Will Johnson Making Limited Reps Count

By Matthew Marczi

Fullback Will Johnson only saw 10 snaps in the last game for the Pittsburgh Steelers, for one reason or another, but when he did see the field, he generally made it count.

Based on the way the team has been using him, however, I am not sure if fullback is an accurate description for him any longer, as he is playing more of an h-back role, playing on the line and on the move with greater frequency.

Take Le’Veon Bell’s first career touchdown from the last game against the Minnesota Vikings as an example:

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For some reason unknown to me, the Steelers want Johnson to block linebacker Chad Greenway, who is stalking the C Gap, between Marcus Gilbert and David Johnson, and they want him to reach block him from Johnson’s right. An absurd assignment, in my opinion, yet he still gets there in time to knock the linebacker away at Bell’s feet, who uses his tight ends’ blocks to bounce the run outside for the score.

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Once again, on this play, the Steelers have Johnson lined up on the outside shoulder of a tight end. Pre-snap, they have him fake motion and re-set where he started. He again draws Greenway as his assignment, and he meets him head on as a fullback would, though without a head-start. Despite the play’s failure, Johnson shows his strength and determination by eventually working Greenway to the ground.

Later on, early in the third quarter, the Steelers have themselves a first and goal at the one following a long pass interference call in the end zone drawn by Antonio Brown. This play should have gone for a touchdown had Erin Henderson not slipped around David DeCastro’s block.

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This play, again, shows the unorthodox ways in which Todd Haley is looking to employ his athletically gifted ‘fullback’, despite his limited in-game reps thus far this season. The play starts off with him lined up on the right side of the offensive line before Ben Roethlisberger motions him to the left, where he settles in behind and between Heath Miller and Mike Adams, with David Johnson also to Miller’s left.

Rather than drawing the lead, DeCastro is the lead blocker on this play, and instead the Steelers ask Will Johnson to take on the perimeter, boxing safety Harrison Smith cleanly out of the play and providing the seal necessary to open up a scoring lane. In reality, even though Henderson got around DeCastro’s block, if Bell had gone outside of DeCastro, Johnson’s seal on the perimeter still should have been sufficient enough for a touchdown.

Be that as it may, Bell plowed home for the score on the next play, again thanks in part to Johnson’s perimeter blocking. With the second-year player showing his aptitude to execute such an array of assignments, it is a wonder that he is not seeing the field more in 2013.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • dkoy85

    Let’s get Johnson some more playing time!

  • Dr. Doom

    Only Todd can answer why he is not using him.

  • Eric

    Throw the damn ball to him over the middle already.

  • chris ward

    Would like to see Haley get Johnson more involved in the passing game like last year.

  • Marcus

    My biggest beef with Haley is the way he uses his personnel. If you ever get a chance watch Johnson’s workout video on youtube. The guy is as hard working as they come, and I was excited because I heard Haley really liked him and wanted to use him more in the offense this year.. but this year has been filled with disappointments.

  • Marcus

    The first block, the degree of difficulty is a 10. That’s as pretty as a block can get.

  • kev4heels

    I simply don’t understand why Will Johnson is not used more as a receiving threat and a blocker.

  • cencalsteeler

    It looks like Johnson is being used to help out this line. If this line starts looking better, hopefully that opens the door for Johnson to be more involved in the passing game. But, for now, it looks like Haley is just trying to help out the line as much as he can by using Johnson as an added blocker.

  • RedCarpetDefense

    Thank you Matthew for continuing to bring attention to a player on this roster that has more than earned his time on the field. Are the Steelers a team that is committed to running the ball or are they not? It seems they are more committed to the WR screen. Will Johnson (and Heath Miller while we’re at it) needs to be on the field more his impact in both the running and passing game as a receiver or blocker has yet to be fully utilized. I know injuries kept him out for a few games and he’s (still?) working his way back. Oh yeah thanks Tomlin for having our fullback play in meaningless preseason games thus increasing the chance for injury (which happened) to a player (WJ) at a position (FB) there was no backup for at that time. I see in WJ a pro bowl caliber player that isn’t getting the reps because Haley has them in (seemingly) 11 personnel a lot.

  • Ahmad

    It’s most likely because the Steelers are playing from behind so frequently that they have to use the 11 personnel more often than not which decreases the chances for WJ.

  • Impact3697

    Bingo

  • Jonas

    Then he’s still underused with 10 snaps in the last game!

  • Steeler Wheeler

    I can’t figure out why the best blocking back on the team, who can allegedly also get open and catch, isn’t the third down back?