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Fullback Is Nothing New For David Johnson & His Position Switch Is Not Surprising

The big news from day two of the Pittsburgh Steelers first OTA session of the 2012 season that everyone is buzzing about today seems to be the announcement that David Johnson is no longer considered a tight end now, but a fullback instead. There are even some clamoring that he needs to hurry up and change his number to one in the 40\’s as well. The truth is that Johnson is no stranger to lining up in the backfield with his hand in the dirt through his first three seasons in the league.

I went back and did a quick check of our game participation charting from last year, and during the regular season Johnson was lined up as a fullback 113 times out of 451 regular season offensive snaps. That 113 does not include times when he was in the backfield as an h-back either. That 133 equates to a quarter of his offensive snaps basically and roughly 7 snaps a game that he lined up as a fullback.

I posted early this morning on what the characteristics of the offense of Todd Haley is starting to look like, and yes, I included the use of a fullback. Not sure why that is a huge surprise, but many I think believe that this means 25 to 30 snaps a game that Haley will use one with his hand in the dirt. I don\’t think so and in fact would be surprised if one was used more than 10 times a game total on average. Assuming the Steelers offense runs on the average of 60 offensive plays a game, or roughly 1000 plays for the season, 160 plays that utilize a fullback would be about right. It might end up being even less than that.

Haley has shown to be very multiple in his personnel groupings over the years, so there figures to be quite a bit of shuffling of players throughout a game between running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and yes, fullbacks. The news on Wednesday that Johnson is a true fullback now signals that he is no longer considered a tight end anymore, but didn\’t we really already know that headed into this week? Just look at the build and physique of Johnson for Christs\’ sakes.

Some are clamoring for the Steelers to go out and get a true, “traditional” fullback, and while there are a few street free agents still out there, I doubt one will be added. The league has shifted away from the traditional fullback now and even linebackers coach Keith Butler said as much after the draft when he was quoted as saying, “Everybody is using tight ends as fullbacks and sometimes they use them when trying to lead and sometimes they don’t. A lot of stuff today is mis-direction and trying to fool you or out-number you one way and then give you a different look coming back the other way.” Basically the fullback is no longer just a straight ahead lead blocker like most like to pigeon hole the skill set of that position as being is what Butler is saying.

Just because a player has a fullback designation next to his name does not mean that every snap he takes on offense will have him with his hand in the dirt and lined up straight ahead of the running back. The fullback position is not the fullback position of 10 years ago, just like the tight end position has started to become more hybrid, so too has the fullback position. Don\’t freak out just because Johnson had the letters “TE” removed from beside his name and the letters “FB” used now instead. This is nothing new for Johnson.

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