View Full Version : 3 Questions With Steelers Rookie Will Johnson

tony hipchest
08-11-2012, 06:43 PM

Will Johnson is a great example of determination and will in the face of adversity. Johnson went undrafted and unsigned after he graduated from WVU in 2011. Much of that was due to the NFL Lockout. When the work stoppage ended, the teams interested in Johnson never called. Some people in Johnson’s place would give up hope and seek out a career elsewhere.

Not Johnson.

Although he did get a few small jobs to make ends meet, Johnson did everything he could to stay in football shape. He worked out at WVU’s Pro-Day this past March and greatly impressed Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert. The two men who make personnel decisions for the Steelers.

Johnson played wide receiver and tight end for the Mountaineers. He will move to the backfield for the Steelers and will probably line up at fullback.

Johnson at Steelers’ OTA’s.

Johnson signed with the team shortly afterwards and has prepared for Steelers training camp in Latrobe, PA. We caught up with Johnson to ask him a few questions.

WVUPros: What did you do in the offseason to improve your game?

Johnson: In the offseason, I really put forth consistent effort in getting prepared, both mentally and physically, for a demanding training camp schedule.

After the last mini-camp wrapped up in Pittsburgh, I traveled back to my hometown of Dayton, Ohio, to work closely with Mitch Lyons, owner of Centerville Crossfit. I worked one-on-one with my trainer, on a daily basis, focusing on high-intensity, explosive Olympic lifts, endurance, agility and inclusive physical conditioning.

WVUPros: How did you spend your spare time this summer away from the football field?

Johnson: While there wasn’t too much time to spare, it was a great “vacation” period, if you will. I have stayed under the radar, working on getting my thoughts together and resting my body. When I get to Latrobe, I plan to be in ideal shape.

In addition, My fiancé and I put together a fundraiser to benefit a local youth football program, the Centerville Wee Elks. It was nice to have an opportunity to give back to the community and set a positive example for young athletes.

WVUPros: What are your expectations for yourself and your team this season?

Johnson: My first goal is to secure a roster spot. I am determined to prove my worth through work ethic, leadership, consistency and versatility. I want to play at a high level each time I’m on that field and I’ll do whatever I have to do to help this team reach success.

As for the team, I want us working together to reach a common goal – winning another Super Bowl.

he did a recent podcast with steelersdepot.com (i believe) that i cant find right now. he played RB/LB in high school and knows how to find the hole in the LOS and blow people up.

tony hipchest
08-11-2012, 08:49 PM

LATROBE – You’ll See.
No need to correct that. It’s a proper name.

Well, actually it’s a nickname, as in the new starting fullback for the Pittsburgh Steelers is Will “You’ll See” Johnson.

Running backs coach Kirby Wilson explains it this way:

“Coach Tomlin had told me about him a while back and I didn’t know anything about him,” said Wilson. “We introduced ourselves to each other when I came back and the first thing you notice is the guy really was well put together and he had a nice frame and you were like, ‘OK, this is going to be interesting to see.’ And then you saw him running around in OTAs and the movement was really good at the minicamps and it was very intriguing. So I asked him one day, ‘Are you going to hit anybody when we get into pads?’ And he goes ‘You’ll see.’ So that’s kind of been his nickname throughout training camp, ‘You’ll see.’”

Has he hit anybody?

Have Wilson, Mike Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers seen?

“Yes, and he’s doing a very good job,” Wilson said. “I’m very pleased.”

Johnson of course became the fullback through attrition when the only other fullback in camp, David Johnson, went down Thursday night with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the season.

Will Johnson, the 6-2, 238-pound rookie, stepped in and played well. Over the next few weeks Wilson plans to look at tight ends Jamie McCoy, Weslye Saunders and Heath Miller at fullback, but it’s Johnson’s job to lose.

“We’ll mix and match and put some pieces together and see what happens,” Wilson said. “Will actually played really well and did a real nice job for us, particularly for the first time ever playing in a National Football League game.”

Johnson played wide receiver, tight end and H-back at WVU, where he caught 25 passes for 249 yards and 4 touchdowns.

He wasn’t drafted in, or signed after, the 2011 draft, so he worked three jobs and began a serious training regimen in order to try again this year. He added 10 pounds and was timed at a reported 4.49 at WVU’s 2012 pro day, and the Steelers signed him two days later.

Tomlin, who was at the pro day, said he had no previous knowledge of Johnson, just that “it was that impressive of a workout.”

“He’s got some real good athleticism, good change of direction,” said Wilson. “He’s athletic, which is different. Most people at that position are not as athletic so that gives him an advantage and he’s able to adjust on the move and hit and strike linebackers as they move and adjust to the run scheme. We’re excited to see how he progresses here in the next two to three weeks.”

Wilson was asked if lead blocking is the most important aspect of Johnson’s job right now.

“It’s understanding and reading the defensive fronts, how to insert to your assignment,” Wilson said. “The key thing for a fullback is know what to do, know how to do it, and then do it very, very violently. He’s got that capability.”

Wilson said McCoy is “decent” and “adequate” at fullback, and that Saunders “did some in the game Thursday,” and that “Heath does it and has been doing it for the last five years.” However, Wilson agrees that tight ends have a difficult time making the transition to fullback.

“Most fullbacks are converted tailbacks so they know how to read a front, they know a best entry to get their assignment done, they know how to adjust on the run, and tight ends who are trying to adjust three or four plays a game at that position struggle with it,” Wilson said. “Heath is an exception because he’s done it so long now, but you don’t want to use one of the best tight ends in the NFL as your fullback lead-blocking on these big linebackers, so yeah they’re hard to find. Good ones are extremely hard to find. They’re very rare. We thought we had a couple that were good and now we’re down to one, unfortunately, and we’ll see what happens.”

Johnson played linebacker and tailback at Centerville High School in Dayton, Ohio, and even though he never gained 1,000 yards in a season was an honorable mention all-state player who led his team to the conference championship as a senior. He also played some tailback for WVU during the spring of his sophomore season, but got hurt and didn’t play the position again – until a few days ago at practice with the Steelers.

“He’s the only guy I have who is interchangeable that way,” Wilson said. “He plays fullback full-time, and part-time halfback if we get into a pinch, so we’ll continue to try to train him that way and see what happens

tony hipchest
08-12-2012, 12:39 AM
http://burgh.us/fj9LATROBE -- Last summer, Will Johnson was a football nobody.

Thirty-two NFL teams were working hard at training camp, but not one of them wanted the former West Virginia University tight end. No one thought enough of Johnson to even sign him as an undrafted free agent practice player.

While there were more than 2,500 players on camp rosters league wide, Johnson was out of football. He paid bills by working as a landscaper in Charlotte, N.C. But during that time, he refused to throw away his dream of playing in the NFL.

Now, Johnson’s dream is very much alive. Today, he’s the Steelers’ first-team fullback.

“My mindset was that I’m going to make this work out,” Johnson said. “I was going to do everything I could to make this happen.”

Johnson’s current position on the Steelers’ depth chart is a combination of perseverance and fate.

During that year or so he spent in Charlotte, he worked out like never before. He joined a CrossFit gym, which uses a grueling strength and conditioning program that's followed by not only elite athletes but also police academies and special military units.

Then on Thursday night, Johnson’s chances of sticking with the Steelers increased significantly when David Johnson suffered a season-ending knee injury.

“Everything happens for a reason,” Will Johnson said. “I’m happy for the opportunity but not necessarily with how I got it. I hate to see D.J. go down this way. But I am looking forward to my opportunity.”

During his West Virginia career, Johnson was a seldom-used wide receiver and tight end. As a senior in 2010, he started the season as a backup tight end but also played at times at fullback. In his last season with the Mountaineers, he caught just nine passes for 107 yards and two touchdowns.

“I probably got lost in the film. I probably didn’t have enough on tape for (NFL) coaches to want to sign me and bring me in to camp," he said.

But after that year in Charlotte, he got permission from the West Virginia athletic department to return to Morgantown for this year’s Pro Day for Mountaineers hoping to get drafted. He didn’t disappoint. He timed well in the 40-yard dash. He looked explosive in drills. He even benched pressed 225 pounds 30 times.

To put that in perspective, the Steelers’ top two draft picks this year -- guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams -- put up 34 and 19 reps, respectively on the bench press portion of this year’s NFL Combine.

Among those watching WVU's Pro Day in March were Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert. Afterwards, they pulled him aside and told him they would sign him. Two days later, Johnson was in the fold.

“I think Will can do a great job. He’ll be a great fullback for this offense,” David Johnson said. “He’s been pushing me all camp, making me better and helping me step up my game.

“It seems like he’s been playing fullback for years. He’s big and strong. He blocks well. And he has good hands.”

The Steelers aren’t saying if they’ll bring in another fullback to compete with Will Johnson. At this stage of camp, it’s hard to imagine that there’s a quality fullback in the pool of unsigned free agents.

