End-of-season player exit meetings are not something that we are often privy to as outsiders of the football world. Generally, we only get a glimpse into that world when a player is asked by a reporter how the meeting went, if the player is willing to discuss it.
Still, it’s not generally a hard concept to grasp, and we have a pretty good feel by now of how Mike Tomlin and his staff likes to operate, and we see all the game film, so it’s not an overly difficult project to simulate. If we were to administer the end-of-season player exit meetings, it might go something like this.
Player: Will Johnson
Position: Fullback/Tight End
Experience: 3 Years
The Steelers became enamored with the athleticism of Will Johnson, a player with the physical makeup of a fullback/tight end, in 2012, even though he went undrafted and unsigned the year before, after seeing him work out at his former college.
He came into camp that summer looking to battle David Johnson for the role of fullback, but when the latter went down with an ACL tear, Will Johnson won the position by default, and played in all 16 games as a first-year player.
It was, in fact, by far his most productive season. In 2012, he caught 15 passes for 137 yards. In the previous two years combined, he has managed only 14 receptions for 82 yards. This is largely not his fault, but rather a byproduct of the increasing difficulty of finding him snaps.
Over the past two seasons, the Steelers have made greater use of no huddle, hurry up, and three wide receiver sets, making the services of a fullback a rare luxury than a feature of the base offense.
In response to a steep decline in playing time from year one to year two, the Steelers tried to flex Johnson out to tight end, which they managed to do successfully, but that only translated into a modest increase in playing time, most of which was seen serving as a run blocker.
That is, of course, not to diminish the role that he served for the Steelers on offense as a fullback and third tight end. His ability to line up all over the field—even outside as a receiving target—is an asset for the offense, but the infrequency of use somewhat negates that fact.
As mentioned, his primary role on offense came in the running game, with well over half of his snaps coming in that role. Though he rarely played 20 or more snaps, he did help contribute to some of the Steelers’ better rushing performances, including one particular night in Tennessee.
Johnson is a restricted free agent this season. Given his limited role, it would not be surprising if the Steelers allow him to hit free agency before attempting to re-sign him—unless, of course, they anticipate carving out a larger role for him going forward that showcases more of his receiving abilities.