By Matthew Marczi
Fullback Will Johnson only saw 10 snaps in the last game for the Pittsburgh Steelers, for one reason or another, but when he did see the field, he generally made it count.
Based on the way the team has been using him, however, I am not sure if fullback is an accurate description for him any longer, as he is playing more of an h-back role, playing on the line and on the move with greater frequency.
Take Le’Veon Bell’s first career touchdown from the last game against the Minnesota Vikings as an example:
For some reason unknown to me, the Steelers want Johnson to block linebacker Chad Greenway, who is stalking the C Gap, between Marcus Gilbert and David Johnson, and they want him to reach block him from Johnson’s right. An absurd assignment, in my opinion, yet he still gets there in time to knock the linebacker away at Bell’s feet, who uses his tight ends’ blocks to bounce the run outside for the score.
Once again, on this play, the Steelers have Johnson lined up on the outside shoulder of a tight end. Pre-snap, they have him fake motion and re-set where he started. He again draws Greenway as his assignment, and he meets him head on as a fullback would, though without a head-start. Despite the play’s failure, Johnson shows his strength and determination by eventually working Greenway to the ground.
Later on, early in the third quarter, the Steelers have themselves a first and goal at the one following a long pass interference call in the end zone drawn by Antonio Brown. This play should have gone for a touchdown had Erin Henderson not slipped around David DeCastro’s block.
This play, again, shows the unorthodox ways in which Todd Haley is looking to employ his athletically gifted ‘fullback’, despite his limited in-game reps thus far this season. The play starts off with him lined up on the right side of the offensive line before Ben Roethlisberger motions him to the left, where he settles in behind and between Heath Miller and Mike Adams, with David Johnson also to Miller’s left.
Rather than drawing the lead, DeCastro is the lead blocker on this play, and instead the Steelers ask Will Johnson to take on the perimeter, boxing safety Harrison Smith cleanly out of the play and providing the seal necessary to open up a scoring lane. In reality, even though Henderson got around DeCastro’s block, if Bell had gone outside of DeCastro, Johnson’s seal on the perimeter still should have been sufficient enough for a touchdown.
Be that as it may, Bell plowed home for the score on the next play, again thanks in part to Johnson’s perimeter blocking. With the second-year player showing his aptitude to execute such an array of assignments, it is a wonder that he is not seeing the field more in 2013.