Kovacevic: Dwyer on tap? Not a bad thing
Kovacevic: Dwyer on tap? Not a bad thing
Steelers offensive lineman Ramon Foster blocks for Jonathan Dwyer during the second quarter against the Redskins on Monday, August 19, 2013, at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
By Dejan Kovacevic
Published: Monday, August 19, 2013
LANDOVER, Md. — If this preseason is proving anything for these some-old, some-new Steelers, it's that a script is spectacularly useless.
That Todd Haley plan to keep Ben Roethlisberger safe?Ha! He was dodging and ducking defenders like it was mid-December in Baltimore.
Jarvis Jones as second-team linebacker behind Jason Worilds?
Not after another forced fumble by the first-round pick who Ike Taylor this week called “Ballhawk.”
Offensive line as a strength?
Le'Veon Bell as feature back?
Not anymore. Bank on it. Not after a left knee has hobbled him throughout camp, only to have his right foot knock him out after one series of the 24-13 loss to the Redskins on Monday night at FedEx Field.
Jonathan Dwyer buried on the backs' depth chart behind Bell, Isaac Redman, maybe even Baron Batch because of special teams?
Scratch that, too, and do it in indelible ink: Dwyer rushed for 68 yards on 14 carries, caught two passes for 12 yards, generally acquitted himself in all other areas and, no, never once tapped himself out.
“I thought he did a great job, both in the running and passing game,” Roethlisberger was saying on a night on which there was scant reason to applaud either. “That's why, when people talk about our running backs … I've felt all along we've got a whole bunch who can do some great things.”
Mike Tomlin was complimentary, too, albeit with a predictable point to Dwyer's fumble that was his only blemish.
“He did some good things,” the coach said. “Obviously putting the ball on the ground doesn't help him or us. But he had his moments.”
Bet on there being more.
Dwyer's been my pick to click all summer, and I'm sticking by him even though he ticked off Tomlin by taking too long to get into prime shape, even though Redman should still play when he's back from a pinched nerve, even though Bell should still come with high expectations and, yeah, even though it took both those guys plus LaRod Stephens-Howling plus Batch going down with injuries for Dwyer to get this chance.
Oh, well. Can't play if you can't play.
Tomlin's already stretched his own standard — which is saying something considering that the standard is, in fact, the standard — by promoting Bell to first team even though he couldn't play in the preseason opener. And the elastic found new length when Bell missed more practices this week but still was first on the field Monday.
Enough's enough. No way the kid will be ready for Tennessee.
Besides, it should at least be considered that Dwyer might be the best option.
Absolutely, it was lousy last season that he seemed to gasp in the direction of the sideline after every other carry. But he knew it. And he reacted — even if late — by reporting to Latrobe lighter, faster and, by his estimation, more than ready to snap the tap.
“You won't see that anymore,” Dwyer vowed early in camp.
So all Dwyer had to do once Bell was felled was to back it up. One carry was a 23-yard burst through tackle that stressed what he does best: Find the hole and hit it unflinchingly. Another was a 14-yard dash around end, a dimension Haley is eager to add to the rushing game and that, maybe, a lighter Dwyer can deliver on occasion.
“It felt good,” Dwyer said. “I was supposed to split the first half with Le'Veon, and I wasn't going to play the third quarter until Baron got hurt. But I had fun. And I did what I had to do, which was step up for my team.”
What's not to like?
For all the grief Dwyer took after last season, he also had back-to-back 100-yard performances in October and wound up with a team-best 637 yards.
He's 24, only three years older than Bell, and eminently deserving of a longer look.
If he changes the script for the better, so be it.
Steelers notebook: Injuries force Dwyer to work overtime
August 20, 2013
By Ray Fittipaldo / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
LANDOVER, Md. -- At this rate, the Steelers might be checking the waiver wire for running backs to have enough warm bodies on the roster for the rest of training camp.
The Steelers suffered three more injuries to their running backs Monday night in their second preseason game.
Nine days after his Steelers debut was postponed due to a left knee bruise, rookie running back Le'Veon Bell got the starting nod, but his stay on the field against the Washington Redskins was brief.
Bell, a second-round draft pick from Michigan State, left after the first drive with a foot injury and did not return. Coach Mike Tomlin described it as a mid-foot injury and said Bell will have an MRI today.
The first four plays for the Steelers were handoffs to Bell, who gained 9 yards. Bell and veteran Isaac Redman were listed as co-starters this week, but Redman did not dress after getting a stinger in practice last week.
Late in the first half, starting fullback Will Johnson injured his ribs when he received a hard hit over the middle. He did not return. In the third quarter, Baron Batch left with a stinger. In addition, LaRod Stephens-Howling, the leading rusher in the preseason opener against the New York Giants, has a knee strain and did not dress.
With the others banged up, Jonathan Dwyer got plenty of work and ran 14 times for 68 yards in three quarters.
