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Steelers rookie hopes to disprove doubters

| Friday, April 30, 2010

A bruising and highly productive running back from a BCS conference slipped to the sixth round of the NFL Draft, and ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. listed numerous reasons why earlier this week.

Not an "outside running threat." Not a candidate to return kickoffs or catch passes out of the backfield. Not a guy who always wins the battle of the bulge.

But Kiper also said of Georgia Tech's Jonathan Dwyer: "He's a physical, inside runner. It was a nice pick for the Steelers."

It will be even nicer for the Steelers if Dwyer is able to provide a hammer for a short-yardage offense that has too often relied on a fly swatter in recent years.

As Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson said of Dwyer: "When you are 230 pounds, that is a plus, and that can't be taught."

Unfortunately for the Steelers, the learning curve figures to be steeper for the 5-11 Dwyer than it is for most rookie running backs. Dwyer played in a triple-option offense at Georgia Tech and didn't have to make the kind of reads that will be required of him at this level. Wilson said that while watching film of Dwyer in 2008 and 2009, he could only remember six times when the player lined up in an I-formation.

"He's going to have to learn the two-point stance all over again," Wilson said.

Dwyer will get his first extensive work in that department at Steelers' mini camp, which starts today and runs through Sunday.

He will be one of the more intriguing rookies, given the renewed commitment the Steelers are expected to make to the running game, particularly with suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out for at least the first four games of 2010.

Dwyer rushed for almost 1,400 yards in each of his sophomore and junior seasons. When he bypassed his senior season to enter the draft, it looked like he would be one of the first running backs selected.

"The guy had a pretty decent (draft) grade at one point," Kiper said.

A subpar showing at the NFL Combine and concerns about his weight, which reportedly approached 250 pounds at one point, hurt Dwyer's stock.

There were also questions about his ability as a receiver since he rarely got to showcase that part of his game at Georgia Tech as well as a failed drug test at the Combine.

Dwyer said he tested positive for a drug he has taken since grade school for attention deficit disorder.

Wilson said the Steelers "had no concerns" about the failed drug test.

"I'm glad the Steelers believe in me," Dwyer said. "I'm not going to let them down."

There is an opportunity for Dwyer if he proves to be a quick study. The loss of Willie Parker to free agency leaves starter Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore as the only experienced running backs on the roster.

Dwyer will compete with second-year men Frank Summers and Isaac Redman, the sensation of last year's training camp, for a spot in the rotation.

"I'm going to move the chains," Dwyer said of his running style. "I'm not going to lose yardage. I'm going to make the first guy miss, and I break a lot of tackles."

Another plus when it comes to Dwyer: He is only 21.

"He is a young guy without a lot of hits on his body," Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "We think there is something there that we probably all haven't seen yet. We hope that is the case."

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