Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jonathan Dwyer has another mouth to feed after his first child was born on Wednesday, but that wont slow down the former sixth round draft pick out of Georgia Tech from focusing on his offseason preparations in hopes that he will be the starting running back in 2013 for the black and gold.
"Any running back wants to be the feature guy," Dwyer told Teresa Varley of steelers.com. "The situation we were in last year, we couldn’t just sit one of us. We all bring something different to the team, to the running and passing game, all aspects of it. I just have to work even harder than I did before to have that opportunity to start again. I have to be a better player and do everything I can to help the team win."
Dwyer was the Steelers leading rusher last season, but that doesn\'t mean much because the team used a week-to-week approach at the running back position which resulted in him carrying the football only 156 times for 623 yards and 2 touchdowns. He did manage to start 6 games, however, with the Steelers winning 4 of those.
Dwyer started the season as the backup to Isaac Redman as Rashard Mendenhall was still recovering from his knee injury suffered in the 2011 season finale. His fumble in the Week 3 game against the Oakland Raiders resulted in him being put in the dog house and he was gameday inactive for the next three games as a result.
It was not until the week 7 game against the Cincinnati Bengals when Dwyer finally saw the field again. He started that game because both Redman and Mendenhall were injured and rushed for 122 yards on 17 carries in the win. That performance earned him the start the following week against the Washington Redskins where he carried the ball for 17 times once again for 107 yards. Late in the game, however, he injured his quad which resulted in him missing the next game and losing the starter job.
Dwyer closed out the final three games as the starter but only rushed for a total of 113 yards in those games on 34 carries.
Dwyer told Varley that he definitely saw improvement in his game last year, and especially in the passing game.
It has seemed that offseason conditioning has always been a problem for Dwyer during his first three years in the league, but he is intent on focusing on it even more this year. He is telling the truth as his recognition and pass protection has improved immensely since his first year in the league. Last season he allowed just 1 quarterback pressure in 151 pass plays that he was in the game for.
"I know I can be better conditioned," Dwyer told Varley. "That is one of the big things right now. I think you underestimate it and then realize the season is long and takes a toll on your body. You have to be in the best shape you possibly can. That is the only way you are going to make it through."
Dwyer, who will likely be restricted tendered in the next few weeks, will likely be given every opportunity to compete for the starting job during training camp. Even though Mendenhall is likely to leave via free agency, and Chris Rainey has long been waived, Dwyer will likely have Redman, Baron Batch and drafted rookie to compete against for the job.
The Steelers are also expected to implement more of the zone blocking scheme next season now that Jack Bicknell Jr. has been hired as the new offensive line coach to replace the departed Sean Kugler, so Dwyer will need to show that he can run effectively in that system.
Holding off a potential early round draft pick and the rest of the competition won\'t be easy, but Dwyer seems to be up for the challenge.
"It’s up to me if I can be that elite guy or just some average guy, Dwyer told Varley. "It’s going to be all up to me this offseason."