Think of players returning for 2017 and a couple names come to mind. Cam Heyward is the biggest name working back from his pectoral injury. Senquez Golson will hopefully get on the field and the team will figure out what they have with him. Odds are, Steven Johnson is a distant name that would come to mind. But he will likely play a key role for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season.
Johnson was bumped off the 53 man roster initially, “losing” out to Tyler Matakevich but brought back as soon as Bud Dupree went on IR-to return. Johnson became a lead-dog on special teams, recording six tackles over 101 snaps. A season cut short by a freak broken ankle at the tail end of a kick coverage against the Dallas Cowboys.
Speaking with Teresa Varley of Steelers.com last week, Johnson affirmed his rehab is right on schedule.
“I am doing good,” said Johnson. “I am excited. I am running, doing everything with the team. I am expecting a full recovery.”
This time around, he might not face heavy competition for an inside linebacker job. The team never replaced Lawrence Timmons leaving Matakevich and himself as the backups to Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams. Given what Johnson did on special teams, he should have the inside track on that #4 spot.
His main competition is two-fold: any other inside linebacker brought in or the ones currently on the roster. Of the latter, that’s UDFA Keith Kelsey, who the Steelers gave a relatively hefty signing bonus to. And there’s the off chance the team would do something a little crazy and keep six outside linebackers on the roster, giving Keion Adams the final spot over a guy like Johnson.
That seems pretty unlikely but camp is all about creating competition and you can’t guarantee Johnson’s job is safe.
It might not be the main battle to watch for come camp but one to definitely keep an eye on. And if Johnson makes it, the odds look good, he’ll be a regular on special teams and a job he’ll do well.