Every season has its own narrative, though some are harder to define than others. The story of the 2015 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers isn’t finished being told, and much of that will have to do with what happens next week.
But one piece of that story did draw to a conclusion on Monday when the Steelers placed first-year fullback Roosevelt Nix on injured reserve with a foot injury. The 260-pound former linebacker was an immediate fan favorite, as well as a favorite of the writers here for his tenacity and workmanlike attitude.
Nix was signed as a futures player after spending last offseason out of Kent state with the Falcons, where he signed as a linebacker before being moved to fullback, though he failed to make the 53-man roster.
He was signed by Pittsburgh in January as a linebacker as well, but was moved to fullback early in the spring in order to give him a better opportunity to make the roster, and that is exactly what he did, though he earned his game day helmets for his special teams play.
Nix registered several tackles on punt and kick coverage, and even blocked a punt in the preseason finale to lock up his roster spot, but he was not simply a body on the bench. Nor was he merely a special teams contributor.
In fact, he ended up logging just under 150 snaps for the Steelers on offense this year in 15 games, which obviously averages out to close to 10 snaps per game, a snap count that was on a general upward trajectory over the course of the season.
That is pretty impressive considering the fact that Pittsburgh is a passing-first team with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown among the elite players at their respective positions. It would not be entirely unfair, however, to say that Nix deserves at least a bit of credit for the running game’s improvement this year.
What’s most interesting is the fact that Nix largely displaced fourth-year player Will Johnson, who’s snap count declined significantly, both on offense and special teams. Though he had essentially been a full-time tight end since last year, he took his first snaps at fullback at the end of the game on Sunday after Nix’s injury.
Johnson has only played 76 snaps on offense this year, though he did manage to catch a pass for a two-point conversion. His most playing time has come when there have been injuries at the tight end position. Johnson’s special teams snap count also dropped to below 50 percent, though he is still a core special teams player. Nix has played about 40 more snaps on special teams than he has.
You can bet that Nix will be back in the fold next year, as will Johnson, if only because the tight end position is rapidly aging. In Johnson’s second season, however, his role had begun to be curtailed. Will Nix’s role be lessened next year, or will it continue to expand?