Dwyer must prove himself all over again

Ralph N. Paulk
| Thursday, Aug. 8, 2013, 7:15 p.m.

Jonathan Dwyer absorbed a few verbal jabs about his lack of fitness after the Steelers drafted him out of Georgia Tech. The odds didn't favor the sixth-round pick, but he's still standing while others are long gone.

While Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman were nursing injuries, Dwyer stepped in to give the Steelers some semblance of a ground game last season. He posted a team-high 623 yards and averaged 4.0 yards per carry.

Not bad for a running back whose future seemed uncertain during last year's training camp. He played in seven games in 2011 — including a 107-yard rushing effort against Tennessee — before ending the season on the injured list.

Dwyer, who started six games last season, appeared to be the leading candidate for the No. 1 tailback job at season's end. Now he faces the possibility of slipping to third string behind rookie Le'Veon Bell and Redman.

“I think every year guys come in to camp, guys that are returning are pitted with new people fighting for jobs,” said coach Mike Tomlin, who added that Bell will play some with the starters in Saturday's preseason opener against the Giants at Heinz Field.

“I don't think anything has changed from last season,” Dwyer said. “It's like last year with Mendenhall when we were just runners with different names on our backs. We're all fighting for time because we're competing against each other.

“I'm very comfortable with it, and I'm helping others. I'm doing the best I can every time I go out there. I want to take advantage of every opportunity I can. It doesn't matter if things are bad or good. I just want to play and be dependable whenever my name is called.”

That doesn't mean Dwyer is willing to concede the No. 1 job.

“Trying to be a starter is what we all work for,” he said. “Whether I'm the backup or the third-down guy, I want to be productive. I want my teammates to know they can depend on me and I can be trusted.

“I know my play will talk for me. My goal is to make plays and make it a hard decision for them (coaches) to sit me.

“I thought about being the No. 1 back, but I know I could have done better. I didn't show what I'm capable of doing, and I let some opportunities to slip away.”

Dwyer's missed opportunities could explain partly why Bell became an appealing prospect prior to the draft. But losing Mendenhall to free agency and Redman's bouts with injuries necessitated the Steelers taking a running back in the draft.

“I'm excited about the first preseason game,” Dwyer said. “I'm ready to compete, but it's not just an important game for me. It's important for everybody. It's a tune-up game we're taking seriously.”

It's a serious matter for Dwyer, who once again has to battle for a spot in the rotation. He came to camp in the best shape of his four-year career and prepared to prove to Tomlin and running backs coach Kirby Wilson that he can carry the load.

“I'm not trying to be average,” he said. “I'm serious about my game and my conditioning. I'm serious about fighting for the No. 1 job.”

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rpaulk@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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