The offseason is a time where many players strive to improve and put their performances from the previous season far behind them. As I discussed a few weeks ago, Ziggy Hood has made strides to get better and more in shape over the last few months, and now it appears that another member of the Steelers is trying to do the same as well: Running Back Jonathan Dwyer.
In a post by Michael David Smith of ProFootballTalk.com, Dwyer apparently has been hard at work this offseason to finally realize his potential and ready to make a big difference on the football team. According to Smith (via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review), Dwyer has finally gotten the memo about his weight, which had been 240 lbs., and has chiseled himself down to a “svelte” 220 lbs.. Do not get me wrong readers, having a guy at 240 lbs. which can push the pile is a great thing, like Bam Morris or The Bus during his early years, but it is somewhat of a liability when the guy fails a team’s conditioning test like Dwyer did last season (something usually reserved for guys like Nose Tackles). In addition to his weight loss, Dwyer has supposedly adopted an attitude about what it takes to be a professional by proving his “worth,” and has improved his work ethic as well.
To me, it is nice to see Dwyer finally deciding to dedicate himself to his craft, and doubly awesome that he is doing it during an offseason where Rashard Mendenhall is rehabbing a knee injury. I am also sure that Dwyer is keenly aware that he will be a Restricted Free Agent when this season ends, and it is of vital importance to him to make good on all of his opportunities whenever he touches the ball over the coming months too. Yet, in spite of the fact that Dwyer has apparently got himself in the right frame of mind and around the right weight to play, I must ask: Is it enough for him to make the roster?
Pittsburgh’s Backfield and Dwyer’s Challenge:
With Mendenhall out the first half of the season, Isaac Redman will be the starting Running Back and get a majority of the touches. He has developed nicely over the last three seasons, improved in almost all aspects of the game, and illustrated he could shoulder the load in the Steelers’ final two contests of the season against Cleveland and Denver in the postseason. Barring an injury, Redman will lead this Running Back by Committee group, and should see upwards of 250 Carries this season.
Pittsburgh will also likely carry Baron Batch and/or Rookie Chris Rainey on the roster as well. Batch, a 3rd Down Back with competent hands, had himself a fine Training Camp last season, and was even looking like a dark-horse to make the roster until he went down with a knee injury before the first preseason game. Rainey should also be in a good position to make the team as well, because of his “swiss-army-knife” skill set. Competent in the passing game and on the Special Teams, Rainey has blazing speed and has the ability to turn a 5 Yard gain into an 80 Yard Touchdown run. I would assume that Rainey’s versatility would earn him a roster spot, and I would not count out Batch to sneak in as well if he can play on Special Teams coverage units and do an adequate job on Offense when asked.
Dwyer’s biggest competition though will come in the form of another bruiser, John Clay. Undrafted out of Wisconsin last season, Clay spent a majority of the regular season on the Practice Squad before taking Dwyer’s place on the roster at the end of the season. While he played sparingly, Clay is an absolute load at 6’1″ 248 lbs., and with time could develop into the Goal Line hammer the Steelers have lacked for a while. To make the roster, Dwyer will likely have to fend off Clay, a guy who should be hungry to stick on the team and stay off of the Practice Squad this season.
Dwyer picked a good time to step up his game, because with Mendenhall out (although he could chip in nicely every so often once he returns) the door is wide open for Running Backs behind Isaac Redman to get touches and make a difference. Do I think that Dwyer will ultimately make the team? It is tough for me to say. In the event that no injuries occur at the position, the situation will largely depend on how well John Clay and Dwyer stack up against each other. It should be a heated Training Camp battle between the two, and should come down to the final preseason contest. The other variable in the “Dwyer on the 2012 Roster” equation will be Baron Batch, and whether the team elects to keep him come Opening Weekend. Pittsburgh might see Batch as a more valuable asset than Dwyer by the end of the preseason due to his skill-set in the passing game, and it could make Dwyer expendable if the team elects to use Redman near the Goal Line and more often in general instead.
As it stands now, Dwyer certainly has his work cut out for him. Thankfully for him, he picked a great time to step up his game and prepare for an important season. Regardless of who makes the roster this season at the Running Back position, this entire outfit will need to pick up the slack with Mendenhall sidelined. I just hope that if and when Dwyer’s number is inevitably called, he can make the team happy they kept him and shine when given the opportunities.