Steelers FB Will Johnson Likely To Get More Receiving Opportunities In 2013


Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Will Johnson burst upon the scene last year as a year-old undrafted free agent, and he certainly made the most of his opportunities. In 2013, those opportunities appear likely to increase for the West Virginia product, according to a Monday evening report by Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

While Johnson only registered 15 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown last season, eight of them moved the chains, while the other 7 produced an average gain of 6 yards on either first or second down. Despite playing only 366 snaps on offense as a rookie, Johnson managed to impress Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, who talked glowingly about his find back in February at the 2013 NFL Combine.

“Will Johnson did a great job for us, Colbert said during his combine media session. “We signed Will out of the West Virginia pro day last year as a free agent, a fullback candidate, and quite honestly, he exceeded our expectations. We didn\’t know what he was going to be able to do because he really didn\’t do much of what we asked him to do at West Virginia. He was more of backside-move, kind of tight end. In our situation, he became a traditional fullback and did a great job, so we\’re hoping he can continue it.”

According to Johnson, he\’s been able to showcase his hands quite a bit this offseason during the Steelers first three weeks of OTA practices.

“We are doing a lot more; that\’s been evident (during OTAs),” Johnson said, via the Kaboly report. “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 journey to becoming a fullback for the Steelers initially started when he arrived at West Virginia as a wide receiver even though he played mostly halfback and linebacker in high school at Centerville High School in Dayton. However, due to him continuing to gain weight, he was moved to tight end in the spring of 2008, and it resulted in him catching nine passes for 64 yards and a touchdown that season in his new role.

After finishing his college career with 25 catches for 249 yards and four touchdowns, Johnson went undrafted in 2011 and unnoticed afterwards thanks mostly to the NFL lockout. He sat out of football for a season while working three part-time jobs, but managed to catch the eye of the Steelers coaching staff at the West Virginia pro day in 2012 that resulted in him being signed immediately afterwards.

When starting fullback David Johnson went down last year in the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles with a knee injury, it was Will\’s job to win, and he did just that.

Johnson told Kaboly the Steelers coaching staff has had him working on sustaining his blocks this offseason and that he\’s also getting work as a stand-up tight end in addition for when he is used out wide in the outside zone blocking scheme that the Steelers are expected to use more of in 2013.

“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.”

While the Steelers didn\’t use it enough last season to my own liking, Johnson was very effective at running the wheel route out of the backfield in 2012, so hopefully we see more of that in 2013.

While Johnson\’s primarily role will remain him being a lead blocker on running plays, he has done enough already to warrant defenses needing to pay much more attention to him this upcoming season. While I think the Steelers will continue to carefully pick their spots that they choose to use him as a receiver in 2013, I don\’t think that 20 catches are totally out of the question for him.

Johnson will get a chance to continue to work on his development starting Tuesday as the Steelers begin their three day mandatory mini camp.

Animated GIF Steelers FB Will Johnson 2012 touchdown catch versus Redskins

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About Dave Bryan

I am, I'm me. 40 something, retired and a life long Steelers fan.
  • 2443scott

    some times gems just go unnoticed cause they arent on the number 1 team and never get a chance …like james was but we all know what came of him ….give me a undrafted player who wants to play over any ego sized player any day

  • Shea Fahr

    Will is one of my favorites. He goes to work and works hard. I look for an even bigger year from him this year.

  • steeltown

    Love this guy, his story is inspiring
    Will is deceptively fast for his size, very strong and he does have good hands, I expect to see him used more this year. Him previously playing WR and LB gives an added dimension and has most likely helped him along the way in regards to pass catching and holding blocks

  • steeltown

    On a side note: I heard the Ravens are going to trade/release Vonta Leach

  • sgtrobo

    yeah, Rotoworld is saying that he’ll be gone by noon, either via trade or more likely released

  • steeltown

    Talk about changing of the guard

  • cencalsteeler

    It’s hard not to like Will Johnson! Don’t know the details of his contract, but I hope we lock him up, he will get noticed this year.

  • steeltown

    I believe he’s on a minimum deal through next season and then he’ll be a ‘Restricted’ FA in 2015, which is good for us in regards to negotiations

  • blackandgoldBullion

    I do feel bad for David Johnson. Blew out the knee in 1st pre-season game and done. The previous year, he was making all the key blocks whenever there was any sort of decent run. 270 lbs. slamming those LB’s to create cavernous holes for the runner. If his hands were a little better, imagine that big man lumbering towards you.
    I wish they could somehow keep both, but that’s near impossible. A good problem for the Steelers to have.

  • steeltown

    …think he was just released

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Agree, I love bigger back/fb who go out and make a crushing block. However Steelers probably are just utilitizing Will Johnson a lot now because looking on paper, he’s our best weapon for any TE/FB and that may not be saying much because we are without Heath Miller but it just might give us a lot more looks when Heath does come back. I say this dude is Steelers 4 life. May be the most athletic fullback we had since Witman but Will have higher ceiling. Exciting time during this bare, boring off-season!

  • Matt Searls

    So I guess that training camp battle is over

  • steeltown

    Well yes and no, I personally think that DJ will get some snaps at FB in camp, but I think he was primarily brought in for TE depth due to Heaths injury. I think Colbert even hinted at that after the draft, he said that even with Miller out/rehabbing they feel good about their TE depth after bringing back Spaeth and D.Johnson to go along with Paulson

  • Ahmad

    To say that I’m excited to see WJ catch more passes is an understatement.

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