Will Johnson: You'll See

Mike Tomlin saw Will Johnson one time and signed him. Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson understands why.

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."

And as Johnson would say: You'll see.

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