The Steelers (as usual) were not an extremely active team during the busy part of Free Agency this season. Yet on Wednesday, ESPN reported that Pittsburgh had brought three players in for visits: Kicker Dave Rayner, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker Matt Roth, and Linebacker Brandon Johnson. While none of these guys are thought to be “star” players, the more I think about the Steelers possibly acquiring Brandon Johnson, the more I believe he could be a solid addition to the team.
Helping and Adding Depth at Inside Linebacker
At 6’5” 245 lbs., Johnson is more than capable of moving to one of the Inside Linebacker positions in a backup role. Probably the position Johnson is best suited to play is the Strongside “Buck” simply because of his size. I am sure it would take Johnson some time to learn the complicated 3-4 LeBeau scheme, but Johnson is a savvy veteran, with a large frame, and can hold his own against the run. By acquiring Johnson, Pittsburgh could have him immediately competing with Stevenson Sylvester for the top backup role behind Larry Foote at the “Buck” spot. Make no mistake, Foote will be the undisputed starter entering Training Camp due to his experience and overall knowledge of the LeBeau system. Yet Johnson’s presence could help to push Sylvester and create some competition behind Foote. And in my opinion, there is nothing wrong with having too much depth at such an important position like the “Buck.”
Even if Johnson is asked to play the Weakside “Mack” role, his experience and the overall skill-set he acquired and honed as a Weakside “Will” in Cincinnati’s 4-3 could be put to good use at the “Mack” spot too. Because Cincinnati’s Outside Linebackers in their 4-3 system have to do their part on passing downs, Johnson has skills in pass coverage, and has done his part in the passing game with the Bengals. Over the last four years Johnson has collected 3 INT’s and racked up 14 Passes Defended in part-time starting duty and in a backup role. While Johnson may not have the speed or athleticism of a Sean Spence, having somebody to chip in and help in some way to remedy one of Pittsburgh’s biggest ills is always a plus, and his help might be needed at some point if he eventually signs.
Helping on Special Teams
One of the biggest ways that Johnson could help the franchise would be on the Special Teams units. Special Teams Coach Al Everest has done a fine job and Pittsburgh’s Special Teams play has improved over his two years as Coach. Nevertheless, the Steelers coverage units (16th on KR YPR (23.7) and 12th on PR YPR (8.4) in 2011) could still use some help, and adding a capable and intelligent player like Johnson could help on all of the Steelers’ Coverage Units and possibly in Field Goal and Extra Point situations as well.
In 2010, Johnson was voted the Special Teams captain by Cincinnati, and over his four seasons with the club made his biggest impact on Special Teams. The best part about acquiring a player like Johnson is that he has done an excellent job on Special Teams over the course of his career, acquired a large amount of experience in said phase of the game (played in all 66 games with team), and should boost the production of a middling unit like the Steelers’. If the Steelers seek to improve on their Coverage Units (kind of like they did with Keyaron Fox when he signed in ’08), they should seriously consider adding Johnson to the mix.
Hurts Cincinnati in the Process
I do not think I need to go into too much detail as to why this reason is so important: Johnson’s departure from Cincinnati and subsequent arrival in Pittsburgh hurts a fellow A.F.C. North foe. Not only does adding Johnson to the Steelers roster strengthen Pittsburgh’s Linebacking Corps and Special Teams Units, it weakens Cincinnati’s Linebacking Corps and Special Teams Units in the process. Pittsburgh gets a backup at likely the “Buck” (or even the “Mack”) spot and Cincinnati loses their top backup at Outside Linebacker and a veteran presence on the field and in the locker room. If injuries happen to strike Cincinnati at Outside Linebacker or even Middle Linebacker, they could have a tough time without the versatile Johnson on the team. Why the Bengals are even letting him test the Free Agent waters I am not sure, because as far as I know, they have plenty of cap space, but if they are comfortable with the depth they have then so be it.
If Johnson can be signed to a contract that Pittsburgh can afford, I see no reason why he should not be suiting up for the Black & Gold this Fall. Sure, the acquisition of a backup Linebacker might now make the national media “ooh” and “ahh.” Heck, some even in “Steeler Nation” might question the signing. But you know what? I see the signing of Johnson as an intelligent football move, and one which should be strongly considered and hopefully made by this organization.
What the Steelers would ultimately get is a guy who was productive when he saw the field in Cincinnati (214 Tackles in 4 years), displayed versatility on the Defensive side of the ball (backed up all 3 Linebacker positions), was an integral part to the Special Teams units (2010 Captain), provided a healthy and steady presence on the team (played in all 66 games with the team), and still has a good chunk of his career in front of him (29 years old right now). Thus, I believe that the Steelers could use a player like Brandon Johnson on their roster because of what he could ultimately add to the team overall.
What do you think readers? Should the Steelers go after Johnson? Are there any other available Free Agents they should sign? Let me know.
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