With spring drills officially over, I think we all understand that we’re all in for a long haul, six weeks in total, between the end of minicamp and the start of training camp. You know the drill. There’s little new information coming out during this period, so it serves as the perfect time both to look back, and to look ahead.
We’re going to be focusing mostly on the latter as we prepare—ever so patiently, of course—for training camp. The Pittsburgh Steelers right now have a fairly young roster with inexperienced players that they are hoping to take on a bigger role. The problem is that in many cases, they are still waiting on those players to show them something, and that is the focus of that series—as well as the occasional veteran with lingering questions.
Show me something, David Johnson.
Welcome back. Now go earn a roster spot.
David Johnson was a seventh-round pick for the Steelers in 2009, and he spent his first four seasons with the team, including a 2011 season spent entirely on injured reserve. He has, however, spent the past two seasons with the Chargers. Pittsburgh signed him during free agency in order to provide depth and experience with the losses of Heath Miller and Will Johnson during the offseason.
Should David Johnson make the roster this year, it will likely be due to the versatility that he presents, which is a role that the other Johnson also played for the Steelers. Both have served primarily as a fullback and primarily as a tight end at different junctures with the team, and they like to have a player that is able to do both on the roster, even if it is only for backup duties.
With the emergence of Roosevelt Nix last season at fullback, Will Johnson saw his role extensively reduced, and no doubt that played a role in him signing a two-year contract with the Giants instead. David Johnson played his last season with the Steelers at tight end in 2012, due to the other Johnson having taken over at fullback, but he mixed and matched during his tenure with the Chargers.
He has not often been a major contributor on special teams, but if he is to earn a roster spot with the Steelers this season—specifically if it does not somehow come at the expensive of 32-year-old veteran Matt Spaeth—then he will have to show that he is fully capable of drawing a notable special teams role as a fourth tight end and backup fullback.
Otherwise, he will need to show that he is as efficient yet more durable than the aging Spaeth, who is in the final year of his contract and will turn 33 this season. He has dealt with ailments major and minor since returning to Pittsburgh in 2013.
I do like Johnson, but it might seem a bit hard to imagine him finding a spot on the 53-man roster this year without reforming himself as a special teams player. Spaeth is the only tight end on the roster who has been with the team for more than one consecutive season, so I don’t see them hurrying him out the door.