Appreciative Johnson may expand role

LATROBE, Pa. -- Such is the relatively anonymity of Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Will Johnson that he is even overshadowed at training camp by a coaching intern.

To be fair, it is impossible not to notice Mike Sellers, who has been working closely with Johnson as well as the Steelers’ special teams units.

Sellers’ upper body is seemingly carved out of granite and it leaves no breathing room for the yellow T-shirt he usually wears during practice. His muscles have muscles and Sellers looks like he could bench press the surrounding Laurel Mountains.

Not that Johnson minds the gawking that sometimes follows Sellers during practices since he has benefited as much as anyone from Sellers’ presence in camp.

“Same kind of player,” Johnson said. “I’m just not as big.”

Both are true, and what is significant about the former statement is that Sellers, a former NFL fullback/tight end has been helping Johnson as the 6-2, 238-pounder prepares for a bigger role in the Steelers’ offense.

Johnson is expected to see extended playing time at tight end as well as at fullback this season. That means more passes could be thrown at the player who has both willingly and capably handled grunt work since making the Steelers two years ago.

"They’ve added a little more [pass] routes, some more moving in different formations,” Johnson said. “It is definitely a great opportunity if I can get it down, master the details.”

That is where Sellers comes in.

He masterfully handled the details while playing H-back -- the position is a fullback/tight end hybrid -- for 11 seasons in the NFL, and Sellers made the Pro Bowl in 2009.

He is assisting Johnson with a transition that will alter but not profoundly change the latter’s role in the offense.

Johnson, who has 23 catches and two carries in two seasons with the Steelers, will still be a blocker first. But he also has the hands and athleticism to help in the passing game though he probably won’t be lobbying quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw more passes his way.

“I don’t get caught up in how many balls am I going to catch in a year,” Johnson said. “My story and how I got here, it’s definitely a blessing just to be out here.”

Johnson’s story is indeed a good one.

He never really found a position at West Virginia after arriving in Morgantown as a 195-pound wide receiver. Johnson also got lost in the shuffle of several coaching changes.

He was out of football for more than a year year after leaving West Virginia but the school allowed him to take part in the Mountaineers’ Pro Day in 2012.

Johnson’s physical ability jumped out at the Steelers, and they signed him shortly after watching him work out in Morgantown. He played his way onto the 53-man roster later that year and settled into a specialized role in the as a lead blocker.

Now he is hoping to expand that role, and Johnson has prepared for it by staying devoted to CrossFit training during the offseason and gleaning all he can from Sellers before the Steelers break camp on Friday.

“I feel like I’m in the best shape of my life,” Johnson said. “As long as I can do my part and help the team I’m fine with that.”