On the Steelers: Velasco, Dwyer feeling good again
September 12, 2013 4:00 PM
Fernando Velasco, right, put in his first day of work Tuesday as a Steelers player.
Jonathan Dwyer is back, but for less money.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Jonathan Dwyer and Fernando Velasco had to feel good about their situations when they signed one-year contracts as restricted free agents in the spring.
Dwyer, the Steelers' leading rusher in 2012, signed his tender for $1.3 million. Velasco signed his tender as the starting center with the Tennessee Titans for $2 million.
Then came Aug. 31. Both players wound up on the street, among final cuts. All the money they had to show for it was the relative meager stipends they received in training camp.
So it was that Dwyer and Velasco entered the Steelers' locker room this week with jobs, smaller contracts and a chance to display their talents for this year and possibly beyond.
"It's the NFL, it's a business," Velasco said. "I didn't feel sorry for myself. I went right to the gym and worked out all last week."
Dwyer drew interest, particularly from the New York Giants, and, while he seemed perturbed when the Steelers released him, he said all is fine now.
"It made me look at the business side of it," said Dwyer, who again enters his fourth season with the Steelers. "There's no hard feelings or anything that. I love this organization and I'm glad they brought me back for another opportunity."
Both signed Monday with the Steelers after season-ending injuries to players at their positions -- Maurkice Pouncey and LaRod Stephens-Howling. Dwyer will make $630,000 and Velasco $715,000.
Dwyer ran for 623 yards in 2012 to lead the team in rushing. He also led them with 136 yards rushing this preseason. But coach Mike Tomlin used the word "dependability" Tuesday when asked if Dwyer could contribute Monday night in Cincinnati and added that he will "see how he looks on the practice field and in the classroom."
Asked about that, Dwyer said, "I just know I think I need to just play, don't think too much, play my game, show that I am dependable and they can trust me. I know if I play the way that got me here in general, and apply the new things I learned since I've been in the league, I know I'm going to be OK. I just know that I better be ready to play. That's the only thing I was told."
Isaac Redman will start at halfback, Tomlin said. The only other healthy halfback is Felix Jones. Rookie Le'Veon Bell (sprained foot), whose only appearance came briefly in the second exhibition, is not ready to return.
Velasco settles in quickly
While Tomlin declared Kelvin Beachum is the starting center "as we prepare right now," Velasco believes he can get up to speed enough by Monday to give them an option. He said the Titans ran many plays and blocking schemes similar to the ones the Steelers use, including zone blocking and double teams.
"There's a little bit difference in terminology," Velasco said. "The coaches are doing a real good job catching me up, even the players. Ramon Foster is doing an awesome job helping me."
Foster, at left guard, helps make the calls on the line of scrimmage, along with the center.
If Velasco shows he can bridge the terminology gap and capably handle the job, he could start there against the Bengals. The Steelers could use Beachum's blocking on the outside at tight end, the way they planned to do in the opener until Pouncey left with his knee injury on the first series. The Bengals have a strong defensive front that includes James Harrison as their weakside (usually left) outside linebacker. That would put him across from Marcus Gilbert.
Meanwhile,, the quarterback is getting used to his new center.
"We were off to the side in between periods trying to work on the silent count, different snaps and things," Ben Roethlisberger said. "I think if we get good work in this week, we'll be just fine."
Velasco made just one public faux pas when he talked about coming to the Steelers.
"They won six Super Bowls, that's all I needed to know. It's a winning tradition. Every time you see the black and yellow, you already know they're going to be a hard, tough-nosed football team, so I'm glad to be part of it."
Sanders eyes redemption
Emmanuel Sanders practiced something this week he said he should have done in the first play Sunday of the opener.
"You go back and watch it 50 million times, I should have run through the ball," Sanders said. "That's something I'm working on. I came in Monday and I worked on running through the ball. I think redemption Monday, I'll get another opportunity at it and I should cash in."
Sanders led the Steelers with seven catches, but the deep one that got away could have made a difference in what wound up as a Tennessee victory, 16-9. On the first series and holding a 2-0 lead, Roethlisberger dropped back from the 41 and threw deep down the right side. The ball glanced off Sanders' outstretched hands at the Titans 15.
"I don't think [it would have been] a touchdown -- the guy was right there and the safety was over the top -- but I feel like it could have been a big play of the game," Sanders said. "No disrespect to Tennessee, but we didn't go out and execute. We know that. We didn't play to the best of our ability. Guys are upset, and now we have another shot at it, and I'm looking forward to it."
• Roethlisberger showed up for the final 45 minutes of practice Wednesday after the club said he would miss it for personal reasons. Roethlisberger declined to say what those reasons were, but said they were minor.
• Heath Miller helped the Steelers find about $1.5 million in salary-cap room by reworking his contract that had a salary of a little more than $5 million this year. He will earn $1,974,500 and the remaining $3 million plus-was put into a signing bonus. Miller has this year and next left on his contract.
• Miller practiced in full pads, saying "I did a little bit of everything" while continuing his comeback from triple knee ligament tears in the 15th game of 2012."I am just trying to add more stuff and continue to get better, and we will see where it takes us."