Jones sparks Dwyer's departure from Steelers


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The Steelers finally ran out of patience with Jonathan Dwyer, tired of his lack of dedication to his craft. In less than a week, the team's leading rusher in 2012 went from being a starter for the final preseason game in Carolina to one of their final cuts.

The reason?

Felix Jones, who played well enough in a loss Thursday to the Panthers to convince the Steelers that Dwyer was no longer wanted on their 53-man roster.

Jones, a former No. 1 draft choice of the Dallas Cowboys, rushed for 56 yards on 14 carries and caught two passes for 9 yards against Carolina, enough to earn him a spot as one of five running backs on the 53-man roster and push Dwyer out the door.

"His pedigree showed," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after the game. "His natural instincts showed."

But, the question remains: Is this the Felix Jones who burst on to the NFL scene as a rookie in 2008 with a sensational opening three-game stretch?

Or the Felix Jones who failed a conditioning test in 2012 with the Cowboys and was unimpressive recently in the Philadelphia Eagles' training camp?

Whichever, the Steelers thought enough of him after acquiring him in trade just 10 days ago that Jones will begin the regular season being rotated with Isaac Redman while rookie Le'Veon Bell recovers from a small ligament tear in his right foot.

"I just came in here and tried to perform, give the best performance I could and leave it on the field," Jones said. "I wanted to get on the field and show the coaches I still got it, I can still play, and just maximize my opportunity."

Then Jones added, "I had a couple more days to learn a little more. I got a feel for what the line does. I think I picked it up very well and went out there and tried to do my best."

Jones was an instant NFL sensation after the Cowboys made him the 22nd player chosen in the 2008 draft, passing on other running backs such as Chris Johnson, Rashard Mendenhall, Jamal Charles, Ray Rice and Matt Forte.

He scored on an 11-yard run the first time he touched the ball in the season opener against the Cleveland Browns. In Week 2, in his first Monday night appearance, Jones scored on a 98-yard kickoff return against the Philadelphia Eagles. In his third game, he ran for a 60-yard touchdown against the Green Bay Packers.

But Jones injured his hamstring in Week 6 against Arizona, then aggravated the injury in the rehabilitation process, and missed the rest of his rookie season. He never really had the same type of impact after that.

"It's definitely frustrating, but you can't let that hold you back," Jones said. "You got to keep pushing, keep pushing on. You dwell on that, it can hold you back. All I can do is keep working and give it all I got. Injuries come and go, but it's the mindset -- you have to keep pushing on."

The Steelers, though, are hoping he still has some of that ability in his 5-foot-10, 215-pound body. That's one of the reasons they acquired him in a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for linebacker Adrian Robinson two weeks ago.

The Eagles were shopping Jones in a trade, even though they had signed him to a one-year deal in free agency, because they didn't think he would make their 53-man roster. In need of a running back because of injuries to Bell and Redman, the Steelers were instantly interested -- feeling the asking price was low for a former No. 1 draft choice who is 26.

"I see a good opportunity for me here and all I got to do is keep going with it," Jones said.

A year ago, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stood behind Jones and leaped to his defense, even though the player he selected with the 22nd overall pick in the 2008 draft had failed his conditioning test and been passed on the depth chart by DeMarco Murray.

"I'm not worried about him at all," Jones said at the time. "From what I've seen out there, he's got a chance to have a big year for us."

That year, like the previous three with the Cowboys, never materialized.

Jones rushed for 402 yards on 111 carries, his lowest output in five years in Dallas. His per-carry average of 3.6 yards was 1.5 yards lower than his average his first four seasons. And he had just one run of 20 yards or longer in 16 games, compared to 15 in his first 48 games.

But, Jones was always a nice third-down option as a receiver, catching 127 passes for 1,062 yards and three touchdowns. His per-catch average of 16.6 yards was especially high for a running back.

His versatility is one of the reasons he is the only NFL player since 2008 to have a 60-plus yard touchdown run, a 70-plus yard touchdown catch and a 90-plus touchdown return.

And it's one of the reasons the Steelers thought it was a no-brainer to acquire him from the Eagles.

"There are great backs here and there's definitely going to be competition every day," Jones said. "I just got to go out there and play my game. That's pretty much it, give it all I got every day, show the coaches, give them something to be proud of and say, 'This person can help our football team."

Roster still in transition

Just because the Steelers had to reduce their roster to 53 players Saturday doesn't mean they will be the same 53 players who will open the season against the Tennessee Titans.

They made the first of what could be several moves this week when they signed former Tampa Bay guard/center Cody Wallace and released guard John Malecki.

Wallace, 28, was a former fourth-round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers in 2008 who has spent time with five NFL teams. He has appeared in just nine games in his career -- eight with the Buccaneers in 2012 -- and has never made a start.

Wallace also spent time on the practice squad with the Detroit Lions, New York Jets and Houston Texans, but never appeared in a game with them. He was among Tampa Bay's final cuts.

Malecki, who played at Pitt, spent six week on the Steelers' active roster in 2012, appearing in only one game.

Practice squad set

The Steelers re-signed receiver Justin Brown and outside linebacker Alan Baxter and placed them on the practice squad with six other players.

Also signed to the eight-man squad were tackle Joe Long, guard Chris Hubbard; running back Alvester Alexander; defensive end Brian Arnfelt, linebacker Terence Garvin and cornerback Devin Smith.

All players were with the Steelers in training camp. Brown was a sixth-round draft choice from Oklahoma who also played at Penn State. He was beaten out for the fifth receiving spot by Derek Moye, a former teammate at Penn State.

Baxter, an undrafted rookie who played defensive end at Northern Illinois, was one of the training camp surprises who impressed the coaches with his ability to rush the passer.

Steelers

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com andTwitter @gerrydulac. First Published September 2, 2013 8:00 AM


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