Steelers TE Johnson returns to practice

Steelers tight end David Johnson practiced Wednesday for the first time in more than a year, and the fifth-year veteran is cautiously optimistic that he will play Saturday night against Kansas City.

The Steelers activated Johnson from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list early Wednesday afternoon. Following practice, Johnson, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament in August 2012, said he expects to play in at least one of the Steelers’ remaining two preseason games.

“We’ll see how his body responds to the work that he did today,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “It’s a process and there’s really no script for it.”

Johnson’s return is a welcome one for a team that is thin at tight end with starter Heath Miller working his way back from a major knee injury and Matt Spaeth still on crutches as he recovers from a Lisfranc foot injury.

Johnson has just 18 career receptions but his forte is blocking, something the Steelers could use while Miller and Spaeth are out.

The 6-foot-2, 280-pounder moved to fullback last season, but Will Johnson played well enough after David Johnson went down to hang onto the starting job. David Johnson’s re-acclimation to tight end started in earnest Wednesday, and it wouldn't have happened without the second surgery he underwent in late July.

Johnson had scar tissue removed from his right knee at the beginning of training camp, and the procedure allowed him to start fully extending his leg. It also put him on a track to be ready for the start of the regular season.

“Things started really progressing after that,” Johnson said of the surgery. “I’m just glad I was able to get out there and make it through one practice. It's been a long road.”

In other news from Wednesday:

  • Running back Isaac Redman practiced and he is hopeful of returning to action Saturday night.

Redman didn’t play Monday night at Washington because of a pinched nerve.

“I feel a lot better,” Redman said before practice. “We’re a little banged up (at running back) and I’m looking to step up and lead this room.”

  • Steelers starters are expected to play into the third quarter against Kansas City. The game is essentially the regulars' final dress rehearsal for the season opener, as they will play sparingly in the Steelers’ fourth preseason contest.

The Steelers spent Wednesday morning analyzing film from the 24-13 loss to Washington. They installed the game plan for Kansas City in the afternoon. This is the first and only preseason game in which the Steelers will specifically prepare for their opponent.

“We’re going in this thing as if it’s Week One,” starting left guard Ramon Foster said.