We’re only two weeks away before the Steelers head to Latrobe for some good ol’ fashioned dorm living at St. Vincent’s College for training camp. The Steelers might have to get used to sharing the spotlight with the Buccos this late in the summer, and some Steelers may have to get used to sharing the spotlight with some of their teammates with the amount of position battles shaping up for camp.
Yesterday, we broke down that Troy Polamalu’s backup spot is up for grabs and it’s up to Will Allen, Myron Rolle or Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith to step up and grab it. The ninth biggest battle at camp could be the most confusing one since both guys have the same name. Either David Johnson or Will Johnson will be the Steelers’ fullback this year and if we knew more about Todd Haley’s playbook or how exactly he’s going to run the offense, this battle would definitely be higher on the list.
David is the returning starter, who will be fighting for his job the same way Allen will be fighting for his at SS2. But to call David a fullback is a joke; he’s not really a fullback and he’s not really a tight end, he’s more of an H-back that doesn’t get used. Sure, he’s played in all but one game over the three seasons he’s been a Steeler but he’s never carried the ball one time, and to say his pass catching and run blocking leaves something to be desired would be the understatement of the century. But the coaching staff seems to love him…or at least Bruce Arians did.
David was officially moved to fullback when Haley took over so now that he doesn’t have to worry about the tight end business, Latrobe will show just how good David can be as a full-time fullback. Haley used a fullback in his Kansas City offense, when the gameplan was to run the football and keep the ball out of whatever-QB-was-under-center’s hands, but when he was Arizona’s OC, Kurt Warner rarely had a fullback between him and Edgerrin James. It’s hard to tell whether Haley would prefer a pure fullback or more of an H-back now that he has weapons in the passing game AND the running game.
It might look like David has the upper hand heading into camp if Haley wants more of an H-back, but we saw Wes Saunders lineup in the backfield a couple of times last year too in the same role with better results. And Will is a converted receiver, who has packed on the pounds to try to find a job, so he’s definitely better than David at route running, carrying the ball and catching. A 240-pound receiver coming out of the backfield would be a lot more dangerous than a 260-pound guy lumbering out just hoping to hang onto the ball.
Will was undrafted out of WVU mainly because of his lack of a true position, but he was solid at WVU’s pro day…if you’re into those sort of stats. He ran a 4.49 40 and put up 30 reps on the bench. It looks like the offense is all about speed with the personnel on the roster, and Will definitely belongs in that category over David.
With both learning a new playbook though, it’s likely that this battle is going to come down to what the Johnsons can do as blockers and as a special teams contributor. David definitely has the edge in those categories right now. He’s not afraid to bang in the piles in the running game and he has three years of special teams experience. As a converted wide out, Will needs to completely erase the “avoid contact” programming that comes with the WR position if he hasn’t already.
With a new OC, this battle could go wither way and while fullback may not be a vital position on the Steelers’ depth chart, this battle will definitely be fun to watch because the loser won’t just fall on the depth chart, they’ll be looking for work.