By Jeremy Hritz
Buddy Johnson Links
The Steelers had a significant need for not just depth at the inside linebacker position, but athletic depth, as the roster did not provide for it through Robert Spillane and Vince Williams. While UG3 possesses the measurables at the position, he has yet to produce, setback by injuries. The Steelers knew another injury to Devin Bush would hinder the overall defense and decrease the ability of the unit to make splash plays. From that perspective, the Steelers were searching for a quality inside linebacker and they found one in Buddy Johnson Jr from Texas A&M. With excellent testing numbers, the natural talents are there to be shaped into a potential starter later in his career, and early on, a backup and special teamer.
Strengths of Johnson
Johnson is fast and athletic, able to cover a lot of ground in terms of pursuit and coverage. In terms of his status currently, he is a much better defender against the run than he is the passing game. And oh yeah, he is aggressive and physical to boot. There is no hesitation in his want-to to take on a runner or blockers, and this aligns with the mentality of the Steelers defense. He has the edge of a Vince Williams but also the tools that can be developed to make a difference against the pass. He also has the versatility that the team covets, with experience on the outside as well.
Johnson is a high-character guy and a leader, which isn’t just important for overall team chemistry and fit, but in terms of a middle linebacker for the Steelers, this is absolute-must criteria. Leadership is essential for an ILB in black and gold as the responsibility for calling the defense often is given to that position.
Areas for Growth for Johnson
First off, transitioning on defense from the college game to the professional game is difficult to begin with, as the nuances of coverage responsibilities are great, especially at the ILB position. For Johnson, he needs to develop his coverage acumen, and this is where his efforts for improvements will need to focus with the Steelers.
Additionally, Johnson is not an imposing body at the position at 6′, 229. Against massive offensive linemen mobile enough to get to the second level, Johnson could struggle if he does not continue to build strength commensurate to the NFL game. While this wasn’t much of a limitation at A & M, Johnson will be facing stronger competition in the league, and that will require adaptation.
How Does Buddy Johnson Fit Into the Steelers Depth Chart?
I can’t sit here and say he will be the #3 inside backer at the start of the season, but he could work his way into that spot as the year progresses. While he brings more to the team in terms of athleticism and pass coverage than Spillane and Williams, their experience will override his skillset, unless he can show a mastery of the defense. Another scenario is that Johnson makes Williams expendable and he becomes the number 3 by default, but keeping Vince around for insurance seems to be a prudent move to me.
I know it sounds as if I’m counting UG3 out, but he hasn’t really shown anything to make me think he will stick. If he pops this year in camp, the Steelers will have a welcomed problem on their hands.
There is optimism around Johnson and what he can contribute, and reputable Steelers Beat Writer from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Gerry Dulac, believes he will eventually become a starter alongside Bush. That’s pretty strong praise from Dulac who has covered the team for years.
What Will Buddy Johnson Contribute in Year One?
The floor = special teams.
Modest expectations = contributes 150-200 snaps on defense in sub-packages.
Exceeds expectations = earns starting position alongside Bush by end of season.
Of the three, the safe bet is contribution on special teams, but I believe Johnson has the skill set, character, and demeanor to be a role player, and to even deliver a splash play or two in year 1.
Steelers Comparable Player
Reminds me of Lawrence Timmons. A little bit quicker, but same height/weight. If Johnson plays anywhere near Timmons, the Steelers have found a gem in Johnson in round 4.
What Did This New Steeler Study?
Johnson studied Sports Management at Texas A&M. You can learn more about the program HERE.
Yay, Nay, or OK?
Depth was needed, depth was achieved, and maybe more. This pick is a YAY, and I’d keep an eye on Johnson this training camp. There may be something special here.