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Second-year QB Johnson looks to keep impressing

| Saturday, Aug. 18, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune Review Steelers quarterback Jerrod Johnson during practice at St. Vincent College Aug. 17, 2012.

Coach Mike Tomlin will take a longer look at his starters on Sunday night when the Steelers host the Indianapolis Colts at Heinz Field.

Tomlin, too, has higher expectations in Week 2 of the preseason. Admittedly, some players and certain positions will get more scrutiny as the Steelers try to rebound from a 24-23 loss in Philadelphia.

“We're excited about getting after our second preseason game, more significantly our first one at home,” Tomlin said. “It's significant for us, and I expect us to take a big step individually and collectively, particularly with our young people.”

Specifically, Tomlin will closely evaluate quarterback Jerrod Johnson. The second-year Texas A&M product is expected to close out the game against the Colts.

“That's a plan we've approached going into this thing,” Tomlin said. “We want to give Johnson a lot of work, particularly in the first two games.

“He's a guy who hasn't had a bunch of in-game experience. I think, prior to this year, even though he's been in preseason camp, he hasn't taken but four or so preseason snaps.”

The 6-foot-5, 251-pound Johnson, who signed as a free agent shortly after the Steelers' playoff loss in Denver, is trying to get his NFL career on track. He missed his entire rookie season after being released by the Eagles.

“Hopefully, we can put some points on the board and move the ball down field,” said Johnson, who tossed a 57-yard touchdown pass to running back Chris Rainey last week. “I'm excited about the opportunity to play, and I'm confident about having a chance to sling the ball around a little bit. I don't have much experience in an NFL game.”

So far, he has been impressive during training camp. Surprisingly, he has thrust himself into position to compete with veteran Charlie Batch for the No. 3 job behind backup Byron Leftwich, who Tomlin said will not play Sunday.

“We want to get (Johnson) acclimated to the environment to give him a fair opportunity to show what he's capable of doing,” Tomlin said. “He is a young guy who is showing some growth and development. He's had some good days, and he's had some days where he's taken a step back or two.”

Tomlin is often a tough talent evaluator, but said Johnson is sharp, attentive and has a desire to be great. Johnson will relieve Batch, who has tutored him throughout training camp.

“All I can worry about is learning as much as I can from those guys,” said Johnson, who because of rotator cuff surgery surrendered his starting job to Miami's No. 1 pick, Ryan Tannehill, during his senior year at Texas A&M. “At the end of the day, whatever decision the coaches make, I can live with it.

“I think I've done well, but there are definitely some things I can work on. I think I'm good enough to make this team, but it's up to the coaches.”

Johnson has impressed the coaching staff with his understanding of ability to read coverage. Still, most of his lessons have come in the classroom and on the practice field.

Johnson has earned a chance to prove he belongs in the NFL. On the other hand, Batch and Leftwich have proved they can win.

“I was fortunate to learn a lot from an NFL guy like (Dolphins offensive coordinator) Mike Sherman while I was in college,” Johnson said. “From a mental aspect, on top of my physical gifts and athletic ability, I believe I deserve to be in the league.”

Ralph N. Paulk is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rpaulk@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923

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