While the New York Giants were correctly focused on improving their league-worst defense in free agency, they made one interesting under-the-radar offensive signing that could end up being an important one. The Giants signed versatile fullback/tight end/H-Back Will Johnson, who spent the first four years of his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Let's take a closer look at Johnson and what he could mean for the Giants' offense as we continue to profile the 90-man roster the Giants will bring to training camp at the end of July.
2015 Season in Review
Johnson was listed as a fullback throughout his time in Pittsburgh. In 2016, he played in all 16 games with four starts. Statistically, there isn't much to see. He caught two passes for 16 yards and carried the ball four times for seven yards. In his four seasons, Johnson has 31 receptions and eight rushing attempts for 14 yards. He has missed only one game.
"My mentality is the more you can do, that's what I'm here for. In Pittsburgh I was always listed as a fullback, but I also did some tight end things," Johnson told Big Blue View on Wednesday. "I believe I can be a valuable asset to an offense. Wherever they need me to be or whenever my number's called I'll be ready."
2016 Season Outlook
There are two central questions when it comes to Johnson's role. How exactly will the Giants use him, and will his ability to play both tight end and fullback impact the roster status Nikita Whitlock? Let's take a closer look.
Johnson does position drills with the tight ends and has thus far worked exclusively at that spot with Whitlock handling any snaps media has seen that involve a traditional fullback. In the Giants' offense, however, that doesn't mean Johnson has been planted next to an offensive tackle. He has been in the backfield as a lead blocker in offset I and "Bone" formations with both tight ends in the backfield. He has been split off the line. He has been used as a motion man, or "H Back." He has done a variety of things.
I asked Johnson to explain the difference between blocking at the end of the line of scrimmage as a tight end vs. leading a running back through a hole from the backfield.
"I would say attitude. That's something that you have to like to do, you have to want to do it." Johnson said. "You just can't put anyone back there.
"You first have to know the defense, know techniques, know where your fit is and then have good technique. You can't just run in any type of way."
The Giants should benefit from Johnson's experience and his blocking ability, something they missed last season once Daniel Fells was sidelined by MRSA. Can Johnson do more? Can he be a receiving threat, or a guy who can handle a short-yardage carry once in a while? Can he be a Dwayne Harris-type for the Giants, a guy who shows he can handle a bigger role in an offense than his previous employer gave him?
"I've proven that I can do it, it's just the opportunities I've had to do it," Johnson said. "I think when my numbers been called I've made the most of it. I can't control when I'm on the field, I can control what I do when I'm out there. That's why I'm here. To help contribute."
Johnson is part of a deep group of tight ends, but his experience and varied skill set figure to make him an integral part of the offense. The Giants likely will find lots of ways for him to contribute.