Now that training camp is underway, and the roster for the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we move forward.
Player: OL Fred Johnson
Stock Value: Up
It somewhat stupefies me that I have in fact never gotten around to bringing up Fred Johnson in this series. The rookie out of Florida was signed as a college free agent and had been making a positive impression since rookie minicamp, continuing on right through the first preseason game.
Because of injury and rest days for some veterans, Johnson was given the opportunity to start last week’s game at right guard, and he played nearly the entire game (as did Zach Banner), only stepping out for the final full drive, which consisted of only a handful of plays.
Johnson has consistently been working with the number-two offensive line when everybody has been healthy. the Steelers have liked what they’ve seen out of him quite a bit and are clearly interested in seeing more, to the point as though it appears he is a serious competitor to land a spot on the 53-man roster.
The fact that they have given him some reps at both left and right guard over the course of training camp would seem to indicate that. Tackle is a new position for him, but at 6’7”, he has plenty of size to learn it. Don’t be surprised at all if he gets a look there in-game in the preseason finale, because position flexibility is a backup lineman’s best friend.
As for his play in the first preseason game, he actually started off a bit slow, something that he himself admitted, but both his comfort level and his performance improved as the contest wore on, which I believe was contributable as much as to his own personal improvement as to the reduction in the quality of competition.
I’m not sure what sort of line they will be fielding for tonight’s game, so I can’t say if he is going to work with the first-team group. It will depend upon who is not playing, as four starters did not participate in Week One of the preseason.
But he has clearly emerged as a favorite among the guards, with Matt Feiler getting the most work there when a starter has been out and then Johnson right behind him. They were the two starting guards last week.