When Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin ran down his list of injured players Tuesday during his press conference, fullback Will Johnson wasn’t included. While there hasn’t been much good news concerning the Steelers over the course of the last several days, the news that Johnson might just be able to play Monday night is great.
Johnson, who suffered a hamstring injury in the preseason finale, dressed for the season opener against the Tennessee Titans, but did not play as Tomlin decided to keep him sidelined and only use him in case of emergency.
Last year, Johnson saw 366 plays on offense as the Steelers fullback. Sunday, against the Titans, the Steelers used a two back set just once and that play resulted in Isaac Redman fumbling at the goal-line.
Judging by what we saw last year and during the preseason, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley more than likely wants to use 21 (2 RBs/1TE) and 22 (2RB/2TEs) personnel at least 40% of the time during a game. Being down a fullback and two tight ends, three if you include Kelvin Beachum being forced to move to center, in the opener resulted in the Steelers offense having to use their 11 (1RB/1TE/2WRs) personnel grouping on 35 of 53 plays (66%). The result of that was a very poor running game and very shaky pass protection.
Johnson is not only good as a blocker at the fullback position, he also keeps linebackers and safeties honest when he is in the game because he is such a great receiver out of the backfield. If the Steelers can get him back on the field Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals for 40% of their offensive plays, it should help some.