The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

August 23, 2013

Steelers tight end ready for some action

PITTSBURGH — The whistle sounded to end practice, and wave upon wave of Pittsburgh Steelers jogged off the field to the comfort of the locker room.

Not David Johnson.

To be honest, the tight end doesn’t jog. Ever. Johnson moves with a deliberateness typically reserved for those with no particular place to go and no incentive to get there early.

While his teammates made a beeline for the shower, Johnson spent an extra 10 minutes going through one-on-one blocking drills in front of coach Mike Tomlin. Physically spent, he strolled toward the locker room while drinking in the moment his career finally reverted back to normal.

Sure, Johnson never doubted he would make it all the way back from the torn ACL in his right knee that sidelined him for more than a year. He’s wise enough to understand, however, that not everybody does.

“I just kept my faith,” said Johnson, who turns 26 Monday. “It got a little frustrating at times but in the end you know that you’re fortunate.”

Barely 72 hours after being activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list while he completed a lengthy rehabilitation, Johnson will likely see his first game action in 380 days when the Steelers host the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday.

While most of his veteran teammates are simply hoping to get through the final days of what has been a particularly physical training camp, Johnson will try to pick up where he left off before one bad step last August against the Philadelphia Eagles changed the course of his football life.

The injury came just as the Steelers were transitioning Johnson from tight end to fullback. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley saw Johnson’s 6-foot-2, 270-pound frame as the perfect road grader for Pittsburgh’s renewed commitment to the running game.

Instead Johnson spent the fall of 2012 in football’s version of purgatory. While the Steelers slogged through an enigmatic 8-8 season, he quietly began the process of putting his knee back together.

Turns out, he had company. Johnson was joined in the training room by rookie linebacker Sean Spence – who saw his left knee ripped to shreds in the preseason finale – and later by tight end Heath Miller. It was miserable, sure. But at least they had each other’s company.

Working out nearly every day, the trio formed what Spence calls a “fraternity.”

“Guys with a knee injury, you want to see what they’re going through, what they’re experiencing, how they got over certain things,” Spence said. “We kind of leaned on each other.”

And pushed each other too.

If they weren’t comparing notes, they were competing to see who could reach their individual benchmarks first. They spent the better part of three weeks isolated from the rest of the Steelers in their own little quarantine. While the other 87 men on the roster slammed into each other to prepare for the regular season, Johnson, Miller and Spence were pulling sleds while running wind sprints or pounding through wearying agility drills designed to test the soundness of their rebuilt joint.

When Johnson was finally given the go-ahead to practice three weeks after a minor procedure to free up scar tissue, it felt like a graduation day of sorts for Miller and Spence too.

“You see DJ activated and it’s encouraging,” Spence said. “Everybody’s got their own path they’ve got to take, but we all want to end up in the same spot.”

Johnson’s return couldn’t come fast enough for the Steelers. While Miller is progressing nicely in his return, he remains vague about any timetable for his return and veteran Matt Spaeth, signed in the offseason, is out for two months at least with a torn ligament in his left foot.

That’s left most of the tight end duties up to second-year player David Paulson and journeyman Jamie McCoy, who is still waiting to catch his first regular season pass since entering the league in 2010.

Unlike Miller and Paulson, Johnson is not exactly a weapon in the passing game. He has just 18 receptions in 47 games. Instead his specialty involves moving the pile forward. While there will be jitters whenever he walks onto the turf at Heinz Field, he expects them to vanish the second he smashes into the guy on the other side of the ball.

It’s something the Steelers need to happen if they want to break out of their preseason malaise. Pittsburgh is winless through two games and is still waiting for the first-team offense to score a touchdown.

The Chiefs haven’t been quite so lethargic. Their starters scored 10 points against New Orleans, though new quarterback Alex Smith took a small step back in one half of play last week against San Francisco when he completed just 7 of 16 passes for 62 yards and took three sacks against his old team.

“It’s preseason,” Smith said. “I don’t think anybody in the league goes out there and shows everything they have, but at the same time, you want to execute well. I think Pittsburgh feels the same way.”

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Sports
  • Pirates Brawl 0420 Brewers top Pirates in game highlighted by dustup

    Ryan Braun homered in the ninth inning to tie it, then Khris Davis hit a home run in the 14th that put Milwaukee ahead for good.
    Yet those were hardly the big blows that attracted all the attention Sunday in the Brewers’ 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Football team ends boycott of embattled coach

    Minnesota State University-Mankato’s football team has ended its boycott of reinstated head coach Todd Hoffner, who successfully fought child pornography charges and other misconduct accusations that removed him from the job for 20 months.
    Hoffner said he assured the players, who refused to take the practice field Wednesday, that interim coach Aaron Keen, who led the team in Hoffner’s absence, will continue in a major role with the team.

    April 20, 2014

  • Penguins 0420a Game 3 pivotal for both teams

    Not so long ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets were the worst team in the NHL.
    Now they’re heading home for tonight’s Game 3 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the star-studded Pittsburgh Penguins, hoping to make even more history.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Penguins 0419 Blue Jackets outlast Pens in double-OT

    Matt Calvert banged home a rebound 1:10 into the second overtime and the Columbus Blue Jackets earned the first playoff victory in franchise history with a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
    Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury stuffed the initial shot by Cam Atkinson but Calvert stood all alone at the left post and wristed a shot into the open net to even the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at one game each.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pirates 0419 Brewers rally to clip Pirates

    Ryan Braun hit two homers, including a two-run shot with two outs in the ninth inning that sent the Milwaukee Brewers over the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 Saturday night.
    Braun has five home runs this season after being suspended for the last 65 games of 2013 following Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Biogenesis drug scandal.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Area runners gearing for Boston Marathon

    The time was 12:15 p.m. It was Monday April 19, 1897.  Tom Burke had drawn a line across the dirt road with his foot. Eighteen men gathered near Metcalf’s Mill in Ashland, Massachusetts.

    April 19, 2014

  • SRU vs UPJ baseball0418 1 UPJ takes one, drops second

    John Fees’ spring baseball season accurately mirrors that of his Pitt-Johnstown team.
    Fees started slow, losing his first four decisions, but has rebounded nicely in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference West Division.

    April 18, 2014 2 Photos

  • Pirates 0418 Brewers ward off late Pirates rally bid

    Kyle Lohse pitched effectively into the seventh inning, Carlos Gomez homered and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3 Friday night.
    Lohse (3-1) improved to 11-2 in his career against the Pirates, allowing one earned run in a win against them for the second time in six days.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Drama lacking sans Tiger

    If professional golf saw its future at Augusta National last weekend, the sight had to be worse than choking on a 5-foot putt.
    The course was there in all its splendor.

    April 18, 2014

  • Penguins 0418 Penguins are wary of spunky Blue Jackets

    Sidney Crosby is used to the attention. It comes with the territory when you’re the best hockey player in the world.
    Still, the Pittsburgh Penguins star knows the spotlight becomes more acute in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo