PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 08: David Johnson #85 of the Pittsburgh Steelers attempts to break a tackle after catching a pass against the Cleveland Browns during the game on December 8, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
It's tough not to engage in the deciphering of CoachSpeak this time of the year.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin is one of the more interesting cases in the NFL. His recent statement regarding FB/TE David Johnson confirmed we shouldn't expect to see the veteran to exclusively play fullback this season.
His quote, as reported by Tribune-Review reporter Mark Kaboly, seems to take steam out of the two-back backfield.
"We made the commitment to work (Johnson) in the spring and the early portions of training camp as a fullback to give him that exposure. But I've also found opportunities to play him at tight end, such as the tight ends versus the outside linebacker positions. We're going to allow him to play tight end some."
Does that mean the Steelers won't be using a lead blocker as much as was anticipated? Or does it mean 2012 free agent signee Leonard Pope is on the chopping block?
The thorn in the side of any theory is the four-game suspension of TE Weslye Saunders. The Steelers will keep three tight ends on the active roster, and with Saunders not counting against the 53 player limit until his suspension is over, it seems likely the Steelers would keep Heath Miller, Pope and Johnson. That could buy rookie undrafted free agent Will Johnson, a fullback, four games on the active roster.
Contrary to the calls of a few on here, David Johnson is not going to be released. From a position-flexibility standpoint, he knows TE1 and TE2, H-back and fullback.
If anything, Tomlin's message suggests Will Johnson has earned enough so far for the coaching staff to keep David Johnson on the tight ends depth chart. Keeping an exclusive fullback like Will Johnson is possible if they have a multi-faceted player like Johnson backing up (or starting at one and backing up the other) multiple positions.
Interestingly, Will Johnson appears to be like Saunders, an undrafted rookie in 2011. While Saunders was highly touted in college, and Will Johnson was not, neither of them were drafted but quickly showed in their respective rookie training camps they have the ability to stay on an NFL roster. Will Johnson's skill set is quite simple; speed and strength.
And his play could simply force the Steelers to consider keeping him for at least four games while Saunders is out, and using David Johnson at both positions.
We'll get a better feel for what Tomlin is thinking Thursday night when the Steelers open preseason at Philadelphia.