Buffalo's receiving corps might be the most congested group of talent on the team's roster heading into the 2009 season. There are proven playmakers, valuable veterans and some promising youngsters. Whether there's room on the roster to keep them all however, is a big question mark.
Some might think Steve Johnson could be at risk being a former seventh-round pick. But if you talk to the coaching staff they believe the second-year wideout has a future with the Bills.
"Definitely," said head coach Dick Jauron. "We expect him to compete. He plays well. He gets on the field and makes plays. I'm really looking forward to see him back here."
Johnson's rookie campaign started slow. With a host of receiver talent in front of him on the depth chart, the Kentucky product was forced to bide his time and wait for an opportunity.
That didn't happen until Week 11 against the Cleveland Browns when he made his first NFL start. Though the Bills lost a heartbreaker Johnson posted three catches for 41 yards and performed admirably.
Johnson would make only five more receptions the rest of the season, but two went for touchdowns including his three-yard scoring play in a comeback win over Denver in Week 16.
"I think Steve is a good player," said offensive coordinator Turk Schonert. "He showed he belongs in this league and he can play. He's going to get better. He had a better understanding at the end of the year of what we were doing and trying to do. We had a better understanding of what we could do with him. So I see nothing but upside with him."
Johnson also appeared to establish a good chemistry with Trent Edwards by the time the 2008 season had come to a close.
"At first Trent wasn't sure what Steve was doing, but after they got some more reps together and Steve understood what we were doing, they were on the same page," said Schonert. "That's where we've got to get to. We've got to get to where Trent is on the same page with all of our receivers. They've got to be better running their routes with more consistency."
Schonert says the passing game won't take the next step for the Bills until the quarterback and the receiving corps working together makes more things happen.
"We've just got to be better at those positions at making plays," Schonert said. "Making plays is not always throwing it deep, it's breaking tackles and making guys miss, making a great catch when you're covered, making a great throw on a scramble. Those are great plays."
At 6'3" and 200 pounds Johnson can break tackles and shield defenders from an incoming pass. He's also capable of making catches in traffic. That's why he's a likely candidate for work in the slot.
How far Johnson's game progresses through the remainder of the offseason however, will be the prime factor in determining whether he can climb far enough up the receiver food chain to make a greater impact in Buffalo's passing attack.
"He's got good size, good hands, run after catch ability and has a toughness about him," said Jauron. "Hopefully he'll get better and better because he's got a lot of things going for him."