Johnson, who’ll start Sunday when the Steelers host Indianapolis, says he’ll continue to and try to prove he’s the right man for the job.

“During that time I was out of football, I got so much motivation from my agent, my fiancée and the rest of my family,” he said. “It’s always good to hear that you have what it takes to play at this level.

“Now that I have this opportunity, I just have to keep working hard and make the most of it. My goal right now is to go out there every day and play as hard and well as I can.”

08-12-2012, 01:00 AM

08-12-2012, 01:37 AM
If he continues to run and catch like the video above at the NFL level I'll go out on a limb and say he will be making a pro-bowl in his future.

Should get plenty of time against Indy and I hope they work him into the passing game quite a bit to see his hands and feet at work.

tony hipchest
08-12-2012, 02:42 AM
high praise from teh likes of mclendon and sanders. the way i look at it, theres absolutely no way he can be worse than carey davis.

By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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."

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/sports/steelers/will-johnson-finds-way-to-play-at-friends-expense-648625/#ixzz23JccsvA2

Galax Steeler
08-12-2012, 06:30 AM
It is good to see someone like him have a chance to make it to the nfl. Hopefully he will take this chance and make the best of it.

08-12-2012, 06:49 AM
Looking at the video, he has a resemblance to our early to mid 90's FB
John L. Williams.

08-12-2012, 06:55 AM
Sounds like a class act, if he continues to put out the same effort he could be in the nfl for a long time!

08-12-2012, 07:45 AM
I was bummed about losing our only quality FB, David Johnson, after the Philly game - but reading and watching this, I'm much more relieved. I love the fact that Haley will be using a FB in this offense, and I love the fact that Tomlin and Colbert (our secret weapon of talent finder) found Will J, after no one wanted him fresh out of college. I hope the kid is able to show us, during the next 3 preseason games, the talent necessary to stick permanently on our 53 - it's a great change to our Offense.

08-12-2012, 09:58 AM
I hope this kid can knock some Ratbird LBs on their A $ $ . Been needing that position for several years now.

08-12-2012, 12:53 PM
He looks much more athletic and faster than david johnson and with the quick passes in the new offense he could be a factor. Also just read an article from yesterdays practice that johnson and spence had a big time.collision.during drills yesterday. So sound like he is no slouch in the blocking department. Hope he is successful for.us. We'll find out a little more sunday night against indy

tony hipchest
08-12-2012, 01:18 PM
Ken Laird‏@Ken_Laird

Heath: Will Johnson w/ the RBs but "he opened a lot of eyes before DJ got hurt, he'll get more exposure & I think he'll do good" #Steelers

heath is glad to see anyone back there as long as it isnt him going back to playing FB/HB

08-12-2012, 01:58 PM
I am optimistic in this year's offense

08-12-2012, 04:09 PM
Ken Laird‏@Ken_Laird

Heath: Will Johnson w/ the RBs but "he opened a lot of eyes before DJ got hurt, he'll get more exposure & I think he'll do good" #Steelers

heath is glad to see anyone back there as long as it isnt him going back to playing FB/HB


08-15-2012, 06:38 PM
This young man will make Steeler Fans Totally FORGET about David Johnson. !!!!!!!!

DJ imho was mediocre at best...

Willy boy has POTENTIAL that DJ dreamed about!!!

Hawaii 5-0
08-15-2012, 06:50 PM
This young man will make Steeler Fans Totally FORGET about David Johnson. !!!!!!!!

DJ imho was mediocre at best...

Willy boy has POTENTIAL that DJ dreamed about!!!

perhaps, but "potential" means you haven't done it yet...

having said that, I'm definitely rooting for him.

Hawaii 5-0
08-21-2012, 01:02 AM
Steelers Preseason Vs. Colts: Offensive Stars

Aug 20th, 2012 at 10:18 pm by Craig

A big question for the Steelers offense was how Will Johnson would fit into the fullback position with the abrupt exit of David Johnson due to injury. If there was ever someone to step up and speak loud and clearly that they deserved to be on this Steelers roster, it was WJ with his performance Sunday.

WJ immediately made his case in the first series. Johnson did a great job engaging his assignments – he sealed his blocks and prevented his assignment from getting at Dwyer, Batch, or Rainey. There were even a few plays in which he was able to get low enough on a linebacker to push him back off the line of scrimmage. He only had one carry for no gain, but his blocking was superb. I was thoroughly impressed, as this was his first NFL game experience.

Chalk up WJ as a player who was an offensive star.