Pittsburgh Steelers rookie offensive lineman Wesley Johnson didn’t get a chance to play much in the preseason opener against the Giants, considering the second-team offensive line played nearly the entire game. Only with a few snaps toward the end did some of the third-string linemen get an opportunity to play, and frankly I took little notice of it.
But he was handed a substantial opportunity to participate last week when guard Bryant Browning was injured in the third quarter. As a result, center Cody Wallace moved over to guard, and Johnson came into the game as the center.
Johnson entered the game about midway through the third quarter and remained at center for the rest of the night. While some others struggled with their blocks on the play above, the rookie handled defensive tackle and former Steeler Corbin Bryant well. While he wasn’t able to turn the lineman, he used his shoulder to get underneath him and seal him out of the play.
Johnson bailed off the line of scrimmage on second down, the following play, heading upfield to block linebacker Randell Johnson. Johnson and Wallace, the latter blocking Bryant, created a rare running lane for the second-team offense.
One trouble spot that Johnson did run into came on a play that never counted to begin with. On the first play of the Steelers’ second drive with Johnson under center, they ran a screen to Dri Archer, which Johnson tried to get in front of by throwing a cut block that failed to connect properly.
Cut blocks are something that linemen are not able to practice against their own teammates, so it’s no surprise that we’ve seen a number of such attempts fail this preseason. The intended target went on to make the tackle, but an illegal use of hands penalty on Wallace nullified the play anyway.
The Steelers went three-and-out on their final drive of the third quarter, but you can’t blame Johnson for this incompletion, as he was the only lineman not chasing after the pass rusher who slipped by him. In fact, he stuck to Bryant well on this play and kept him in front of the quarterback.
The only problem, which is something that I’ve noticed on several other plays, is that Johnson has a tendency to get his arms out wide. On this play, he nearly has his arm wrapped around the tackle. Which is fine, as long as you don’t get caught. But it seems only a matter of time that he gets flagged. He needs to learn to get his hands in tighter while blocking. As Tunch Ilkin preaches, “aim small, miss small”.
Part of the wrap on Johnson entering the league is that, while he is more often than not technically sound, he may not possess the strength to be an immediate factor on the NFL level. This will certainly be true at tackle, but he may be able to contribute as an interior reserve in his first season, given his ability to play all five positions.
As seen on this play above, however, there will be times during which strength will be at issue, as he got bull rushed into the pocket and stood upright in this example.
There were other examples throughout the game of Johnson getting walked down the line, and, as previously mentioned, he could probably have been flagged for holding a time or two. Overall, however, it was a promising extended look as he vies for the ninth lineman slot.