By Jeremy Hritz
The drafting of Le’Veon Bell reinforced Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert’s statement early in the 2013 offseason that the running back position was one in need of improvement. After Bell’s selection, the assumption became that he would be the bell cow in the backfield at the start of the season. The other assumption was that fourth year back from Georgia Tech, Jonathan Dwyer, was as good as gone. Now, as two weeks of OTAs are in the books, some contradictory evidence has emerged as to what role, if any Dwyer will have with the Steelers in 2013.
The first report on Dywer from OTAs worth noting is that he appeared to be overweight, something that has drawn the ire of head coach Mike Tomlin in the past. If he is, in fact, once again overweight, he is definitely not making the impression needed to remain with the team. However, the other report from organized team activities is that Dwyer was taking the snaps with the first-team offense. While we cannot read too deeply into that, it does raise some questions regarding the veracity of the reports regarding Dwyer’s seemingly non-existent future with the team.
Dwyer is listed generously on the roster at 5’11, 229 pounds, and his stocky frame lent itself well to gaining some bruising yards last year. In back to back games last season against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Washington Redskins, Dwyer totaled 229 yards on 34 carries, averaging over six yards per carry. While his production did dip after those games, maybe more in part from injuries to the offensive line, he did provide a physical presence at the running back position; unfortunately, he could not sustain his success, and he did not eclipse the 100-yard mark again.
In his three years with the Steelers, Dwyer has totaled 774 yards on 181 carries and two touchdowns. At only 23 years old, one would have to believe that he still has much potential to continue to develop.
The current speculation is that Dwyer will be cut sometime before the end of training camp, and that the stable of backs heading into the season will be Bell, Isaac Redman, and LaRod Stephens-Howling. If the Steelers do go in this direction, Redman will be the only back with a history with the team, though that is not necessarily a negative.
The other argument surrounding cutting Dwyer is that he and Redman are similar backs, and that Redman has been more productive during his tenure with the Steelers. Redman also has demonstrated a penchant for grinding it out for the difficult yards that can light a fire under his team. His gritty, never-say-die running style is an intangible that can provide a spark to the offense. Conversely, Redman is nearly five years older than Dwyer and will turn 29 this coming November. This is something that the Steelers will have to take into consideration in their decision-making process.
The battle for roster spots at the running back position will be an interesting one to watch despite popular belief currently being that Dwyer will be on the outside looking in. Are the Steelers OK with a group of backs without experience with the team? Or will they surprise everybody and keep both Redman and Dwyer?
If the early reports on Dwyer’s weight are true, then his return is greatly in question.