Jonathan Dwyer on a Mission to go from Trade Bait to Pittsburgh Steelers Starting Running Back
By Kyle Curry on July 6, 2013
When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft it said a lot about the players on the roster. The Steelers clearly aren’t sold on Isaac Redman or Jonathan Dwyer being their long-term starting running back; so much so, in fact, that they spent a second round pick on a running back.
That was, of course, never said in words by the Steelers front office, but their actions, as they say, speak louder than words. And those actions have Dwyer and Redman working hard to show that the organization, and most everyone else for that matter, underestimated them.
Redman is said to be 10-15 pounds lighter than the end of last season and is working on increasing his speed. His goal is to be the Steelers starting running back and in Todd Haley’s offense that means a mix of speed and power as well as the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
“I was disappointed individually, struggling with injuries,” Redman said about his 2012 season. “We had our spurts. We had a couple of games where we looked great and a couple where we looked awful. We need to be more consistent.”
That consistency will be the goal in 2013. From weeks 7-9 in 2012 the Steelers had three great running performances on offense behind two Dwyer starts and one start by Redman. Those three games were the best three games by the Steelers on the ground during the 2012 season. Uncoincidentally that was also three of the healthiest games by the offensive line.
When the line was healthy both Redman and Dwyer looked like star running backs in the NFL. That’s enough to make you wonder what the Steelers run game could do if the offensive line wasn’t suffering consistent injuries. However, with the lines injury issues the past few years their has been no consistency up front or with the run game.
Because of the injuries to the offensive line the run game has struggled and has considered very disappointing the past few years. That disappointment has been pushed onto the running backs themselves; despite the fact that the running backs performed well when the line was actually healthy.
Even so, rumor has it that the Steelers tried to trade Dwyer during the NFL Draft back in April. Seeing those rumors has probably stacked even a little more motivation onto Dwyer’s plate this off-season.
Dwyer has been working hard to get into better shape to prove that he deserves a chance to be the Steelers starting running back. Redman is in the same boat and rookie Le’Veon Bell will be competing for the job as well.
Bell may be the expected starter at this point, but as a rookie he has a long hill to climb before he wins that job. If he is considered to not be ready to start in his first year that means the job will be going to Redman or Dwyer. Dwyer may have the best skill-set of those two to be a starting running back, but conditioning issues have been a concern surrounding him since he was drafted by the Steelers.
This is a make-or-break season for Dwyer, at least in Pittsburgh. If he comes into camp in great shape and wins the starting job it will be huge for his career in the NFL. However, if he struggles during camp he could be out of a roster spot when the Steelers make their final cuts in September.
Having said that, I fully expect a strong showing from Dwyer this off-season. He was the Steelers starting running back at times in 2012, was rumored to be trade bait back in April and now is fighting for his NFL career.
However, given his skill-set and off-season conditioning there is still a good chance that he opens the season as the Steelers starting running back.
Dwyer has been working hard to get into better shape to prove that he deserves a chance to be the Steelers starting running back.
My only question is why does it take a guy 3 yrs to get serious about his game? Running back is not a hard position to learn in the NFL. Now that he is being seriously threatened, Dwyer is get serious. It is a little disappointing it has to take something like that to motivate a guy.
First of all, if this guy is really serious about this--he will win the job and produce a big-time season. Because really, that's how much ability he has. The question is (if he has gotten serious), WHY DID IT TAKE THREE YEARS? Especially since last year, a starting job was just sitting there for either guy to grab by the horns. That should've been the wake-up call, or defining moment.
The one thing that will really make or break the run game this year will be the line. As bad as the RBs have looked in the past few years, it is true that the only stretch that made them look like a true running threat in this league was games 7-9 of last year. This is not a group that can make something out of nothing, however, it seems that they are a stable of backs that can punish a D that is made soft by a powerful Oline. Unfortunately we have seen very little of that, but we have seen it.
IF (and that's a big if) our Oline stays healthy all year, then we could be watching a dominant run game.
IF (and that's a big if) our Oline plays as it can, then it might not matter who starts between Bell, Dwyer, and Redman - any of the three could succeed.
IF (and that's a big if) Decastro comes as advertised - solid run and pass blocker who is athletic and can pull, then we can find success in the run game
IF (and that's a big if) Adams comes back from his stabbing and can be a mauler in the run game without his pass protection deficiencies interfering with his status, then we should improve in the run game.
