It almost appears that the Pittsburgh Steelers are sending rookie Wesley Johnson mixed signals.
When you look at the 53-man roster, the logical conclusion would have to be that his primary responsibility would be as a tackle, because reserve linemen Cody Wallace and Chris Hubbard are not end players.
Guy Whimper had been running as a tackle on both sides throughout the offseason with the second-team offensive line, but the Steelers elected to release him in favor of carrying second-year former practice squad guard ‘Mother’ Hubbard.
The gut reaction was that that might be a temporary position, but the waiver deadline has passed, and Hubbard, of course, remains on the roster.
That leaves only Mike Adams as a tackle-capable reserve, meaning that Johnson would at worst be the second option should either starting tackle go down. He’s currently listed as the third-team option at all line positions.
But on Sunday, the Steelers added Alejandro Villanueva to the practice squad as an offensive lineman. At 6’9”, it’s a reasonable assumption that he will be asked to play tackle with the scout team offensive line. He played left tackle in college.
But both Adams and Villanueva appear to be bookend players only, which would suggest that Johnson would have no choice but to practice as an interior player with the scout team. Of course, he will have to do so at center for the time being until Wallace is ready to practice anyway.
The Steelers drafted Johnson because of his versatility, having recorded starts in college at every position along the offensive line. Through the offseason, he practiced all over the line as well, both inside and outside.
But during the preseason, every one of his 111 snaps—fifth-most for the team on offense—came at the center position, even before Wallace’s injury.
In order for Johnson to get any reps at tackle during practice, the Steelers will have to give him some reps with the starters, or give one of starting interior linemen some reps with the second-team offensive line.
This is, of course, assuming that Villanueva lasts on the practice squad. The Steelers may have just signed him to the practice squad because they needed a tackle body to get through practices this week while looking for a more long-term offensive lineman candidate. If that’s the case, they could bring in a player capable of playing on the inside as well.
That, or they could sign a veteran lineman to the roster at some point and place Hubbard back on the practice squad. It wouldn’t be the first time a fringe player made the initial roster only to be bumped a short time later.