For the second game in a row, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie offensive lineman Wesley Johnson logged significant time at center, and once again, he acquitted himself well, played above the line, and undoubtedly inspired another cliché or two in the process.
It’s not that Johnson is vying for a starting job or anything of that nature, but he has performed when called upon recently, and presumably has already secured a spot for himself on the roster, or at least has come close.
He even showed some improvement in areas of weakness from the previous week, which is always a positive sign from a young player. Below are a few examples of the progress that he has made since he has been tied down in the interior of the offensive line rather than playing at tackle.
Johnson entered the game with the rest of the second-team offense in the waning seconds of the third quarter, taking over at the 45-yard line with 17 seconds in the quarter remaining. He made his first snap count on a deep ball targeting Martavis Bryant.
Although he got jolted back a bit off the snap with a good punch from the nose tackle, Johnson settled down and the line as a whole gave Bruce Gradkowski a nice pocket to work out of.
A few plays later, he was forced to muster his strength in order to hold off the nose tackle in the running game. The play seems designed to go up the A gap off the center’s left shoulder, but Le’Veon Bell decided to cut it off right tackle, even though the hole seemed to be there. Still, the play gained five yards, but I don’t know that it wouldn’t have been more beneficial to hit the first hole.
Last game, one of the lowlights in Johnson’s performance was a missed cut block downfield on a screen. He made sure to hit his target against the Eagles, taking out the linebacker on a screen pass to LeGarrette Blount that gained seven yards.
A few plays later on the same drive, Johnson had a bit of trouble staying in front of the right defensive end on a carry by Blount off right tackle. His man made the tackle on Blount as he was already going down following a six-yard gain on second and two.
Whether or not Cody Wallace plays tonight should determine if Johnson gets a chance to attest to his versatility. The Steelers released their only other true center candidate on Tuesday, and have not given Chris Hubbard any work there.
It would be a slight disappointment if Johnson doesn’t get an opportunity to play other positions, since his primary asset is his five-position versatility. That is a skill that can be honed over time, however; there would be nothing wrong with keeping him as an interior lineman as a rookie as he improves his strength. In time, he could become the sixth lineman, as Kelvin Beachum was.