Pass The Plate, Pass The Ball

Will Johnson's role is quickly increasing for West Virginia, even if his waist line isn't.

The former receiver who turned tight end has added H-back status via new offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen. Mullen used the position as a wild card of sorts at Wake Forest, and Johnson's skills fit the slot. Much like Owen Schmitt moved from tight end to fullback, giving WVU the latitude of play variance without substitutions – thus forcing defenses to keep the same 11 players on the field and taking away matchup adjustments on that side – Johnson can slide from tight end to H-back of fullback. That allows Mullen to note where defenses are weakest and better attack that area.

"My role is to add another threat," Johnson said. "We will run that new offense. We'll pass the ball more, try to catch defenses by surprise. Coming from the receiver position, they are taking advantage of my route running and (speed) mismatches with the linebackers. That will all help."

Johnson exploded in the spring, routinely snaring catches from the tight end position while also serving as an adequate blocker out of the backfield. If he can elevate his blocking skills against larger players, he will loom large in the spread attack. Johnson's problem thus far is weight. He lacks the size to face the linemen and linebackers whom he will need to seal of the ball, though his technique, through experience blocking as a receiver, is solid. Strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph is trying to add 15 pounds to the 6-2, 220-pounder to place him at least in the range of the players he challenges.

It hasn't been easy. Johnson played at 200 pounds last year, and though he has the physical frame to add the weight, he isn't naturally thick. The weight added will be all muscle, making it more difficult. Johnson is strong enough to play tight end and fullback, so simply making it more difficult for foes to handle him would be enough, and that could be done through any weight. Joseph, however, values slim, cut players and Johnson is the epitome of that. So it's 10-15 pounds of muscle or nothing, quite a feat over a three month summer program.

"It's about blocking bigger guys," Johnson said of his weight goals. "I feel like I already add some speed and some athleticism. And blocking is not a big thing for me because I am used to it from the staff last year. But I need that extra weight."

What should help the Dayton, Ohio native is his play at linebacker in high school. Johnson, who was all-district as a defender, understands the angles utilized by the ‘backers. He should, then, be able to fit up well. The question is him getting pushed off the ball, which would allow defenders to blow up plays in the backfield and negate any rushing ability for Noel Devine.

Other than that area, the major aspect of play that needs improved is Johnson's tendency to play straight up. He lacks a low pad level, giving opponents a leverage advantage while running routes and through the line. That wasn't as much of an issue at wide receiver, but will hurt him in routine clashes with defensive linemen, most of who have drilled in pad level and technique daily. If that is bettered, Johnson has all the other tools – hands, quickness, ball skills and security, route running – to make a major impact just one year after catching a single pass for zero yardage in 10 game appearances.

"There are some things we have where I'm coming out of the backfield, going to a receiver position, staying at fullback," Johnson said. "There are a lot of options. I feel comfortable with all of it. I think I can help us this year in whatever area the coaches need me to. I'm just ready to get started and play."


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