The Pittsburgh Steelers have experienced an uncommon amount of roster turnover over the last few seasons, which just so happened to coincide with consecutive years without a postseason berth.
As a result, we’re finding an unusual amount of new faces in the starting lineup compared just to last season, when the season before already introduced several new starters.
The rapid turnover in successive seasons certainly has much to do with the organization’s personnel management over the previous years. Time, as always, came out the victor as they felt the ramifications of trying to hold together a championship roster that could no longer perform like one.
Considering how different the projected starting lineup for the start of the 2014 season is from just two seasons ago, I think it would be interesting to revisit the roster from the 2010 season—the last time the Steelers competed for a championship—to see how different this new team truly is.
The last time the Steelers competed for a championship, they still employed an offensive coordinator in Bruce Arians who was guilty of the “no true fullback” fallacy—as in, he claimed that as long as he was coordinator, he would not have a true fullback on the roster.
That changed immediately after he was fired. Todd Haley is entering his third season with the Steelers as offensive coordinator, and Will Johnson just so happens to be entering his third season with the Steelers as the starting fullback.
Between Johnson and Dan Kreider was a hodgepodge of tight end/h-back type players with the likes of Carey Davis and Sean McHugh, but at the heart of this period was David Johnson, who up until 2013 was primarily used as a blocker out of a stance lined up in the backfield rather than along the line.
In fact, he even saw 130 snaps as a rookie seventh-round pick, though his performance was largely nondescript. He took on a bigger role in his second year, logging close to 300 snaps, along with about 50 more during the postseason.
He rebounded from a shaky start to become a solid run blocker toward the end of the season, but much to his misfortune, he, like Rashard Mendenhall, seems best remembered for the fumble during the Super Bowl at the end of that season.
It was Johnson’s missed block on Clay Matthews that allowed the linebacker to get a clear shot on the ball to pop it out.
Nevertheless, by 2011 the Steelers had moved Johnson up to the line more frequently in a more traditional tight end role. But in 2012, with the new offensive coordinator, the two Johnsons competed for the starting fullback job. Will Johnson won it by default when David Johnson tore his ACL.
The younger Johnson appeared to have carved out a niche for himself. As a rookie, he played over 350 snaps, but that number declined sharply to well under 200 last season. Still, the coaches consistently rave about him in practice and cite the fact that the linebackers can’t cover him during receiving drills.
What type of role will the fullback serve in the Steelers’ offense in 2014? Will Johnson have the type of impact that many thought he would last season after the promise shown during his rookie year?