Will (Johnson) finds way to play at friend's expense
Isaac Redman spends some time with his son, Haiden, Saturday at camp at Saint Vincent College.
Running backs coach Kirby Wilson puts Will Johnson through his paces Saturday at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe.
Share with others:
Bruce Arians once famously said he did not have a fullback in his offense, and David Johnson's ACL injury Thursday night prompted others to think Todd Haley no longer had one either.
The Steelers, however, do have a fullback. His name is Will Johnson, he is the only fullback listed on their roster and is about to do something he did not do much at West Virginia University, start a football game.
This time a year ago, nobody wanted Johnson, who went undrafted and then unsigned as teams scrambled at the end of the lockout to fill their rosters as training camps opened. So, he took three jobs and worked out with a trainer in Charlotte, N.C., last year, getting precisely no invites from NFL teams.
That changed in March. He had to ask, and receive, permission to attend WVU's pro day workout for the second time. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert were impressed enough with his 4.49 run in the 40-yard dash and his 30 bench presses that they asked him to come to Pittsburgh for a physical and to sign a contract and not tell anyone about it.
"They called me over and told me they were impressed with everything I did that day as far as my speed and strength," Johnson said, "and they wanted to bring me in and sign me."
With David Johnson taking over at fullback, Will Johnson looked to be a player whose goal could be to make the practice squad. Now his goal is to block guys such as Ray Lewis into submission, the way Dan Kreider once did as the previous pure Steelers fullback.
Steelers coaches have liked what they have seen of Johnson in training camp. This former linebacker, running back, tight end who ran the 100 meters in track and played basketball in high school has the athletic ability, has the receiving ability and has shown so far that he can block on the run.
"He's very physical and he's very athletic," said Steve McLendon, who has seen Johnson from his nose tackle position."
Said receiver Emmanuel Sanders, "Will Johnson is a great fullback. He's one of those guys that can play running back and fullback and he's got exceptional hands for a fullback. He understands how to run routes and everything. I've been high on him since OTAs. I feel like he's going to come in and be a great asset for us."
Naturally, Johnson wasn't interested in getting the job the way he did, especially from a teammate who had taken him under his wings.
"Not only is he a good teammate of mine, he's a good friend. Not only does it hurt the team, it hurts me as well. I learned a lot from him."
David Johnson believes Will Johnson can handle the job, which wasn't a job in the offense under Arians. Haley wants a pure fullback, a lead blocker who also has the ability to catch some passes.
"He was pushing me all camp, making me better and to step up my game," David Johnson said. "I think he'll be a great person for the job. The things he's doing, it seems like he's been playing it for years."
His coaches gave Johnson decent grades for his play Thursday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, nearly three full quarters of work. Blocking on the run is "still a process," Will Johnson said. "It can become a strength."
David Johnson will have to wait for the swelling to subside in his right knee before he can have surgery to repair his ACL and MCL. Knowing he would miss this season "was tough, but I think I'm mentally strong. I wasn't all down and out about it."
He has seen too many other teammates go through the surgery the past year -- Rashard Mendenhall, Max Starks, Casey Hampton, Baron Batch -- and while in this case misery may not like company, the experience can provide some inspiration as he goes through the long rehabilitation to get back for the 2013 season.
"A lot of guys got a lot of tips and questions and things like that," Johnson said. "I think I'll be fine."
Rookie offensive tackle Mike Adams says it will not be two weeks before he returns to practice. His right knee was sprained Thursday night. It has been diagnosed as a mild MCL sprain.
"I'm feeling good, in the training room, rehabbing. I'll get back as soon as I can."
In practice Saturday, Marcus Gilbert moved to left tackle and the versatile Ramon Foster ran at right tackle with the first team. Willie Colon returned to left guard after missing the first preseason game. Defensive lineman Cameron Heyward also returned to practice. Running backs Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are out, so Baron Batch ran with the first team.
Players find it tough enough to bring Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick to the turf with two hands. Nose tackle Steve McLendon did it with one Thursday night when he sacked Vick.
"These are some big hands," McLendon explained. "If I get them on you, I think you're coming down.
"That's Michael Vick! Everyone wants a chance to sack him or take him down at least. I had an opportunity, I just took advantage of it."
• Game: Steelers vs. Indianapolis Colts, Heinz Field.
• When: 8 p.m., next Sunday.
• TV: WPXI.
• The skinny: Colts QB Andrew Luck makes his preseason debut today against the St. Louis Rams.
First Published August 12, 2012 12:00 am