Steelers Must Look Past Doubts on Jonathan Dwyer

Jonathan Dwyer entered the 2010 NFL Draft after a very distinguished career rushing at Georgia Tech. Yet concerns about the style of offense he ran there caused his stock to drop, and when he fell to Pittsburgh in the 6th round many people considered the pick a steal by the Steelers.

At the Steelers 2010 OTA’s Dwyer continued to impress with the standard caveat that OTA’s are nothing more than playing catch with a helmets on.

When training camp rolled around the Steelers got another surprise – he was extremely overweight so much that only some strong late preseason performances saved his spot on the roster.

As a consequence, Dwyer was inactive for the 2010 Steelers first 15 games, only seeing mop up action in the season final vs. Cleveland. He failed to get a carry in any of the Steelers three games during the 2010 post season.

2011 brought the lockout and higher expectations for Dwyer. Unfortunately, Dwyer again showed up at St. Vincents overweight and Baron Batch’s torn ACL is what likely saved Dwyer a roster spot. But Dwyer got into shape and again impressed towards the end of the preseason.

Injuries pushed Dwyer into the starting lineup on week 5 vs. Tennessee, and Dwyer shocked everyone with a hundred yard performance that included a 76 yard scramble. Nonetheless, Dwyer only saw spot duty the rest of the year, until injuries suffered in the Steelers December victory over Cincinnati landed him on injured reserve.

Dwyer did show up in shape and got his first significant NFL action, rushing for 628 yards and two touchdowns.

Steelers Only Part Ways with Dwyer at Their Peril….

Dwyer’s rushing numbers were good enough to earn him a 4.0 yards per carry average, which is very respectable. Rushing averages are not everything – Frank Pollard has a better carrer average than Franco Harris.

To that end, Mike Tomlin opened the door for Dwyer to claim the role as starter and by any measure he failed to do that. The word out of the South Side is that the Steelers are disappointed enough with Dwyer that they might not consider offering him a restricted free agent tender.

  • The Steelers doubts about Dwyer are justified, but they would be making a mistake in letting him go

Jonathan Dwyer has been inconsistent. He ran for back-to-back 100 yard games vs. Cincinnati and Washington, but he struggled when the Steelers need him to deliver vs. Dallas and Cincinnati – among other occasions. It takes an effort to lose to the Oakland Raiders, and his inopportune fumble was one of the more egregious “contributions” of many that afternoon.

While Dwyer’s inconsistency cannot be overlooked, nor can it be the only measure applied to him. Steel Curtain Rising has made this point before and will make it again:

Without Willie Colon the offense just wasn’t the same so much so that at mid season Dwyer was drawing comparisons to Jerome Bettis.

In fairness, Dwyer isn’t and probably never will develop into a Jerome Bettis. The Steelers are facing a salary cap crunch, and the logic goes that Dwyer doesn’t deserve the money that the Steeler would have to lay down by offering him a restricted free agent tender.

  • So it’s a numbers game…

…But the numbers game cuts both ways and the operative number here is “one.” That’s the total number of running backs, not including Will Johnson, that the Steelers have under contract.

That one back is Baron Batch who, for all his inspiring story, has 25 carries to his name for an earth shattering 49 yards. Oh yes, Batch also has 4 catches for 31 yards.

Even if we can assume that the Steelers will bring back Isaac Redman, and they will, that would give them two backs. The Steelers will probably draft a running back in the 2013 NFL Draft, but does Pittsburgh really expect to field a competitive running game with a backfield comprised of Redman, Batch and some untested rookie?

Given Dwyer’s past training issues, perhaps Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin know enough to question whether he’ll ever have the commitment to do what it takes to succeed in the NFL.

  • So be it if that’s the case.

But from the perspective of an educated fan, the Steelers need to plan to bring Dwyer back for 2013.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for the rest of Steel Curtain Rising or here to see our Steelers 2013 Free Agent Focus.

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