IF (and that's a big if) Gilbert can settle in at LT and do a formidable job, then that will help the run game.
IF (and that's a big if) Spaeth came back to Pittsburgh as a better run blocker than he was when he left, and can hold down the fort while we await the return of Heath, that will help the run game.
All this, and I haven't even discussed any needed improvement in the players manning the position. I truly believe that this is a running game that can improve without changing the backs. I don't think that any of them are great, but I also believe that the problems in the running game have much deeper roots than either Dwyer or Redman.
Steelers, and Dwyer, still intend to make a run at it
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Their annual rushing leaders rank among the most memorable names in Steelers history. Among them were Franco Harris, Jerome Bettis, John Henry Johnson, Bullet Bill Dudley, Willie Parker, Barry Foster.
Yes, Dwyer etched his name in Steelers lore by leading the team in rushing in 2012. His reward is to enter a preseason game tonight against the Washington Redskins near the nation's capital as no more than tied for third on the depth chart at halfback.
Listed ahead of him as sharing the top spot are Isaac Redman and rookie Le'Veon Bell. Mike Tomlin has Dwyer and Baron Batch sharing No. 3. All combined did not rush for as many yards in the NFL as Dwyer did in 2012.
So why the snub?
Perhaps those 265 pounds Dwyer lugged into spring practices, stunning his coaches, were a reason. Or the fact that they drafted Bell in the second round after he ran for 1,793 yards at Michigan State in 2012. Or that Dwyer's 623 yards in 2012 -- the fewest number to lead the Steelers since Merril Hoge did so with 610 in 1991 -- really weren't enough to secure a spot at the top of their depth chart.
The Steelers signed him to a one-year, $1.3 million tender as a restricted free agent and then discovered they had gotten way more than they thought, about 35 pounds more.
Whatever it was, Dwyer must prove himself again, and he came to the training camp that wound up over the weekend determined to do just that. He left those extra pounds at home and after three weeks of camp, 230-pound Dwyer enters the second preseason game tonight quietly making his case.
"I feel like I haven't played up to my full potential," Dwyer said. "If anything, people don't have to write about it, people don't have to say anything, I know what I'm capable of, I know what our room is capable of."
That room of running backs would seem to be a tad crowded at the moment. Bell joined a group of veterans that included Dwyer, Redman, Batch and LaRod Stephens-Howling, who signed as a free agent. They might keep only four halfbacks along with fullback Will Johnson. Dwyer and Batch could be competing for one spot.
Dwyer, though, has bigger goals in mind and, like Redman, said he is not ready to concede the starting job to a rookie.
"No, by any means. I'd rather him beat me out just because he's better, not because he works harder, not because of anything. I'm going to give everyone a run for their money and I know everybody's going to give me a run for their money."
Dwyer maintains that drafting a halfback in the second round did not motivate him.
"I motivated myself. I know what I can do. I know what I did last year. I know I can do better. If I want to be in that special group around the league, you have to sacrifice and do a lot of different things to be on that level."
It would seem maybe he finally learned that lesson after seeing the disgust on his coaches' faces when he arrived for organized team activities in April. They were not happy with his plumpness, although Dwyer said they did not say anything to him about it. He does not know why he let himself get so big, but, "Now I'm in the best shape I possibly can be."
"Just one thing led to another," Dwyer said of his weight gain. "I'm not going to blame anything. It was my fault. It's not going to happen anymore.
"Coach Tomlin just said, 'We know what you expect, we're not going to call you out."'
The old wake-up call apparently went off.
"It's just a lifestyle change for myself," Dwyer said.
It is possible that Bell will make his debut tonight with the Steelers. Tomlin will decide if his knee bruise, reinjured Thursday in practice, is a sufficient enough reason again to sit the rookie for a second preseason game. If that's the case, Dwyer again may not get to run with the first-team offense. But if Bell does not play, Dwyer could start because Redman did not do much at practice Saturday after experiencing a "stinger" on Thursday.
Either way, their leading rusher from 2012 is not complaining.
"I'm excited every day we step on the field, whether it's practice or anything to show what I can do, to show myself and try to separate myself from the pack and make each other better. I'm just excited to be out there.
"It's a privilege to play this game."
Maybe that message was received just in the nick of time for Dwyer.