Back's superb performance Sunday against the Bengals raised some eyebrows and questions, one of which is where does he fit in the grand scheme of things?
October 26, 2012 12:00 PM
Jonathan Dwyer was drafted in the sixth round but could make his second start Sunday.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jonathan Dwyer, who became the first Steelers back to rush for 100 yards this season Sunday night against Cincinnati, has something in common with Washington Redskins rookie Alfred Morris, who leads the NFC in rushing.
Both were sixth-round draft picks.
Teams might have trouble finding franchise quarterbacks or good left tackles and cornerbacks without drafting them high, but the league is proving that's not the case when it comes to getting good running backs. They seem to find them everywhere, especially late in the draft or in players not drafted at all.
Arian Foster leads the NFL in rushing with one more yard than Morris. The Houston Texans signed him in 2009 as an undrafted rookie.
Of the five halfbacks on the Steelers roster, four were late-round picks, including undrafted Isaac Redman, seventh-rounder Baron Batch and fifth-rounder Chris Rainey. Fullback Will Johnson was never drafted. Neither was Willie Parker, who helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls and set some records in the process.
"It's not about all the testing and that," Dwyer said. "To me, it's about what you do when you get here."
Dwyer did the most last Sunday in Cincinnati when, in his first NFL start, he ran for 122 yards on 17 carries. He leads the Steelers with 192 yards and a 4.7-yard average. While there is no guarantee he will make his second NFL start Sunday at Heinz Field against the Redskins, Rashard Mendenhall did not practice again Thursday and Isaac Redman was limited in practice. Both have injuries that kept them out of the Cincinnati game.
Dwyer was not active for the two games preceding the Bengals game, and the coaching staff let him know it was because he fumbled against Oakland Sept. 23. At least, that's what Dwyer believes.
"It never should have happened," Dwyer said of the fumble. "I'm very disciplined. I didn't feel I was pointed out or punished or anything like that. You try to make the most of your next opportunity."
He did that, but he still has to wonder where he is in the pecking order at halfback. Mendenhall will start when he's healthy, and he had a good game against Philadelphia Oct. 7. Redman has problems with both ankles right now, but he became the first back in 42 years to have 100 yards receiving when he got 105 against Tennessee Oct. 11. Rainey scored his first touchdown last Sunday.
Can they all handle a halfback-by-committee approach?
"Yeah, it can happen," Dwyer said. "You never know, this league changes each and every day. We're capable of playing with three running backs if they need that and we're capable of playing with one or two."
Dwyer has two 100-yard games in his brief career and has a chance to become the first Steelers back with two in a row since Parker in September 2008. Their running styles are as dissimilar as those of Parker and Jerome Bettis, to whom Dwyer was compared by some Sunday night. He's more Bus than Fast Jonny. Dwyer also has the longest runs by a Steeler in each of the past two seasons, 32 Sunday and 76 against Tennessee last season, a game in which he finished with 107.
"That's not me," Dwyer said of being elusive. "My game is going straightforward and making things happen and being physical at the beginning of the game. That's just how I played ever since I was a kid. I'm not going to change who I am. Those big runs will come, you just have to be patient."
It's a virtue for most Steelers backs these days.
Pouncey to return Sunday
Maurkice Pouncey has plenty in common with his predecessors at center with the Steelers. He has made two Pro Bowls in his first two seasons, following in the multiple Pro Bowl footsteps of Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings.
Yet there is one area in which Pouncey comes up short; he has not been able to put together a string of consecutive games.
Mike Webster played in 177 consecutive games and Dermontti Dawson appeared in 170 in a row. They are two-three in the Steelers record books for consecutive games played. No. 1 is another center, Ray Mansfield, who played 182.
Pouncey will attempt to start a new streak Sunday when he returns to play after missing the game last week. It's the third time he has had a season interrupted by injury, although the first by a knee injury. He missed the Super Bowl after the 2010 season with a severe ankle injury. He missed three games last season, including their playoff in Denver, with an ankle injury that needed offseason surgery.
"It's terrible, man," Pouncey said. "You want to be out there helping your guys at every point, but injuries happen, and, sometimes, you just have to sit back and accept it."
Buzz over uniforms
You can call them their bumblebee uniforms, their jailbird outfits and laugh at them all you want, but some Steelers actually like the 1934 throwback uniforms they will wear Sunday, three days before Halloween.
"We'll be excited to wear them,'' said nose tackle Steve McLendon. "Something different. I actually like them, I think they're nice jerseys, the colors, the big ol' patch number. I just hope it's big enough for me."
The jerseys have been mocked and ridiculed by commentators across the country since they were publicly introduced in June. They have black and yellow horizontal stripes with block black numbers set off in white rectangles on the front. Oh, and the horizontal socks to match.
"You get 45 guys dressed out in them, I think they'll look good," said safety Ryan Clark.
"I actually got one for my wife, she loves them. She wanted one with my number on it. I think she's pretty fashionable. She wouldn't wear it if it were ugly."
Even 340-pound tackle Max Starks thinks it's a good idea.
"It's exciting. It shows the history of the organization. The fact the organization has 80 years in the NFL and has throwbacks to wear, I think it's one of the cool things to say that you've been part of that history."
"Horizontals are never flattering. Vertical stripes are little bit better on my end, but you have to do what you have to do, right? I'll still make it look good."
Linebacker Jason Worilds returned to practice after missing the one Wednesday. ... Wide receiver Limas Sweed, who spent three mostly troubled seasons with the Steelers after they drafted him on the second round in '08, has signed with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL.