The regular season is here, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are taking their practices at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the real work is now upon us, there is plenty left to be done.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the regular season and beyond looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they wade through a regular season in which they are, at least supposed to be, among the favorites to win the Super Bowl.
Question: Can Steven Johnson keep his roster spot once everybody gets healthy?
It seemed early on that Steelers free agent signing was a shoe-in to be the eventual sacrifice roster cut whenever outside linebacker Bud Dupree is able to return to the lineup. After all, he was the one that the Steelers were willing to release to keep Dupree on the roster so that he could be eligible to return when he was placed on injured reserve.
But he was also the only option among the reserve inside linebackers that qualified as a veteran, and thus would not be subject to waivers when he was released, and once Dupree was moved to the reserve list, Johnson was re-signed. But L.J. Fort and Tyler Matakevich both played over him on defense.
Lately, however, he has been getting valuable time on special teams due to the significant number of injuries Pittsburgh has been dealing with, limiting the number of healthy scratches on their game day inactive lists.
Known as a strong special teams player—that is why the Steelers signed him in the first place—he has made the most of his playing opportunities since being granted with a hat on game day over the course of the past four weeks.
Would you believe me if I told you that Johnson has recorded six special teams tackles in that four-game span, and that he leads the team in special teams tackles? In fact, he had three tackles against the Patriots, and that obviously includes the huge forced fumble that he caused late in the game.
It seems by now that Matakevich has solidified his position on the team. If the Steelers were thinking of moving him to the practice squad at some point this year, they probably would not have put him in the game a week ago, and they have also talked about his special teams advancement (he has three tackles).
Given Johnson’s special teams success, could it be that Fort is the player to be let go when Dupree returns? With 10 linebackers already on the roster, and six inside linebackers, it’s inevitable to come from that group. But I don’t think it’s certain which linebacker it is.
As a last thought, consider this: over the course of the past four games, there have been a total of 12 special teams coverage plays in which a tackle has been recorded. Johnson has half of them.