Versatile Ex-Steelers Lineman Could Start at LT for Bengals

Fred Johnson

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images James Washington of the Pittsburgh Steelers is congratulated by teammate Fred Johnson after a touchdown reception against the Tennessee Titans in a preseason game at Nissan Stadium on August 25, 2019.

It’s no secret that the Cincinnati Bengals are lacking talent on the offensive line. The Bengals are second-worst in the NFL in sacks allowed with 46, and lost rookie franchise quarterback Joe Burrow to a devastating season-ending knee injury in Week 11.

On Monday night, the Bengals will once again be putting together a patchwork offensive line, one that could feature former Steelers lineman Fred Johnson at left tackle, who is currently atop Cincinnati’s depth chart at the position.

“[Johnson’s] got a good shot,” said Bengals head coach Zac Taylor on Thursday. ‘We got him and Hakeem [Adeniji], two young players who are continuing to compete and get a lot of reps. Those guys have to continue to progress as they get more time at that position.”

While Adeniji got the start at left tackle in Cincinnati’s most recent contest—a 30-7 loss to the Dallas Cowboys—he was pulled after the first two series and replaced by Johnson, who allowed just two pressures during the remainder of the game (according to Pro Football Focus). If Johnson gets the start it will be Cincinnati’s eighth different starting O-line combination this season.

The 23-year-old University of Florida product has appeared in nine games for the Bengals this year, including three starts, having also played at right guard, a position that doesn’t often interchange with left tackle. Johnson also spent time on the Reserve/COVID-19 list in November.

Fred Johnson Impressed in 2019 With the Steelers

If you’re a Steelers fan, you may recall that Johnson (six-foot-seven, 326 pounds) came into the NFL in the spring of 2019, signing with Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent. He impressed right away, both in training camp and in preseason games.

“He’s a very athletic guy with size, who moves well and has got big long arms, locks guys out,” offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett said at the time. “But he’s still a baby. He’s got a long way to go. He’s a guy we need to continue to develop, a young guy we are hoping to spend a little extra time with if needed. He’s done great in the classroom, he’s bought in; I think he’s just going to continue to develop. He’s one of the young guys we’re excited about.”

But the Steelers never got a chance to develop him, because in mid-October of last year the team waived Johnson (along with outside linebacker Jayrone Elliott) to make room for RB Trey Edmunds and QB Paxton Lynch in the wake of injuries to Jaylen Samuels and Mason Rudolph. The Steelers planned to bring him back if he cleared waivers, except the Bengals put in a claim—and have been encouraging his development ever since.

Cincinnati also has another former Steelers lineman on its roster in fifth-year offensive lineman B.J. Finney, who the Bengals acquired in a midseason trade for defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap and a seventh-round draft pick. Yet despite its offensive line woes, Finney hasn’t been able to crack Cincinnati’s lineup, much as he struggled to find a place in Seattle.

Former Steelers Draft Pick Brian Allen on Cincinnati’s Practice Squad

Cincinnati also has two former Steelers on its practice squad in cornerbacks Brian Allen and Trajan Bandy.

Allen was a fifth-round pick of the Steelers in 2017 (Utah), which turned out to be one of the best draft classes in the NFL that year, having produced T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner and Josh Dobbs in the first four rounds.

Allen appeared in 16 games for the Steelers in 2017-18, and has since spent time with the Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers. Cincinnati added Allen to its practice squad in early November, but he has yet to appear in a game for the Bengals.

As for Bandy, the Steelers released him from the practice squad in late September to make room for former University of Kentucky defensive end Calvin Taylor. Bandy came to the Steelers this past spring as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Miami, where he was consistently productive. But his lack of size—he was measured at 5-7 6/8 and 180 pounds at the Scouting Combine—means he has little chance of earning a regular role in the NFL.

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