Jonathan Dwyer Carving Out A Niche For Himself Amongst The Running Backs

By Matthew Marczi

As the Pittsburgh Steelers get healthier and the games tick on, it appears that a pecking order is taking shape within the running back group. We all knew it was a foregone conclusion that rookie second-round draft pick Le’Veon Bell would assume the mantle once he returned to health, which did not come until the third game.

Now that he is settled into his role as the feature back, however, with three games under his belt, the rest of the stable is falling in line. And that includes the opening day starter featured on the bench as a game-day inactive, a role that does not show any signs of changing, barring injury.

The Steelers acquired former Dallas Cowboys running back Felix Jones in a trade during the preseason, and he performed well enough to initially make Jonathan Dwyer expendable. Of course, Dwyer was re-signed after LaRod Stephens-Howling suffered a torn ACL in the season opener.

Isaac Redman was the featured runner—before the running game was abandoned—in the opener. The following week, Redman suffered a head injury on the opening kickoff, which thrust Jones into the feature role. In the third week, it was Dwyer with the ‘hot’ hand after Jones fumbled the ball.

While blocking helped him rip off runs of nine and 25 yards, the other ten of his 12 carries went for four yards or less, with five of them going for zero or less yards.

The return of Bell in Week Four allowed for clarity to overtake the running back position. Redman went to the bench, Bell assumed the bulk of the carries, and Jones was used intermittently as a change of pace. Dwyer carried just two times for seven yards against the Minnesota Vikings.

After the Bye Week, it has become clear that Dwyer is carving out for himself the role of the occasional third down and short-yardage back. Twice in the past two weeks, Mike Tomlin sent in Dwyer in order to convert key third and short situations, and it would not be a surprise to see that continue, or even expand.

In this past game against the Baltimore Ravens, Dwyer’s only carry came on third and one, with the Steelers on their own 29-yard line right after the two-minute warning, looking to make something happen before the half, after which the Ravens would get the ball back. He converted easily with a powerful four-yard gain, although in the end a Heath Miller fumble translated into a late field goal for the Ravens afterward.

Dwyer is not simply in for short-yardage carries, however. For example, he was in on third and one during the Steelers’ first drive of the second half when Ben Roethlisberger scrambled for 19 yards and a first down. Not only did he make himself available to his quarterback for the first down, he went into blocking mode when he realized Roethlisberger was going to run for it and threw a block on safety Matt Elam down the field.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Great article Matt. Call me crazy but I say we re-sign Dwyer this off season and here’s why…

    1) His price should be reasonable He already tested the open market (when he was cut) and learned there aren’t a lot of offers out there.

    2) He’s familiar with our system and can fill in instantly as either: a feature back, or a 3rd down back, or a short yardage back.

    3) His improvement on special teams has been noticeable. Especially blocking.

  • Aric Brown

    I am completely fine with dwyer being kept at a minimum expense to be used as a short yardage, battering ram type of back

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    I actually agree with you… I’m not even a fan of wildcat but after seeing antonio brown, will johnson, and le’veon bell taking snaps under center, one can think what kind of wonders we can do with Jonathan Dwyer- keep this in mind; he was the fullback at Georgia Tech so off and by technicality; we have a combo halfback in Dwyer. I know we have Will Johnson but I want Johnson to be catching balls, that’s where he excel most.

    The possibilities is endless with dwyer, johnson, and bell in backfield. Apparently maybe our strength of running game now so I expect to see this more. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it!

  • steeltown

    Dwyer is also now playing more on special teams, which has to help his cause. When he’s on the field he has a bit if excitement to him, he’s energized more than in the past. I think being released may have finally made him appreciate it more. He looks good so far converting short yardage and he’s a damn good pass protector to boot. I would love to keep Dwyer around on a 3-4yr modest deal to play the exact role that he is right now

  • Shannon Stephenson

    I would like to see Dwyer get the rock about 5 times a game but with the performance given by Bell this last week it is hard to go against the way either was used in the game.

  • NCSteel

    Being cut was the 2nd best thing to ever happen to Dwyer, the unenjoyment line is a humbling experience.
    The best thing to ever happen to him was being re-signed. He
    clearly relishes having an employer again, he runs and blocks with a great deal of emotion and Tomlin/Haley have found
    the perfect role for him, give them credit for that as it is due.


    Agreed…perfect role for him, seems to be embracing it with a good attitude. Yes, he clearly seems to appreciate the NFL game check more now.

  • JohnnyV1

    With Bell, Jones & Dwyer becoming the active ball carriers, does Colbert listen to trade offers for Redman? I really like Redman, but he’s disappeared.

  • dgh57

    Redman has become our fail-safe RB in that any injuries at RB he’ll be the 1st name called.

  • Mike Popovich

    Colbert probably couldn’t get a ham sandwich for Redman at this point.

  • Mike Popovich

    I don’t think there is anyone on the team right now that matching Dwyer’s intensity. He even got Tomlin jacked up after he converted the 1st, and he threw a hellacious block on Elam! He looks good, I think he needs to be on the field just a little bit more so this team can feed off his energy right now.

  • steeltown


  • steeltown

    Not sure he’d get much for him unless Arians needs a RB over in AZ and even then it wouldn’t be much… as previously mentioned I think Redman will be held onto incase there is injury to the others. He’s gone after ’13


    You might be right especially on OFC, but the problem with Dwyer is where was this intensity all along?


    Just noted on this site…Redman waived.

  • JohnnyV1

    Thanks! Probably tried to trade him (Denver, Houston, etc) but no takers. I didn’t think he’d be sticking around long.

  • steeltown

    Wow.. was I wrong haha, apparently his tender is not guaranteed so its a smart move

  • Riverstko

    He woke up after he was cut, now he’s Hungry! Stay Hungry Dwyer!

  • Riverstko

    I was upset when we cut him,but it all worked out at the end.

  • Riverstko

    Use all three Dwyer 5, Jones 5 to 10, Bell around 20 carries a game.

  • dgh57

    UPDATE: I guess I was wrong about Redman! Looks like Alexander on the PS now becomes the fail-safe RB.

  • MC

    Agreed with StarSpangledSteeler, one thing i’d add to that list is that Dwyer seems to be playing with a chip on his shoulder ever since he returned.

    He’s playing with fire and intensity in the limited snaps he’s having and I think that warrants a few more snaps in the future.
    He’s our biggest back, bring him in every so often to break a run and truck a defender when he can which will leave more fatigued bodies in the way for Bell/Jones to elude.

  • Mike Popovich

    Like his carries last year, it must have been split between Redman and Mendenhall.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    seems good to me