With the influx of youth at the wide receiver position since Stevie Johnson signed his contract extension a year ago, the Buffalo Bills front office has followed through with a plan to hopefully take more advantage of his jukes and moves in the slot. The receiver has been lining up inside for much of training camp this year.
Let's rewind for a second. In December of 2012, former Bills GM Buddy Nix said he envisioned Johnson playing in the slot instead of lining up outside. At the time, he was talking about the loss of Buffalo's slot receiver David Nelson and also looking ahead to the 2013 NFL Draft. They added a legitimate outside receiver in Robert Woods in April, and had already added T.J. Graham who was already to the roster.
"We need a big-time outside receiver. T.J. gives us a lot of that," Nix said, "but you still need to get another, bigger guy that can line up out there and catch the ball when he's covered."
Since then, a lot has changed at One Bills Drive. Gone is Nix - moved upstairs to an emeritus role - and head coach Chan Gailey, who took his offensive coordinator with him. Doug Whaley took Nix's job following the drafting of Woods, and Doug Marrone has installed a new offense with coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Stevie's move to the slot has continued despite the upheaval.
Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News considers it a major development, writing: "Johnson, the Bills' No. 1 receiver, is seeing most of his work at an inside position in the slot this summer. That's a big change."
In citing Woods and Graham in addition to another rookie, Marquise Goodwin, Gaughan notes the Bills have more receiving options on the outside. He doesn't even mention undrafted free agent Da'Rick Rogers, who ran with the ones on the outside this week in training camp, as well.
"It's easy money," said Johnson of the options in the slot. "I got talent around me, you know? I'm not stupid to the fact we've got burners. We've got guys who can run and stretch the defense.
"I can get past a DB," Johnson said, "but why not put me inside and let me work with the linebackers and nickel guys and let our speed guys do work on the outside? We've got versatility in our room where we have the ability to do that."
Analytics website Pro Football Focus had Stevie outside on 83 percent of his routes and in the slot for just 17 percent last season, according to Gaughan. Johnson was third in receiving yards per slot route run according to PFF, as well. He sees his value in his presence as a possession receiver cleaning up underneath the speedy youngsters.
"If I can grow into that dynamic type of player in the slot, then I think we'll be more efficient on third downs," said Johnson. "I've got work to do and this is where it starts, this is where we have to work."