Emmons became a starter in 1998 and had 12 sacks in Pittsburgh before leaving for Philadelphia as a free agent in 2000. The Steelers let him leave because of the emergence of young Joey Porter at right outside linebacker.
The Steelers hope tight end David Johnson, the 241st pick of the 2009 draft, works out as well as Emmons.
"I'd heard that name before, but I didn't know who he was," said Johnson. "I thought you were going to ask me about Coach Tomlin."
Mike Tomlin, of course, coached wide receivers at Arkansas State in 1997 and defensive backs in 1998, before moving on to the University of Cincinnati in 1999. Johnson said there are no plaques or tributes to Tomlin at ASU. Yet.
"All I knew about the Steelers before I got here," Johnson said, "is they were a legendary team that's been good throughout the years. That's about all."
He knows a bit more now. Johnson is a 6-2, 260-pound H-back, or "move tight end," who can block. He can also play fullback, and he did all of it this spring, as he had for the Red Wolves at Arkansas State.
"I lined up at fullback, slot, receiver, on line as a tight end. I lined up pretty much everywhere," Johnson said of his college career. "It's the same assignments here, just different language. Once I learn what everything means I'll be OK."
Johnson played well this spring. In a pass-oriented time of year, he showed he can catch the short stuff that's critical for tight ends, and he also showed enough deep speed (4.73 combine 40) to garner respect from the safeties. Johnson also has the muscular build of a Charles Davis, the fifth-round pick in 2006 whose blocking ability didn't match his All-World physique. Johnson, though, says he can block and that it's been a strength since his high school days in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
"In middle school I played quarterback, but I was always big," Johnson said. "Once I moved to high school they started me off at fullback, but I kept getting taller, so they tried me at tight end and I was pretty good at it. I developed into a great tight end, so I never played defense. I was just a tight end. I caught a bunch of balls and was able to block and people started to take notice, so I got a scholarship."
At Arkansas State, Johnson was the blocking tight end as a true freshman and became a receiving threat the next season.
After catching 23 passes for 404 yards and four touchdowns in his sophomore and junior seasons, Johnson caught 22 passes for 356 yards with a team-high five touchdown catches as a senior. His greatest play occurred his junior season when he made an 84-yard catch and run for a touchdown.
"Another one of my best moments was winning the conference my freshman year," he said. "In my later years I became one of the leaders on the offense, and I look back at that as my greatest accomplishment. I knew the system and was a captain. The guys looked up to me. I was one of the guys who, when he said something, they listened."
How is Johnson picking up the Steelers' system?
"I'm coming along pretty well," he said. "I'm getting great help from the veterans and the coach set me out pretty good. I'm asking questions and picking it up pretty well. I think I'm playing pretty well. I can improve on everything, but I don't think I have a weakness. I just have to pick it up to their level now. I think they like what I've been doing."