Steelers plan to use FB Will Johnson as a receiver

Pittsburgh looks to get back on top of the AFC North by utilizing the depth they have among their offensive skill position players. Fullback Will Johnson is one player the team may call on to help boost scoring totals in the red zone.

Picture it.

Steelers double-tight, fullback Will Johnson behind Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell behind him, Plaxico Burress split left, off the line. At the snap, Roethlisberger sells the play fake to Bell on a dive, and pumps a hard pass to Burress, who slanted hard left.

Everyone ignores Johnson, who flares out to the flat, and catches a soft pass from Roethlisberger on his left side. A quick turn of his shoulders to the outside, it's a race to the pylon against the playside cornerback, who cheated in two steps with Burress's slant.

Johnson is deceptively quick in space, and he can get to that edge. He tucks his feet right inside the pylon, touchdown Steelers.

Jim Nantz speaks evenly, and Phil Simms cuts him off bestowing on the audience the wisdom of Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. He says something to the effect of Pittsburgh having so many weapons on the offensive side of the ball, and how effective Roethlisberger is when the Steelers are running well and utilizing play action.

And just like most plays, Johnson's efforts are more or less trivialized.

Perhaps that's the best thing for the second-year fullback out of West Virginia.

Tribune-Review reporter Mark Kaboly wrote a feature on Johnson in Tuesday's edition, mentioning Johnson's confirmation the Steelers have been using Johnson more in the red zone, specifically, on angle routes, and could plan to use him more in these situations.

The Steelers scored touchdowns inside the red zone on 55.10 percent of their chances in 2012 - the highest mark since their 55.93 percent in 2008. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's first season, 2007, was the only year in which they finished in the top 10 of the NFL in this stat (59.32 percent).

Perhaps the utilization of Johnson in the red zone passing game will bring that percentage even higher. The other side of Johnson's role, however - blocking at the point of attack - could bring the Steelers back into prominence in terms of rushing touchdowns. They fell from 1.1 rushing touchdowns per game in 2010 (seventh highest in the league) to just 0.5 last year, 28th-best in the NFL.

The absence of tight end Heath Miller will certainly open up chances for others in the red zone, and Johnson could be sitting on the edge of a big year.


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