When the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Jonathan Dwyer in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL Draft, I thought he could end up being one of the steals of that draft. Coming out of Georgia Tech, Dwyer looked like a first round talent until he had a less than stellar Scouting Combine and questions popped up about his desire and conditioning.
Those questions followed Dwyer into his first training camp with the Steelers and he did not really show much until he ran for 175 yards in the team’s final two preseason games. After a virtually non-existent rookie season, which is not uncommon for rookies with the Steelers, there was a lot of anticipation to see how Dwyer would do in his second year. Dwyer then ensued to show up to camp out of shape again and honestly I think he would have been cut if Baron Batch did not blow out his knee.
Batch was put on I.R. however, and after injuries knocked out Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman was ineffective, Dwyer got his chance to play versus the Tennessee Titans. In only his second career game as a pro, Dwyer rushed for a 107 yards with the highlight obviously being a 76 yarder. Even though if you take out that 76 yard run Dwyer only rushed for 31 yards but it just showed the type of potential that the Steelers saw in him when they drafted him in the 6th round. After showing that potential though, Dwyer only had 2 carries the next game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars and was put on I.R. after that with a foot injury.
Looking towards the 2012 season the Steelers running back situation was completely up in the air with Rashard Mendenhall tearing his knee up the last game of the 2011 season with no one being sure when he would return. That left a competition between Isaac Redman, Dwyer, Batch, rookie Chris Rainey and John Clay to make the roster, and the list was made shorter when Clay was injured and reached a settlement with the team.
There was a lot of disappointment with Dwyer when he showed up to OTAs out of shape for the third straight year however, he then lost some weight and by training camp he was looking more motivated. There really wasn’t a question this time about Dwyer making the roster after a very good Preseason and besides, Rashard Mendenhall was not yet ready to return from his injury.
The Steelers’ rushing attack struggled for the most part to begin the season but Dwyer did lead the team in rushing the first two games before fumbling in the loss to the Oakland Raiders. Mike Tomlin then benched Dwyer for that fumble and he did not see the field again until a must win game against the Cincinnati Bengals in week 7. Dwyer looked like he got the message and he went on to rush for a career high 122 yards against the Bengals and then followed that up with 107 against the Washington Redskins a week later.
The Steelers’ run game looked to be on roll until the now infamous game where the entire offense looked bad versus the Kansas City Chiefs and Ben Roethlisberger was lost to a shoulder and rib injury. Without Ben Roethlisberger the entire offense looks horrendous and it has shown in the loss to the Baltimore Ravens and the eyesore of a performance in the loss to the Cleveland Browns. Even though Dwyer fumbled in that embarrassing loss to the Browns, so did everyone else on the roster and he has led the team in rushing in 7 of the first 11 games. Now, Jonathan Dwyer has been named the starting running back for the Steelers as they get set to take on the Ravens at home and Rashard Mendenhall has been demoted to third string. Whether or not this move was made purely to send a message to Mendenhall or not, I think Dwyer has done enough to earn this chance to prove himself further.
Dwyer’s career has gone in a complete circle from being out of shape and almost being cut, to being benched, to being named as the starter. Let’s hope he can stay healthy for the rest of the season and prove he is the steal we all thought he would be from the 2010 NFL Draft.