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.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • dgh57

    With the run game struggling it’s not going to get any better with Paulson in there! The effort was made to sign Gordon so use him.

  • T R

    Since Adrian Robinson just got cut from Denver can we bring him back and play TE or LT, LOL he cant be worst then Whimper….and we got back up Linebacker. :)

  • steeltown

    Well I would hope that Paulson plays with more intensity and drive after having lost snaps and being passed on the depth chart…. either that or they’ll be going with Palmer vs OAK

  • cencalsteeler

    O.K. I’m confused. DJ has great blocking and this new kid Gordon is similar to DJ, but Paulson will take his place due to his special teams play? Whats more important here? Putting 7’s on the board. We need the blocking help from our TE’s because our oline is struggling. We need help protecting our franchise qb and help opening holes for Le’Veon.
    I understand special teams is important, but where did I miss the memo that it is starting to supersede the offense? And, speaking of special teams play, can’t Will Allen or Antwon Blake (he was brought in specifically for st) fill that role for Paulson? If Tomlin states that Gordon is similar to DJ and can plug n play, then why not plug him in and let him play! Sorry, but not a big fan of Paulsons blocking and we need the help this week with Dumervil and Suggs.

  • treeher

    You just can’t immediately plug these guys in. They have to learn the offense, at least a LITTLE bit … plus, this guy was sitting on the couch at home, hadn’t even been with a team this year. Assuming he’s capable, he’ll be a good backup to Spaeth and then either Palmer or Paulson will go. If he doesn’t shine, then he’s expendable.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I didn’t say Paulson would play over Gordon because of special teams. Gordon was mainly a special teams player as well. But just because Tomlin talked the hell out of the Gordon signing doesn’t mean he’s anything noteworthy. The guy’s only played double-digit snaps three times in his entire career, so he doesn’t really have a body of work. Frankly, I half suspect that he talked him up so much to assuage those throwing a hissy fit that they didn’t sign a tackle. I just have my doubts that he can really offer much of anything. After all, why did not nobody sign him until after week six? Paulson did a better job this past game than in the first two, and there are only two games to get through before Spaeth is presumably back anyway.

  • steeltown

    Im hoping Paulson has a chip on his shoulder moving forward

  • cencalsteeler

    I totally agree with you. Tomlin is the one who said this guy is plug n play. So, if there is truth to what Tomlin is saying, then why put Paulson in there to block? I think we’d get more from Gordon being a sixth lineman, than Paulson.

  • cencalsteeler

    Good points. I’d like to see Tomlin put Gordon next to Beachum and just say, “Help this kid and double team his opponent .” Plus, his special teams stats aren’t too shabby.

  • Dr. Doom

    Paulson can’t even get in the way

  • cencalsteeler

    On second thought, why don’t we fully reverse the roles of Beachum and Adams. What I mean by this is to have Adams fill in at TE the way they used Beachum. And since LT is now Beachums to lose, how about practicing Adams at both tackle and guard positions. This will increase his value to the team while he has a chance to develop his skills further at LT if he so desires. But, Matt, the more I think about it, I’m really liking the idea of plugging him in at TE!