Mammoth guard Fred Johnson hard to miss at Steelers training camp, gets shot at tackle | TribLIVE.com
Steelers/NFL

Mammoth guard Fred Johnson hard to miss at Steelers training camp, gets shot at tackle

Chris Adamski
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Chris Adamski | Tribune-Review
Pittsburgh Steelers rookie offensive lineman Fred Johnson after a training-camp practice Aug. 3, 2019, at Saint Vincent College.

Fred Johnson might be the tallest guard who’s ever attended a Pittsburgh Steelers training camp. And in what might have been a sign of just how much Johnson intrigues the Steelers, they even threw him into the proverbial fire at tackle, too.

For the 2-minute drill simulation at the end of Saturday’s practice, Johnson was told to play left tackle.

“That was the first time this camp I was at tackle,” Johnson said afterward.

An undrafted rookie from Florida, Johnson has generally been the second-team right guard during camp this far. At 6-foot-7, he’s impossible to miss, particularly at an interior position (no other Steelers guard or center is listed as taller than 6-5).

But Johnson has been a guard since the Florida coaches moved him there early in his sophomore season. Johnson started 31 games as the Gators’ right guard from 2016-18. He was one of the Steelers’ top targets soon after the draft ended in April (he got a $15,000 bonus from the Steelers).

Of the four rookie offensive linemen (Derwin Gray was a seventh-round pick; the other three undrafted free agents), Johnson is the only one to consistently get second-team reps during this camp. He’s also been the most consistent performer of the rookies.

“I’m just feeling like I need to improve every day,” Johnson said. “Every day take something to work on the next day. Our coaches are really technique-oriented in how they do stuff, and I’m trying to do it the way they want it and not the way I want it.”

The offensive line depth chart is crowded; the five starters (assuming Matt Feiler wins the starting job), second-year former third-round pick Chuks Okorafor and $3 million-plus backup B.J. Finney are guaranteed spots if healthy. Jerald Hawkins and Zach Banner are returnees from a past Steelers’ 53-man roster, too.

The Steelers won’t keep any more than nine offensive linemen on the 53-man. Center/guard Patrick Morris returns from the practice squad, and former Alabama center/guard J.C. Hassenauer has been impressive in camp. Gray will get a look because of the invested draft pick.

In short, it won’t be a slam-dunk for Johnson to even make the practice squad. But getting that sudden look at tackle — in a high-profile team drill — shows the Steelers are strongly considering Johnson because they demand versatility out of their linemen.

“Me being able to play tackle is just more tools in my shed for me to use; it creates more versatility and helps the team be better overall,” Johnson said. “I feel at home at guard. But I’ll play anywhere they put me. If they need a guard, I’ll be a guard. If they need a tackle, I’ll be a tackle.

“At least for a couple snaps.”

The handful he got Saturday included one gaffe: a holding penalty called by the officials on hand. It stalled the second-team offense’s scoring drive. Johnson didn’t think he did anything worthy of being flagged, but he did acknowledge it wasn’t a smooth showing.

“My stance was bad, and I can’t really ‘punch’ how I wanted,” Johnson said. “But it was just really trying to overcome adversity and be ready to go.”

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Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Steelers
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