Re-Signing Of Steven Johnson Good News For Lagging Special Teams

It wasn’t exactly a major splash, and the news didn’t necessarily send shock waves through the nation, but the Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision to re-sign inside linebacker Steven Johnson is not only a fairly significant move, it’s also a validation of the fact that he played well last season and that he has a role with this team.

Now, the timing itself probably shouldn’t garner all that much interest, as one-year, veteran-minimum deals are the easiest to do and commonly take place before the start of the new league year—that is, before the beginning of free agency—but none the less, the fact is that they already knew that they wanted him back.

And he only played in six games. So what exactly did he do all year?

He played on special teams at a high level. In fact, for the time that he played, he was their best special teams player. He was not even active for the first three games, but over the course of the next four, he recorded six tackles on special teams and forced a fumble. He held the lead for special teams tackles in spite of the fact that he missed almost half the season up the that point.

Now, I am on record as being a fan of Johnson since he has been here. I am not saying that in a clairvoyant sense, but rather to point out potential bias. But if you go back through the articles, I have pointed out his contributions going back to the preseason and how it was important to actually review his special-teams snaps rather than looking at stats.

In the first game against the Ravens, for example, Johnson didn’t record any tackles or force any fumbles, but he was responsible for downing two punts. There are no stats for downing punts or for forcing fair catches, things of that nature that are important to special-teams players but for which there is no direct way of giving them credit without watching the tape.

Regular followers of our coverage of the team know that we tracked a decline in the quality of special teams play over the course of the season that coincided with the loss of key players on special teams. Johnson was brought in essentially as a replacement for Terence Garvin, who was a crucial member of their special teams units before he signed elsewhere in free agency.

Johnson’s re-signing is good news for special teams, though bad news for L.J. Fort, who is clearly the low man on the totem pole now. He was released last year right before Johnson got injured, and then was re-signed after.

Johnson likes it in Pittsburgh as well. He told Teresa Varley that he was grateful for his time in Pittsburgh last year and that “it built my zeal for the game”, saying that “it grew this year”. He ran down the list of things that he loved about playing for the team, saying, “being a part of the Steelers Nation, it’s one of a kind”.

He would not be the first free-agent signing, major or minor, to favorably contrast his time in Pittsburgh with the time that he has spent in other organizations and cities. In fact, it’s a common pattern.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

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

  • SilverSteel

    Yes, but one could argue that Fort is the better athlete and more versatile if needed on the D.

  • Michael Mosgrove


  • falconsaftey43

    Good special teams player. For sure an important re-sign.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I wonder what this says about our plans out the ILB position. To answer a post from another thread, no I am not giving up on Timmons, but I wonder how it affects our plans.

    Timmons, Williams, Shazier. Fort, Dirty Red, and Johnson. If we draft an ILB, I’m not sure where he fits. We aren’t going to carry more than 5, so this would mean 2 guys from this list already are going to be cut. The 2nd group would basically be fighting for 1 special team spot on the roster.

  • Matt Manzo

    Seems like if they don’t draft one high, they won’t draft one at all?

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I agree. There is a enough average depth at the position.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Good signing I liked what he brought to special teams before his injury.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Johnson has significantly more playing experience.

  • LucasY59

    having two guys fighting for one position is a much better situation than one player coasting to a roster spot without earning it

    I think having more ILBs than they need is a very good problem to have, Johnson, Fort and Matakevich are all cheap depth options that dont have much cap impact whether they are cut or kept

    I think going into the draft without the need to pick one opens things up for other positions, but I also think if they find a ILB that is very talented and BPA when they are on the clock they would still draft one, since upgrading the position is a good idea as well (if they re-sign Timmons it is still short term) getting better and younger is important especially with how important the LB play is for the Steelers

  • LucasY59

    just like last yr I will be more surprised if he makes the roster than if he doesnt, keeping younger guys like Matakevich is more important (they are cheaper and have more potential)

    Steven is a good ST guy but that is his ceiling, if they have room on the roster for a SJ keeping him is fine, but keeping him over a younger player would be a mistake IMO (Feeney was not ready for the roster last yr, but I am still a bit upset that they were not able to keep him so that he could possibly develop into a player they thought he could be, or at least become a ST guy that should be just as good as Johnson)

    SJ is on a minimum contract so re-signing him is a good idea, it provides competition depth and injury insurance, but if he doesnt make the roster that is probably a good thing for the team (…they have a younger more talented player instead)

  • LucasY59

    I will say the same thing about Moats this yr, except replacing him saves some cap space so I really hope they have better options than keeping Arthur on the roster (nothing against him, but he is somewhat expensive depth with no upside, and lately he hasnt even contributed on STs)

  • dany

    What you also gotta like about SJ, if injuries ravage the ILB Position you know you have a guy that’s not a complete unknown out there, someone who has started before, started in the playoffs once even. Very important if u want to be a contending team