With the 2015 NFL Draft and rookie minicamp now in the rearview mirror, the Pittsburgh Steelers 90-man offseason roster is getting pretty close to set, although there are always some late movements to balance out positional numbers or replace injured or underperforming players.
Now that the rookie class in in-house and the tryout players have either come and gone or stuck around, it’s time to take one last look at the Steelers’ roster as we head into the meat of the offseason. This time we move on to the fullback position, which for once actually has more than one player listed, making it worth examining in its own right.
Will Johnson: Despite the fact that he has already seemingly established his position on the team, Johnson has through three seasons now not seen a terribly significant amount of playing time. Or should that be the other way around; that, despite not seeing a significant amount of snaps, he has already seemingly established his position on the team?
Johnson, out of West Virginia, was among the players who were hurt by the lockout during the 2011 season. During the lockout, NFL teams were not allowed to sign undrafted free agents, which resulted in many players, such as Johnson, to be left watching the season from their couches when they might otherwise have been given a chance to play.
Johnson worked out at his alma mater’s Pro Day in 2012 and was quickly signed by the Steelers, and he has been the team’s starting fullback since, although the utility of the role, and his position on the team, have evolved since then.
His position has evolved significantly, in fact, over the course of the past season, where he served more as a third, in-line blocking tight end more frequently than as a player coming out of the backfield. With the recent additions at tight end, however, perhaps that may revert again.
Roosevelt Nix: Originally signed by the Steelers earlier this offseason as a linebacker, the Steelers have since converted Nix to fullback based on the official roster, where it appears the team believes he will have a better opportunity of making the club. Which makes sense, since the team figures to be at least six-deep at both inside and outside linebacker.
Clearly, there is more opportunity going up for a position that has only an incumbent, although the fact that the team only uses one poses its own challenges. At 5’11”, 260, you would hope that he can at least move some people, but his best bet figures to be a spot on the practice squad.
Notes: As noted, the Steelers, as with the rest of the league, have really reduced the role of fullback over the years, and this is particularly prominent among teams with franchise quarterbacks and a prolific wide receiver group. The Steelers check both of those boxes. But they liked Johnson enough that they expanded his repertoire just to be able to use him more. Will he see any more playing time this year than he has previously?