send scouts to their rivals' training camps so they can get an advantage on game planning, especially for games played early in the season?

ANSWER: No, but video of all teams' preseason games is available through NFL Films.

MICHAEL JOHNSON FROM HOUSTON, TX: As we all know, 98 percent of Dallas Cowboys fans are delusional, because they think their team will win the Super Bowl every year. From that point of view, what do you regard as a successful season for the Steelers?

ANSWER: While the Steelers have a stated goal of winning a championship each season, that's different in my mind from contention that the only successful outcome to a season is winning a Super Bowl and every other outcome is a failure. Winning a Super Bowl is hard, which is made explicitly clear by the fact the most Super Bowls won by an individual franchise is six, by the Steelers and the Patriots, and the Super Bowl played at the end of the 2022 season will be the 57th in NFL history. In terms of what qualifies as a successful season, I believe that's in the eye of the beholder, and while it's fair to perceive any season that falls short of a championship is one where the Steelers failed to meet their goal, it's an overly negative approach to label every season that doesn't end with a parade through Downtown Pittsburgh as unsuccessful.

TIM GOLDSMITH FROM SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES, AUSTRALIA: I understand Jeremy McNichols has been added to the "Injured/Reserved list". Does that mean that he will still get paid when the season comes?

ANSWER: There actually are a few potential outcomes to the Steelers placing Jeremy McNichols on the reserve/injured list at this time of the NFL calendar. If the team decides to keep him there, he could not return at any point in the season because he was not a part of the initial 53-man roster, and he would be paid his salary once the regular season begins. If the two sides decide to negotiate an injury settlement, there would be an agreed-upon payment between the Steelers and McNichols' agent, and then he would be able to sign with any other NFL team once he was healthy enough to pass a physical. If the Steelers and McNichols' representatives want to resume their arrangement this season, there would be an injury settlement paid to McNichols and then three weeks after he was able to pass a physical, he would be permitted to rejoin the Steelers. That three-week time frame is there to discourage teams from using the injured reserve list as a way to stash players and still be able to use his roster spot for another player.

CHRIS PETRO FROM VALPARAISO, IN: Can you please explain to me why Coach Mike Tomlin is so wanting a "mobile" quarterback, and why Steelers President Art Rooney II seems to be on board with that? Tomlin had Ben Roethlisberger in his prime, and upper management had to chain Ben down for fear of getting him mauled if he didn't stop running around. Have quarterbacks suddenly become impervious to injuries since then? What's wrong with having a pocket passer who will live to see the next play instead getting carted off after getting wrecked while scrambling?

ANSWER: First of all, you are confusing "mobile quarterback" with "running quarterback," and the two are most definitely not the same thing. Being mobile means the quarterback can use his legs to buy time and stress the defensive coverage by using his mobility to create better throwing lanes, and if/when the coverage breaks down, he then can take advantage of that by gaining yards before safely sliding to protect himself. What Tomlin is seeking in a "mobile quarterback" is someone more like Buffalo's Josh Allen vs. Baltimore's Lamar Jackson. The issue with Ben Roethlisberger that President Art Rooney II wanted to address, and then-offensive coordinator Bruce Arians refused to implement, was having him get the ball out of his hand more quickly instead of standing there and taking punishment while holding onto the ball for patterns down the field to develop.

PAT GUNNING FROM OKLAHOMA CITY, OK: Joe Turek, a treasured friend and neighbor, was a lifelong Steelers fan, and often read Asked and Answered. Joe grew up in Bever Falls, Pa., and was a sophomore fullback at Beaver Falls High School when Joe Namath was the senior quarterback there. Joe passed this summer at the age of 76, and he was a faithful reader of Asked and Answered and spoke with me often about the questions and answers. Joe was a dear friend, who will be missed.

ANSWER: I'm sorry for your loss.

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