The Pittsburgh Steelers were a team in desperate need of an inside linebacker in 2020. After Devin Bush was lost for the season with a torn ACL, and Robert Spillane was sidelined with an injury, the Steelers had no choice but to get creative.
The team traded with the New York Jets for Avery Williamson, and even put Marcus Allen into the role of inside linebacker during last season.
Regardless of who they put out there, it left Williams and Vince Williams on their own proverbial islands, and that isn’t a good thing. Fast forward to the 2021 NFL Draft, and the Steelers took Buddy Johnson from Texas A&M with their second 4th round pick. Following the pick ILB coach Jerry Olsavsky spoke about the pick, but how he foresees the Steelers utilizing Johnson in Pittsburgh.
“I think Buddy fits in great with the group.” Olsavsky told reporters. “The reason I say that is because he likes football. He plays downhill. He’s good in pass coverage, in zone drops, and things like that. So that’s right what we want. When he first gets here, the one thing he’s going to do, he’s going to be unselfish. He’s going to listen to Devin [Bush] and Vince [Williams] and the older guys, Robert [Spillane], and he’s going to play some special teams. He’s going to do some things for us there and we’re really going to like him.”
Johnson was a tackling machine at Texas A&M, and his aggressiveness vs. the run was a huge positive for Olsavsky as he evaluated the incoming crop of players.
“It always speaks to me because that’s one of the first things I want to see. How far from the line of scrimmage the linebacker is when the ball is coming towards him, and when you attack the line of scrimmage, we call that going downhill, and Buddy does that really well. You can tell that he’s been around football a long time. He feels comfortable moving with the run and attacking blockers and things like that. I think he needs some work on just cleaning up some things just to be more proficient up here in the NFL. The blockers on the offensive line are much better than totality at college and it’s something that just takes some technique, but the fact that he attacks as his main weapon is really good. You can’t teach that. Buddy got that growing up and however he came to fall in love with football. So that’s something that I don’t have to worry about. We’ll just clean it up a little bit, but it’s always one of the first things I look for is an attacking middle linebacker.”
Everyone knows about Johnson’s ability to tackle and attack the line of scrimmage, but could he be more than that? Could he be a sub package player? Is it possible Johnson and Bush will man the inside of the defense for years to come?
“As I said, when I look for a linebacker, I look for a guy that attacks the line of scrimmage. That’s the first thing. And then you just try to get them to grow on you. So, when Buddy worked out and Buddy jumped 38.5 vertically and 10’8” on a broad jump, that shows me explosion. So that means he’s got explosion in his body and we redirect it to get out there and cover somebody in the pass who is explosive, like a wide receiver or a tight end who’s explosive, and since you have the measurable, then it’s safe for us to assume that with some proper coaching and some technique, that you will be able to matchup against a guy like that. So that’s really what we see in Buddy as a whole. He’s going to go downhill and he’s going to hit you, and then he’s got some explosion that you don’t always see in the box so to speak.
“When a guy is going from tackle to tackle, you don’t see 38 inch vertical jumps, you don’t see the broad jump, but when you see that on the other side, that’s my job to get that talent onto the field, and I can’t teach that. You can’t teach 38 inches. So that’s what I like about Buddy. What I also like about Buddy is he was the green dot at A&M so he lines people up. He’s used to being the leader, the guy that people look at. We talk about Devin is the quarterback of the defense. You can’t have enough guys like that. Every single one of my guys, Vince, Devin, Robert, they all have a presence where they can say, “hey, this is what we’re doing,” and get guys going the same way. So that’s another thing that Buddy bring to the table.”
Johnson is a project, but so was Vince Williams when he was drafted out of Florida State in the 6th round. After Larry Foote went down it was Williams who had to step up. The hope is Johnson isn’t put in that role, but if you buy what Olsavsky is selling, Johnson could be just what the Steelers need for the future of the ILB position.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the 2021 regular season.