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David Johnson Injury Places Steelers In A Tight Space

The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a blow yesterday when they were forced to put tight end David Johnson on injured reserve. After spending the 2012 season out of football due to a knee injury, the veteran tight end was gradually feeling better as the games ticked away this year.

In fact, he was coming off one of the best games of his career against the Minnesota Vikings before he suffered a wrist injury early in this past game against the New York Jets. He looked to be establishing himself as a key member of the offense.

Not necessarily as a receiving threat, of course, which he would never have been regardless, although he had recorded four receptions for 70 yards this season, an average of 17.5 yards per catch.

No, he was quickly becoming instrumental in the running game, where he dominated against the Vikings. I highlighted some of his fine work in that game here last week, and was becoming optimistic about the Steelers being able to employ a strong stable of tight ends capable of run blocking to offset some of the offensive line’s deficiencies.

To replace Johnson on the roster, the team has signed former Oakland Raiders tight end Richard Gordon.

A third-year player, Gordon had not been with a team this year prior to the Steelers signing him yesterday. In his first two years, he totaled 138 snaps, never playing more than 25 in any individual game, and usually playing no more than just five or six. He saw double-digit snaps in just three of his 27 career games.

Head coach Mike Tomlin spoke of him as though he could be a plug-and-play type of offensive asset at his news conference, saying that he possessed some of the same attributes as Johnson, but that is hardly likely to be the case.

In fact, given that Johnson was not much of a special teams contributor—and thus a new special teamer was not a need—it is certainly possible that Gordon could be a game day inactive with David Paulson and Michael Palmer already being heavy special teams contributors.

What this means is, most likely, more snaps for Paulson, who since the return of Heath Miller has seen his snap count plummet dramatically. That is until this past game with Johnson’s injury.

After averaging 53 snaps per game in the first two games, Paulson played just 13, then three snaps the following two games. Because David Johnson was forced out of the game so early, however, the Steelers were forced to play Paulson more. He ended up playing 35 snaps on offense.

It will likely be Miller and Paulson running the show at tight end, at least for the next two weeks, perhaps with some help from Will Johnson, when the Steelers hope to acquire the services of Matt Spaeth off the short-term injured reserve list, where he has spent the first six weeks of the season. Spaeth is allowed to begin practicing now, but he is not eligible to play until after the eighth week of the season.

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