With Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman out with injuries, third-year running back Jonathan Dwyer likely will make his first career start Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
He is well aware that the Steelers' anemic run game -- ranked 31st in the NFL -- needs to improve, not only for its own sake, but to help the passing game.
"It helps Ben [Roethlisberger] out. It helps the receivers. It helps our team," Dwyer said, adding that a more potent running attack will keep defenses off-kilter so that Roethlisberger is "able to throw the ball downfield and make those big plays to Mike [Wallace], A.B. [Antonio Brown] and Heath [Miller]. It helps us balance our offense out."
In their three losses, the Steelers have blown fourth-quarter leads that might have been preserved with more effective rushing -- a point not lost on Dwyer.
He said a strong running game "chews up the clock. If we have a lead, we have to run we can chew up the clock and make their defense tired, and maybe even surprise them with a deep ball."
Despite seeing playing time over the past few years, Dwyer said he is excited about having a greater role Sunday.
"Who doesn't want to have the opportunity to -- not only have the opportunity to start -- but actually play NFL football? Play at the highest level each week and get paid to do it. It's like playing a kid's game and getting paid for it. Who wouldn't be excited about this?
After leaving practice early Thursday and favoring his right ankle, Roethlisberger was a full participant in practice Friday and assured reporters afterwards that he is fine, he'll have no problems in Cincinnati Sunday night and that this was not at all related to the left high-ankle sprain that hobbled him in the final month last season.
"It's a completely different thing. It's a different ankle, a different kind of sprain," he said. "That was a high-ankle sprain. This is what the doctor's called a basketball sprain. Just a rolled ankle. Nothing big."
"This is a lot of overkill for nothing. I appreciate you guys wanting to talk to me, though," he laughed.
After leaving the Tennessee game with a right knee injury and not practicing Wednesday, center Maurkice Pouncey was a limited participant the past two days.
His playing status for the game Sunday remains uncertain, and he didn't answer questions on the subject. But, when asked by a reporter to give a thumbs up or thumbs down on how his knee felt, he smiled and gave a thumbs up.
Dan Gigler: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @gigs412. First Published October 20, 2012 4:00 AM