The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Will Johnson
Position: Tight End/Fullback
Experience: 4 Years
Even though the Steelers just drafted another tight end, Will Johnson still figured to have a guaranteed roster spot heading into the offseason progress as the only fullback-body type on the roster that seemed to be a viable candidate for the 53-man roster. That all changed when Roosevelt Nix emerged during the preseason.
Still, the fourth-year veteran managed to stick around on the roster, even if he essentially fell to fifth on the depth chart by the end of the season in terms of the tight end and fullback pecking order. But the demotion also directly correlated to his playing time dropping yet again.
It seems that the Steelers coaching staff has always had a fondness of Johnson and his abilities as a player, yet they have continually struggled to find ways to get him consistently involved—part of the problem being of course that they have so many alternative weapons.
When there were injury opportunities that arose early in the season, it was Johnson who got those snaps, but the story changed halfway through the season when the coaching staff became comfortable enough to activate Jesse James.
Over the second half of the season James played about 180 snaps—twice the number of snaps that Johnson saw over the entire length of the season. and Nix also saw around 150 snaps in spite of the fact that he suffered a season-ending injury in the second-to-last game.
Of course, the reason the Steelers were willing and able to even carry five tight end and fullback bodies on the roster is because the back end of that position group makes up a core part of their special teams units, and Johnson has been instrumental in that capacity for the years that he has been here.
It’s hard for me to say, really, just how much Johnson would really have to offer the Steelers as an offensive player if he were actually given a consistent opportunity to perform, in whatever capacity, be it a blocker or pass catcher, or even a runner.
Perhaps a window will open for him now that Heath Miller has retired, since it seems unlikely any one player will absorb all of the legend’s snaps. He was a workhorse that was rare in today’s league, and his contributions will have to be replicated by a committee effort.