Steelers may involve fullback Johnson in passing game more
Neither offensive coordinator Todd Haley nor running backs coach Kirby Wilson specifically told Will Johnson he will be used more in the passing game this year. But three weeks of organized team activities may have revealed their intentions for the Steelers fullback.
With Heath Miller recovering from knee surgery that likely will keep him out at least the first part of the season, and with no viable replacement at the position to put a dent in his team-high 71 receptions, the Steelers could turn more to their bruising-but-soft-handed fullback.
“We are doing a lot more; that's been evident (during OTAs),” Johnson said. “In the red zone, they put some angle routes in there for me. We are doing a lot of things. If they are impressed, they will show me by adding plays where I can get out in some routes, particularly in space. That's how I will know if they are interested in using my hands.”
Johnson's just interested in continuing what has been a Cinderella story. He missed his window into the NFL, worked three part-time jobs, accidentally was seen at a workout not meant for him and wound up playing in all 16 games for the Steelers last year.
“I will do whatever I can do to make myself more valuable to the team, and if that means catching passes, then I am fine with that,” Johnson said. “You have to be ready for everything, but my main focus will always be blocking. I don't mind catching the ball that's fine and all but first and foremost is blocking.”
Johnson (6-foot-2, 238 pounds) was an important part of the Steelers offense last year when he was an emergency replacement for David Johnson, who tore his ACL in early August. Will Johnson started seven games. He rushed only twice for 7 yards but was a solid lead blocker and even part of the passing game. Johnson was in the pass pattern 134 times, targeted 22 and caught 15 for 137 yards, including a Week 8 touchdown reception against Washington.
Johnson was on the field a lot. He played in as many as 32 snaps (about half of the offense snaps per game) a handful of times last year.
“I want to perfect my craft,” Johnson said. “I want to become a better coachable player, and if there was anything that was lacking last season, I am trying to focus in on that and sharpen that.”
Johnson's biggest problem last year was sustaining blocks.
“My initial attack is there, but I need to stay on them longer and finish them,” he said.
So Johnson is working out with the tight ends hitting the blocking sled and working on line-of-scrimmage blocking to help him when he is in the standup position outside the tight end.
“Every day I am learning something different, especially using the outside zone scheme,” Johnson said. “You can see that I am still learning how to read it.”
Johnson, 24, doesn't mind the extra work, especially knowing how he went from working odd jobs to scoring an NFL touchdown within a couple of months last year.
“It was definitely a dream come true, but is something that you can't take for granted,” Johnson said. “Coach (Mike) Tomlin tells me all the time to not become complacent and satisfied, to set a new goal and continue to strive to reach it. I will become a better player because of it. Hopefully I can continue to build off last year's success.”