The state of the Pittsburgh Steelers at tight end seems perilous. With Heath Miller and David Johnson relegated to the PUP list, the Lisfranc injury to Matt Spaeth and an apparent decision by the Steelers to not seek another tight end at this point, Will Johnson may see an expanded role and more action with the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense.
Johnson has been considered, in the past, to be a bit small for the block-and-catch role of a typical NFL tight end. Last season, Johnson was used mainly as a fullback who had capable ball-handling skills in pass situations. The former West Virginia tight end had a breakout season with the Steelers in 2012. As a rookie, Johnson caught 15 receptions from the fullback position for 137 yards and a touchdown. Mainly utilized as an extra blocker for a nearly non-existent run game for the Steelers, Johnson now has an opportunity to see more action and a return to a more familiar role.
The Steelers have to option to utilize Johnson's abilities in an H-back position until they get some news on the progress of their other tight ends. Once Miller, Spaeth or David Johnson return to the lineup, the Steelers can move him back to fullback or change the offense to keep Johnson in the game in either capacity. It's an opportunity that is sure to give Johnson and the Steelers an unexpected windfall.
Right now, the Steelers have David Paulson listed as their number one tight end with Jamie McCoy as an alternate for a starting position. The Steelers aren't shopping for a big name at this time because they are still holding out hope that Miller, David Johnson and Spaeth will heal. Michael Palmer, Nathan Overbay and Peter Tuitupou are untested and young. Palmer has the most NFL experience, but is a journeyman, having played previously for the Atlanta Falcons (went undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft out of Clemson), the New York Giants (May 11 - 29, 2013) and Seattle Seahawks (July 23 - August 6, 2013). In the three seasons he played with the Falcons, Palmer only played in 43 games, starting just five. He recorded 21 receptions for 123 yards and three touchdowns.
While it isn't out of the question that Johnson may be used at tight end in a pinch, his performance at fullback, and possibly H-back, should boost him to the top of a stressed Steelers roster. His progress will be one worth watching.
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