When it comes to modern sports fandom, there is seemingly no shortage of resources that enable those who seek to learn the ability to acquire just about any sort of relevant information about a player that can be made publicly available. This fact seems to me particularly true for the NFL, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have long been recognized as boasting a highly passionate and involved fan base.
It’s not out of the ordinary to come across a Steelers fan who can tell you all about, for example, a player like Shamarko Thomas, or can name all of the kickers and punters that they had at some point during the preseason and regular season last year. Yet if there is one player that they don’t seem to know much about, or have cared much to learn, it would have to be free agent acquisition Steven Johnson.
Signed in late May to a one-year veteran-minimum qualifying contract in order to help fill out the inside linebacker depth following the free agency losses of Sean Spence and Terence Garvin, Johnson is a fifth-year veteran former undrafted free agent who started seven games for the Broncos in 2014 before signing a one-year contract with the Titans.
The journeyman linebacker is regarded primarily—almost exclusively—as a special teams player, but whose value in that role should be regarded as significant, given the number of units that he is a routine contributor to, logging 320 special teams snaps in 14 games a year ago. He logged 430 special teams snaps for the Broncos in 2013, or 80 percent of their total snaps. He has averaged about 300 snaps on special teams per season.
His primary task will be to replace Garvin on special teams, who logged 810 snaps on special teams over the course of his three seasons in Pittsburgh. Like Johnson, he made it in to the league as an undrafted free agent because of what he showed that he was able to contribute on special teams, which the is beginning phase of many productive careers in the past.
Where he will also be replacing Garvin is in the locker room, wherein the Steelers possess a level of competitiveness that Johnson says drew him in, wanting in free agency to find a team that is preparing for a run at a Super Bowl, and seeing the friendly competition and refusal to lose in any capacity as the sort of environment to facilitate that.
Johnson said that “competition brings out the best in everybody”, that “there are certain things that happen here that don’t happen everywhere else”, having previously experienced the locker rooms of two other professional football teams in Denver and in Tennessee.
“It’s helping me be a better player”, he said, “and more competitive”. Still, even the pathway to a roster spot will not be an easy one for him in spite of the free agency losses. The Steelers already return four inside linebackers from the 53-man roster last year, have another returning from injury, and added yet another in the draft.