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Kovacevic: Dwyer on tap? Not a bad thing

| Monday, Aug. 19, 2013, 11:34 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
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.

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?

Um, no.

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.

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