"I was hoping Red and LaRod would go in the dressing room and get dressed up," Dwyer said afterward with a smile. "That's what I had to do. I had to step up and take responsibility to do what I had to do for my room and my team."
Dwyer ran especially well behind the first-team offensive line early.
"It was good," he said. "I wasn't supposed to go for three [quarters]. I had fun. We were moving the ball really well. We were beating ourselves."
Steelers Jonathan Dwyer using every one of his nine lives
By Anthony Defeo on Aug 21 2013
Jonathan Dwyer has always been long on potential but short on discipline and production. Now that rookie sensation Le'Veon Bell is down with a mid-foot injury, Dwyer may get another chance to show the Steelers he is capable of carrying the load at running back.
If a rookie sensation has a great training camp, can anyone actually hear it? I ask this because, while the reports of rookie running back Le'Veon Bell and his excellent practices in Latrobe earlier in the summer were probably true, there's no hard evidence of his talent in the form of game highlights, thanks to a bruised knee that kept him under wraps in the Steelers first preseason game and a mid-foot injury that limited his carries to four in the second game. Therefore, I'll just chalk up Bell's excellence as myth and fable, that is, until he actually does something that can be broken down and analyzed in BTSC's fine film room.
I do know one thing that isn't a myth or fable: Jonathan Dwyer is a pretty talented cat, and he seems to have nine lives.
There's never been a question about Dwyer's ability. In fact, the fourth year running back out of Georgia Tech was considered one of the steals of the 2010 NFL Draft when he was selected in the sixth round by the Steelers. The consensus was that if Dwyer could work harder, keep his weight down and realize his potential, well, as the draftniks like to say, he'd be a great value pick for Pittsburgh.
But while Dwyer's talent and college production indicated he was probably under-drafted, there's usually a reason why players are selected where they are, as scouts don't normally miss.
Sure enough, during his first two seasons with the Steelers, Dwyer justified his late round status by reporting to camp overweight, failing the team's 2011 conditioning test and struggling with injuries.
Dwyer carried the football just 25 times over the course of his first two seasons. In the meantime, more draft steals and camp darlings came along to threaten Dwyer's place on the roster.
In 2011, the Steelers selected running back Baron Batch in the seventh round out of Texas Tech, and much like Bell, the excitement for Batch grew throughout the offseason and into training camp. Unfortunately for Batch, he tore his ACL near the end of camp and was forced to miss the entire year. Even though he made the team a year ago, Batch didn't show the flashes of quickness and speed that he did shortly before his injury, and now he sits on the bubble to make the final 53 man roster.
A year ago, Steelers fans were once again intrigued by a rookie running back when the team selected Chris Rainey out of Florida in the fifth round. Just like Dwyer and Batch, before him, Rainey was considered a steal. Fans were excited about Rainey's speed and what that could bring to special teams and the offense. But again, there's normally a reason players are drafted where they are, and it became quite apparent that Rainey's lack of size (180 lbs) was very limiting as the rookie barely made a splash on offense or in special teams. Questions of character also hurt Rainey's draft status and that manifested itself in a domestic dispute in his home state of Florida shortly after the end of the 2012 season, and the rookie was quickly released by Pittsburgh.
Dwyer did manage to get his act together last season, when he was Pittsburgh's most productive back in the absence of injured starter Rashard Mendenhall and rushed for 623 yards, including back-to-back 100 yard performances--the first Steelers back to do that in four seasons.
In March, Mendenhall defected to the Cardinals as a free agent, but if Dwyer felt any sort of comfort in perhaps being the team's new man in the backfield, they were quickly dashed a month later when Bell was selected in the second round out of Michigan St in the 2013 NFL Draft.
Second round picks are expected to start eventually, and that's especially true when they play a position as unsettled as the Steelers running backs have been. Mendenhall's free agent defection as well as the mostly underwhelming performance by the running backs as a group a year ago (despite his coming out party, Dwyer also struggled quite a bit as Pittsburgh averaged just under 100 yards a game on the ground in 2012) created a huge vacuum that Bell quickly filled with his impressive showing in training camp.
But like the old football saying goes: "You can't make the club in the tub." It remains unclear how much time Bell will miss with his foot injury, but his early exit Monday night, as well as the injury absences of Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling, not only created grave concern about the Steelers running back situation, they created another vacuum, and Dwyer filled it admirably, gaining 68 yards on 14 carries and looked more than capable of being the lead guy if he has to.
It's hard to say what the coaches think of Dwyer (his first half fumble certainly didn't help his cause), but, again, there's no denying the talent-level.
Dwyer is bigger than Stephens-Howling and more talented than Redman. And for the time-being, he's healthier than Bell.
Before Monday's performance against the Redskins, Dwyer wasn't even on Neal Coolong's projected 53 man roster. In just over two weeks, he might open the season as the Steelers starting running back.
None of the Steelers recent running back acquisitions, including Bell, have stepped up to seize control of the starting job. Dwyer just might be the guy that outlasts them all.
Now that's a cat who knows how to use all nine lives.